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Building inclusivity into online learning

Proposal No: 2664

Bios & Handouts


  • Kirsten Behling, Suffolk University

Disability Area:            

Topic Area:                  

Length of Session (in hours): 2-hrFormat: Lab Expertise Level: Intermediate Type of session: General Conference

Summary of Session

This session will focus on the importance and methodology of incorporating inclusive strategies into online courses. A review of the inaccessible areas of online learning will be discussed followed by an opportunity to learn how to work with faculty to design inclusive courses.


In 2012, approximately 7.1 million students in higher education took an online course (Allen & Seaman, 2014). Many more are in courses that use a Learning Management System (LMS) to augment their face-to-face interactions. However, the retention rates for online courses are much lower than face-to-face courses, particularly for those students with disabilities (Carr, 2000). This session will examine the three main areas of concern related to online learning and access: 1) the LMS, 2) publisher generated content and 3) faculty generated content. We will pay particular attention to the last area, which is the easiest to control from a university perspective. The presenter will share specific tools designed to help faculty recognize areas within their basic documents that are not inclusive and provides straight forward steps for how to make them inclusive. The tools pay particular attention to Word, PowerPoint, Excel, PDF and audio/ visual files, giving faculty the resources needed to increase access to their courses for all of their students. The participants will also be given best practices for how to get administration to support faculty training in these areas before being allowed to teach online.


  1. Attendees will be able to identify 3 key areas of concern regarding accessibility in online learning (which is not specific to just online courses)
  2. Attendees will gain the skill sets necessary for advising faculty on how to design their course materials to be as inclusive as possible.
  3. Attendees will be given best practice strategies for administration encouragement or requirement of faculty training prior to teaching online.

Speaker Bio(s)

Kirsten Behling

Kirsten Behling is the Director of the Office of Disability Services (ODS) at Suffolk University. Kirsten established the Office of Disability Services at Suffolk in 2008. ODS oversees access to all university sponsored events, including commencement and convocation. Kirsten frequently provides direct service to faculty on the topics of differentiated instruction, Universal Course Design, accessible online courses and materials and best practices for working with students with sensory disabilities through individual consultations or workshops. Prior to joining Suffolk, Kirsten work for the University Centers of Excellence on Disability at both the University of Massachusetts Boston and the University of New Hampshire. At both institutions Kirsten wrote and directed projects funded by the Office of Postsecondary Education, US Department of Education on inclusive practices for students with disabilities in postsecondary education. Kirsten is currently leading a team of disability service professionals in partnership with the University of Connecticut in the development of an online Master’s Program for Disability Services in Higher Education. In addition to Kirsten’s role at Suffolk, she serves at the president of the New England Association of Higher Education and Disability Services (AHEAD).