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Accessibility and Accommodations for Flexible Learning

Leveraging principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can help instructors teach effectively, provide accessible course materials, and most importantly, improve student engagement in unfamiliar and dynamic learning environments. Virginia Tech supports instructors with a variety of tools, resources, and training to complement the various modes of teaching and learning this fall. We encourage all instructors to start by adding one UDL practice to improve access for all learners and foster a more inclusive environment:

Low Intensity (low tech, less time/effort needed)

  • Consider hosting a virtual listening/sharing circle, or send an email or check-in form asking students to let you know what they need and provide feedback about the class format and expectations.
  • Encourage your students to explore software that supports student success. For example, EquatIO and Read&Write are available for free to the entire VT community.
  • Ensure that digital copies of course materials are available within Canvas at least 48 hours prior to class.
  • In CETL’s course design resources there is a faculty-led video of how to integrate accessibility tools and links specific to proactively integrating accessibility tools into activities and lessons.
  • Provide clear expectations within your syllabus regarding wellness behaviors (PDF) and classroom conduct (PDF). This could also include outlining a plan for if your course needs to change in significant ways (e.g., an online course becomes hybrid, or an in-person course moves online).
  • Provide multiple options for communication (chat, email, video conference, etc.).
  • Turn on captions for all videos shown within your class.

Medium Intensity

High Intensity

Resources and Contacts

Best Practices

Community Input

VT Accessibility & Disability Teams

Legal compliance

Email for more information and support with accessible technologies.

Email for more information and support with student accommodations.

Email for more information and support with employee accommodations.

Accessibility & Accommodations Working Group Team Members

  • Mark Nichols, Senior Director of Universal Design and Accessible Technologies, TLOS
  • Nikeshia Arthur, Associate Dean of Students, Director of Services for Students with Disabilities
  • Michael Brown, Associate Director, Services for Students with Disabilities
  • Pam Vickers, Director, ADA and Access Services
  • Carolyn Shivers, Associate Professor, Human Development & Family Science
  • Elizabeth McLain, Instructor, School of Performing Arts
  • Bob Hicok, Professor, English
  • Martina Svyantek, Accessible Technologies Graduate Assistant, TLOS
  • Eunice Ofori, Instructional Designer, TLOS
  • Larry Cox, Instructional Designer, TLOS

Accessibility and Accommodations FAQs

Virginia Tech is committed to providing access in all learning environments. The Accessible Technologies website contains a variety of resources for faculty developing course materials. You can start by watching a recorded workshop on Accessibility Tips and Best Practices (login required) or reviewing one of the following guides:

Accessible Technologies’ Keep C.A.L.M. campaigns each focus on a particular aspect of creating and choosing accessible materials.

  • Caption On describes the need for captions and outlines how to request and edit them.
  • Check Contrast provides examples of color contrast issues and links to the VT color palette, guides for checking contrast, and color converters.
  • Describe Images explains the advantages of alt-text and guidelines for developing them.
  • Use Ally covers how to check the accessibility of Canvas course materials, address issues, and create alternative downloadable formats.

Ally is an integrated tool within Canvas that supports student success. Ally provides alternative formats for these file types: PDF files, Microsoft Word files, Microsoft PowerPoint files, OpenOffice/LibreOffice files, and uploaded HTML files.

The alternative formats that can be generated and downloaded directly by students include: OCR’d version (for scanned documents), Tagged PDF (currently for Word, PowerPoint and OpenOffice/LibreOffice files), Mobile-friendly HTML, Audio, ePub, Electronic Braille, and BeeLine Reader.

The TLOS Professional Development Network offers live and self-paced courses focusing on accessibility. Additional external training on related topics can be found on the A11y webinar calendar. You can also schedule a consultation with a member of TLOS’s Accessible Technologies team.

Videos submitted for professional captioning should meet the following criteria: the video should already be recorded and uploaded to Kaltura, should be 45 minutes or less in length, and should be used to support instruction and planned for reuse in future semesters. For more information, visit our Closed Captioning page.

  • Videos that are already in Kaltura can have 99% accurate closed captions in 5 business days or less. For any video within Kaltura:
  • Select the “Action” button menu
  • Choose “Caption & Enrich” from the menu
  • Choose service level “Professional”
  • Choose turnaround time Best Effort (5 days or less) or 48-hour
  • Select “Submit” button

Accommodation means more than the removal of architectural barriers and the provision of auxiliary services such as note takers, readers, and interpreters or the deaf. It means reasonable accommodation must be made in the instructional process to ensure full educational opportunity. Virginia Tech does not authorize personal services as accommodations. For faculty, this means that teaching strategies and methods, including web page design and distance learning, as well as instructional policies, must be sensitive to the laws and the needs of students with disabilities and responsive to the university’s legal obligations.

Services for Students with Disabilities authorizes reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities who experience barriers while at Virginia Tech. Moreover, Virginia Tech does not issue accommodations that create an undue burden to the Institution, fundamentally alter our services or programs, or create a health and safety hazard. If you are concerned about implementing an accommodation or the reasonableness of an accommodation, please contact the counselor for your college listed here.

Students will receive their accommodation letter in PDF format from Services for Students with Disabilities within a few days after they request it. Students are encouraged to share the letter with their instruction team as soon as possible. Instructors are encouraged to make an announcement at the beginning of the semester that it is time to arrange accommodations for the course. Students may decide to notify you of their accommodations at any time during the semester. Students who have never needed accommodations in prior semesters may need accommodations now due to the dynamic nature of the learning environment. SSD encourages students and faculty to discuss accommodations privately during office hours or a separate meeting rather than before or after class. You and the student should explore ways to implement accommodations and contact SSD if you have any questions.

Students receive accommodation letters after requesting accommodations through SSD and completing an interactive process led by SSD. SSD reviews reported barriers and current environments to identify reasonable modifications and adjustments. Prior to using accommodations, each student completes an orientation through SSD that reviews their rights and responsibilities, how to discuss accommodations with faculty, and university resources on campus accessibility.

  • Explain your course format to students in your syllabus, so students can determine if they require any accommodations.
  • Encourage students to share accommodation letters as soon as possible so you have adequate time to implement the accommodations. Identify whether you prefer email or in-person meetings, being mindful that time is essential.
  • Provide the requested accommodations in a reasonable and timely manner after a student shares their accommodation letter with you. Specific accommodations for a student are listed on their accommodation letter. A reasonable time frame is generally the amount of time it takes to arrange or within 5 business days.
  • Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) is a resource for you regarding questions about specific accommodations. Call SSD at 540-231-3788 or email to provide the student’s name and your question, and then the student’s disability counselor will contact you as soon as possible. The disability counselor will need to engage in dialogue with you to understand how to meet the needs of an online learning environment.

Virginia Tech is committed to equal opportunity in employment and education for individuals with disabilities and complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as amended, the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, and other state and local laws that apply to individuals with disabilities. Implementing accommodations is to ensure equal access and protection from discrimination on the basis of disability. A refusal to provide reasonable accommodations is considered intentional discrimination.

A student may decide they don’t need to use all of the accommodations listed in their accommodation letter for your course. This could be because some parts of your course are already accessible to them, or because barriers have changed due to the course format. If you have questions about what accommodations you need to provide, you should connect with the student as soon as possible to clarify what accommodations they are requesting to use for your course. If you are concerned about the types of accommodations a student shares, please contact SSD at or 540-231-3788.

If you believe a student should explore additional accommodations, please refer the student to their disability counselor at SSD so the disability counselor can explore the student’s barriers, your course requirements, and adjust the student’s reasonable accommodations, as necessary, for your course.

If you have general questions about accommodations, SSD is available to consult with you. Contact SSD at or 540-231-3788.

If a student requests an ASL interpreter or a captionist in your course, an SSD interpreter/captionist will contact you to provide additional information. If you were not contacted by an SSD interpreter/captionist and the student requests an ASL interpreter or captionist for your course, please contact SSD to discuss the student’s request. Review captioning and subtitle information on the SSD website.

If assessments are administered online, then students will complete the assessment in the online environment with accommodations. If assessments are administered in person, you should accommodate the student in that setting. If you’re unable to provide accommodated testing in the traditional classroom setting (i.e., you can’t provide a reduced-direction environment) or if the student does not have a reduced distraction environment in their remote location, you should contact the Testing Center 5 business days in advance of your assessment to reserve space. The SSD Testing Center has a limited capacity of 23 seats for physical distancing and will clean testing stations after each use. Please remember that faculty members, not students, must reserve spaces.

Begin by having a conversation with your student upon provision of the accommodation letter. Additional information for faculty can be found on SSD’s website. If you have questions about implementing an accommodation, please contact SSD.

ADA and Accessibility Services responds to requests for ADA workplace accommodations at Virginia Tech. The COVID-19 and the ADA page provides information about our abbreviated accommodation request process. Please visit the ADA Workplace Accommodations page for more information about requesting accommodations or Return to Work ADA Accommodations. You can email ADA and Accessibility Services at