Adapting online learning resources for all: planning for professionalism in accessibility

  • Patrick McAndrew Open University
  • Robert Farrow Open University
  • Martyn Cooper Open University
Keywords: Inclusion, students with disabilities, services, personalisation, evaluation, virtual learning environments, EU4ALL


Online resources for education offer opportunities for those with disabilities but also raise challenges on how to best adjust resources to accommodate accessibility. Automated reconfiguration could in principle remove the need for expensive and time-consuming discussions about adaptation. On the other hand, human-based systems provide much needed direct support and can help understand options and individual circumstances. A study was carried out within an EU-funded accessibility project at The Open University (OU) in parallel with studies at three other European universities. The study combined focus groups, user-testing, management consultation and student survey data to help understand ways forward for accessibility. The results reinforce a holistic view of accessibility, based on three factors: positioning the university as a positive provider to disabled students; developing processes, systems and services to give personal help; and planning online materials which include alternatives. The development of a model that helps organisations incorporate professionalism in accessibility is described, though challenges remain. For example, a recurrent difficulty in providing adequate self-description of accessibility needs implies that a completely automated solution may not be attainable. A more beneficial focus, therefore, may be to develop systems that support the information flow required by the human ‘‘in the loop.’’

Keywords: inclusion; students with disabilities; services; personalisation; evaluation; virtual learning environments; EU4ALL

(Published: 19 December 2012)

Citation: Research in Learning Technology 2012, 20: 18699 -


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Author Biography

Patrick McAndrew, Open University

Patrick McAndrew is Professor of Open Education in the Institute of Educational Technology, co-Director of OLnet ( and leading the Bridge to Success project ( to use OER to help students cope with starting in the US Community College system. Patrick has a first degree in Mathematics from University of Oxford and a PhD in Computer Science from Heriot-Watt University. His research interests are the design of learning experiences with a focus on the impact of openness. He led The Open University's contribution to the EU4ALL accessibility project during its final year. He has contributed to commissioned reports for UNESCO, OECD and JISC as part of more than 100 book chapters, journal and conference papers, and published reports.

How to Cite
McAndrew P., Farrow R., & Cooper M. (2012). Adapting online learning resources for all: planning for professionalism in accessibility. Research in Learning Technology, 20.
Volume 20, Issue 4 (2012) - Special Issue: Digital Inclusion and Learning