E-Learning and Accessibility in a Virtual Setting

by Karina Cotran and  Laura Girardo

With fall just around the corner, it means students will be gearing up for another school year – albeit a different one with adjustments having to be made due to COVID-19. With the shift to e-learning, new and existing challenges with respect to accessibility present itself – for all students and more so for those students with hearing loss.

As shared in Part 2 of our ‘Accessibility in Post-Secondary’ webinar series, we recognize that there are some parallels to the in-class and online format such as:


  • Knowing your rights – regardless of the environment, you have accommodation and accessibility rights.
  • Self-Advocacy – knowing what to say to a lecturer and how to say it, what you do and do not have to reveal about your hearing loss and how to properly document accommodations.
    • Tip: Check with your institution’s Accessibility Centre to find out the types of accommodations that will be available for online learning.

As with any learning environment, the online format comes with its own set of challenges. It can range from Technical Difficulties with platforms that have a lack of captioning and poor video quality. These difficulties can provide limitations for anyone trying to lip read and as a result, causes Listening Fatigue (when a person with hearing loss is forced to put extra focus on listening and hearing the speaker). Without access to captions or a notetaker, information can be missed. In addition, with that extra focus by the listener, it can be draining and exhaustive after prolonged exposure.

Tips for a Better E-Learning Experience

  • Practice – tryout the platform beforehand to become familiar with the settings it provides (i.e. captioning and verifying the reliability/accuracy of it).
  • Advocate – let the moderator know of your accessibility needs beforehand and encourage adjustments (i.e. video for lip reading, making a note of optimal lighting for best results).

Suggestions for Teachers on Improving the Experience

  • Use the chat function as opposed to having students vocalize their questions and responses, so that the hard of hearing student stays in the loop.
  • Limit the discussion to one to two voices, if possible – as it can be hard to differentiate from one speaker to the next.
  • Provide a detailed agenda beforehand so that the student can follow along.
  • Speak slower – ensuring better understanding and accuracy of the captions.
  • Ability to record the session – for playback in case information is missed.
  • Work with the Accessibility Centre and other departments (i.e. IT) to ensure accommodations are in place and to troubleshoot any issues beforehand.

Additional Resources:

Accessibility in Post-Secondary – Part 1: covers a step-by-step guide on how to get the proper accessibility services within the post-secondary setting, the different financial assistance available to deaf and hard of hearing students

Karina Cotran works in the field of communications and is also a published author. An advocate for young professionals with hearing loss and currently serves as Director of VOICE’s Teen Outreach Program (TOP). You can check her blog at: hearingdifferently.com.

Laura Girardo has completed her BEd at Queen’s University and is on her way to becoming a Teacher of the Deaf. She is an ambassador in her community and a part of VOICE TOP committee with the goal to promote self-advocacy and inspire other deaf students to dream big!