There has been a big shift in higher ed in the last twenty years. More college students don’t learn on campus. Instead, you can study in comfort and enjoy flexibility and lower costs of learning from home. Learning from home is a popular choice. You can pursue a degree, advance your career, or deepen your knowledge.
Educators work to make online courses as satisfying as those on college campuses. To do so, you need access to stimulating lectures and reading materials. You also need easy feedback methods and live chat rooms. A supportive online community is helpful for your success as well.
But what does online learning offer to visually impaired students? Is it even possible?
Knocking Down Barriers to Accessibility
Early on, many online materials weren’t accessible to people with a visual impairment. For example, videos and images weren’t compatible with screen readers. This presented barriers for visually impaired students.
But, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities in programs that receive federal financial aid. So, colleges must be accessible to people with different abilities. This includes on the sensory, physical, and cognitive levels. Suitable online environments must be present, too.
Online colleges for the blind must also follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This is a series of guidelines for improving web accessibility. It’s defined as the practice of removing barriers that prevent access or use of the internet by people with disabilities, including visual impairments.
Colleges and universities that offer online courses have made web accessibility a priority. Many schools have gone beyond simple compliance with the WCAG guidelines.
College Disability Services offices usually offer individualized programs for visually impaired students. For example, you can access adaptive technology as well as training for that technology. You can also get learning materials in different formats. Extended testing times is a common accommodation as well.
Methodology for This Ranking
The first step in our ranking process is research. This begins with rankings such as the U.S. News and World Report online rankings. We also look at information from The National Federation for the Blind. We look at hundreds of college websites with a focus on their Disability Services and Accessibility pages.
We also look for colleges and universities that make courses accessible. For example, does a school have a Learning Management System that’s compatible with screen readers? Do schools have assistive technologies and individualized support?
These are just a couple of questions we considered when generating these higher ed rankings. To learn more, visit our methodology page.
Our rankings below don’t list the top 10 schools for the blind. Instead, we have 30 options for you in our list of schools for the blind!
1. Michigan State University
Michigan State University strives for fairness and inclusivity. This goes for classes on its college campuses and online.
Michigan State is at the top of our ranking of colleges for blind students. Why? Because D2L Brightspace is its main online Learning Management System (LMS).
Why does that matter?
Brightspace is the first LMS accepted into the National Federation of the Blind’s (NFB) Nonvisual Access Partnership (SNAP). This type of specialized education offers visually impaired students a seamless experience.
2. Penn State World Campus
Penn State World Campus is in the top 10 of six of the U.S. News Best Online Programs rankings for 2020. This is the most of any school in the country. There is no doubt that this is a quality school!
Visually impaired students are not excluded from accessing this excellence. The school’s attention to accessibility for everyone makes it a top college for the blind.
Content comes in different formats. Video and other multimedia content comes with transcripts and audio descriptions. The school also has state-of-the-art assistive technologies to help college students. You can read about the college experience of one visually impaired Penn State student in this interesting interview.
3. Stanford University
Stanford facilitates meaningful learning for college students of all backgrounds and ages. To make their courses accessible, Stanford founded The Stanford Online Accessibility Program (SOAP). It provides resources for creating accessible materials for visually impaired students.
Disabled students at Stanford have access to specialized education services through local and state agencies. This includes:
- The Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired
- The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
- The California Council for the Blind (CCB)
Stanford uses Canvas for all its online courses. Canvas provides visually impaired students a wide array of accommodations, such as:
- captions for visual content
- large print
- accessible web content
4. Johns Hopkins University
John Hopkins offers dozens of online courses and programs. Some of these classes are free on Coursera.
John Hopkins provides access by ensuring that web-based content is easy to use.
The University provides guidelines for its content creators to make websites accessible for people who are legally blind or have a visual impairment, such as:
- vision loss
- blurred vision
The guidelines recommend that websites have sufficient visual contrast. They should have an adjustable font size as well. Online content should also use more than colors to distinguish pieces of content.
5. Auburn University
Auburn University ensures access to web information for all. The university has strict guidelines for content. For example, you can get captions and scripts for online multimedia. You can also get image and link descriptions. Accessible tables are also provided.
For online visually impaired students, all course materials are in Canvas. This LMS is compatible with screen readers. It can also integrate with other assistive technologies.
Auburn’s Office of Accessibility ensures that you have what you need for success. This includes:
- assistive technologies
- course materials in alternative formats
- technology training
These accommodations are available to disabled students with a visual impairment or other special needs.
6. Florida State University
FSU’s Office of Accessibility Services provides various resources to online disabled students. These include different types of accommodations, like extra support and specialized assistive technologies. You might even find note takers to help you with class notes.
For course specifics, you can read FSU’s Technology Accessibility Statements & Privacy Policies. This also talks about FSU’s LMS, Canvas, and its integrated applications.
FSU’s Office of Distance Learning (ODL) also provides guidance on accessible courses. They make sure that video, images, and written documents are accessible by visually impaired students.
7. University of Iowa
The University of Iowa ranked first in an assessment of website accessibility. It topped a list of 140 American Universities! The ranking used a tool called the Functional Accessibility Evaluator (FAE) 2.0. It measures a website’s compliance with W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. This makes online content accessible to people with different abilities.
The ranking is great news for visually impaired students who want to take online courses.
The University of Iowa uses Canvas. This ensures that course material is compatible with assistive technologies.
8. Utah State University
Utah State offers hundreds of online courses. There are over 60 online degrees and certificates. These programs are highly ranked by US News & World Report.
USU’s Disability Resource Center assists students with disabilities on campus and online. They provide accommodations and individually tailored support.
Utah State’s online courses are on Canvas. This platform is where you’ll find quizzes and assignments. Grades and feedback come through Canvas as well.
Canvas is screen-reader compatible. It has many other features that make it accessible for visually impaired students and students with low vision. It’s a great LMS for online colleges and universities to be more accessible.
9. Washington State University
Washington State University is a non-profit public research university. Its online Global Campus offers various undergraduate and graduate courses.
The Access Center at Washington State University ensures students with disabilities can access materials. For example, visually impaired students can get braille and audio format materials.
Like many schools in our ranking, WSU uses Canvas for online learning.
10. Northwestern University
Many schools at Northwestern University have their own courses for students. There’s a variety of online and blended learning opportunities.
Northwestern adheres to guidelines for accessibility to all students. As such, it’s one of the best schools for blind students.
For example, IT staff creates websites for students with different abilities. Northwestern’s LMS, Canvas, allows teachers to deliver course material and grades. Teachers can also create an online learning environment that’s tailored to suit individual needs.
11. Walden University
Walden University is special for many different reasons. Most striking is its commitment to the social good. Walden University is a B Corp™. This means it balances purpose and profit.
In addition to being a great online university, Walden offers online students with disabilities various accommodations. You can access materials in alternative formats. Text-to-voice technology is available, too.
You can contact Walden’s Disability Services to find out what other education services they offer to students with a visual impairment.
12. The University of Texas at Austin
The University of Texas embraces and encourages diversity in many forms. It’s an inclusive community that fosters positive learning environments.
UT has online material that’s accessible to students with disabilities. This includes students with visual impairments.
The university uses Canvas to deliver its online courses. Canvas is compatible with screen readers and other assistive technologies.
Under Texas education code, legally blind students that are Texas residents are exempt from tuition costs. Contact the Texas Workforce Commission for information about how to secure certification.
13. Michigan Technological University
Michigan Technological University strives to offer equal opportunities for its students and staff. All University systems and websites are accessible as well as:
- electronic documents
- educational materials
- training materials
To ensure that no one is excluded, Michigan Tech has a set of guidelines and procedures that guides the creation of online materials. These study aids are for students with visual or hearing impairments. They are also for students with mobility or cognitive impairments.
Disability Services provides support to students with disabilities. You can use these services even if you don’t have a documented disability. For online students, the university offers course materials in large font through Canvas. All textbooks are available in audio format as well.
14. California State University- Chico
CSU Chico uses Blackboard as its online LMS. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, Blackboard is accessible to legally blind users. But, there is a lot of configurability in the Blackboard service. As such, no two experiences will be exactly the same.
Another improvement to Blackboard is the ‘invention’ of Ally. This service alerts faculty to materials that need improvement for accessibility.
15. Saint Louis University
Saint Louis Online University allows you to choose when you want to start your degree. You also decide how many courses to take. You can learn at your own pace.
The Access Office ensures equal access to learning opportunities. It also offers access to resources and programs at the university. They take an individualized approach. This ensures each student has the tools to reach their academic potential.
The Access Office even has a set of best practices to help faculty and staff remove barriers from their courses. The University uses Blackboard. As noted earlier, it’s equipped with Ally, which lets you easily generate alternative formats for course files.
16. Colorado State University
CSU offers various accredited degrees, certificates, and professional development options online. Students of all backgrounds and abilities are welcome. There is an accessible learning environment for all. In fact, this blind student from Oman earned not one, but two degrees from CSU.
The Student Disability Center makes sure all materials are accessible. They provide accommodations like extra time for exams. You can get course materials in different formats as well.
CSU uses Canvas, which is compatible with screen readers and other assistive technologies. This makes CSU a top university for the blind.
17. Temple University
Temple University offers many online, distance, and blended courses. The University provides access to facilities and online materials. Guidelines are in place so faculty can create accessible course materials, websites, and documents.
Disability Resources and Services (DRS) offers help to visually impaired students. The department’s Assistive Technology (AT) coordinator is at the forefront. They offer needs assessment, training, and short-term equipment loans. The AT coordinator also produces instructional materials in alternate formats.
For example, you can get:
- electronic text format
- audio files
The University’s Institute on Disabilities also has programs that support people with disabilities (including visual impairments).
18. University of Washington
The University of Washington (UW) is a top tier public university. Its Professional and Continuing Education Division offers a high-quality education to online students.
UW ensures people with visual impairments have access to all services and content. For example, UW’s IT Accessible Technology Services works to make IT accessible to everyone.
UW delivers its online courses on Canvas. Ally, which is from Blackboard but is compatible with other LMSs, is also available. Ally generates electronic braille, screen-reader compatible text, and audio for visually impaired students.
19. University of Mississippi
The University of Mississippi offers some of its most popular on-campus courses online. The school provides accommodations so you can reach your full academic potential.
The University includes the National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision (NRTC). The NRTC focuses on employment outcomes of persons with legal blindness or low vision.
The online university uses Canvas. Course materials, assignments, and grades, are in Canvas. You can use your screen reader or assistive technologies to access it.
20. University of South Arkansas
The University of South Arkansas has a Center for Educational Access (CEA). It ensures all college students can access what they need. It staff eliminates barriers for students on campus and online.
CEA works with faculty and staff to assist each student. They determine how to make your learning experience a seamless and rewarding one.
The University uses Blackboard Ally. This program creates alternative formats for students with a visual impairment. It also evaluates each document and gives feedback about accessibility. The document’s creator can use that information to improve its accessibility.
21. Framingham University
Framingham University offers online degree courses in 18 subject areas. It’s is committed to providing access to all students.
Ally is part of Framingham’s LMS of choice, Blackboard. This makes online courses even more accessible for students with a visual impairment. Ally has the ability to generate electronic braille, audio, and other formats.
Framingham has a set of guidelines and best practice tips to further make courses more accessible.
22. Missouri State University
Missouri State University has one of the most accessible college websites. This is great news for visually impaired students. You can access one of Missouri State’s accredited and affordable online degrees.
As an online student, you can take advantage of the same support offered to on-campus students. There’s virtual research help, writing help, and one-to-one tutoring.
Missouri State uses Ally. It enables you to choose a format that meets your needs.
23. University of Michigan
The University of Michigan is one of the most well-regarded colleges, both on the Ann Arbor campus and online.
Online students like you can take one of more than 100 courses. There are also ‘Teach-Outs.’ These are free online events to which people (whether students or not) can tune in and listen.
The University provides equal access to services for all. The university website includes bold colors, larger-than-average font size, and other features. This makes it accessible to visually impaired people.
Support and accommodations are available to all students. Support is determined on a case-by-case basis to ensure that you get exactly what you need. That’s just one reason why it’s among the best schools for the visually impaired.
Additionally, online courses are in Canvas, so materials are compatible with assistive technology.
24. Florida Atlantic University
The university’s Student Accessibility Services (SAS) caters to the needs of campus students. SAS staff ensures that students with visual impairments receive the necessary accommodations. They also provide suggestions to faculty on how to best accommodate visually impaired students.
Online coursework is in Canvas. This platform is disability-friendly. Students with visual and other impairments can use it without difficulty.
FAU goes above and beyond to fulfill its commitment that everyone can access an excellent education. For example, FAU spent a year adapting the curriculum for a wheelchair-bound blind student. That student graduated from FAU’s Department of Music.
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26. Minot State University
Minot State University offers some of the most affordable online degrees. It’s a great choice for visually impaired students who want to get a quality education on a budget.
The university is home to the North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities (NDCPD). NDCPD is a Center of Excellence on Developmental Disabilities, Education, Research and Service. Its mission is “to provide service, education, and research which empowers communities to welcome, value and support the well-being and quality of life for people of all ages and abilities.”
Minot’s online courses are on Blackboard. The American Foundation for the Blind notes that Blackboard is accessible to visually impaired people. This means Minot is a great college for blind students!
27. Shoreline Community College
Shoreline’s online campus offers dozens of online degrees and certificates. It’s known for its high-quality teaching and affordable prices.
Shoreline’s Student Accessibility Services works with students on an individual basis. This ensures you have a positive learning experience. Accommodations include:
- materials in alternate formats
- adaptive equipment
- extra time on tests
- priority registration
Course materials are in Canvas. You’ll automatically have access to interpreting and transcribing technology. You can get materials in alternative formats as well. Canvas also provides captions for multimedia content.
28. St. John’s University
St. John’s University offers several online master’s degrees. The university also gives students a laptop with full warranty support.
The university boasts a very proactive Disability Services Office. The office improves the quality of life of students who have a disability, including visual impairments. The office also works to ensure a barrier-free educational experience.
St. John’s online courses are on Blackboard. This platform is compatible with most screen readers and other types of assistive technology.
29. Boston University
BU has award-winning online degrees that enable visually impaired students to get a good education.
The Disability and Access Services caters to visually impaired students. They offer materials in alternative formats. You can also get access to adaptive and assistive technology. Reading and research assistance are also available.
Boston University staff and faculty have training in making materials accessible to everyone. The University also uses Blackboard, a popular LMS that’s accessible to visually impaired students.
30. Gallaudet University
Gallaudet University offers a barrier-free education to the deaf and hearing-impaired community. All courses are taught in sign language and spoken English. The current student body includes people from all over the world. Students have different needs and communication styles as well.
Gallaudet University offers a selection of online courses. There are programs for undergraduate, graduate, or professional studies credit, too.
You can study fields like education or Clinical Mental Health Counseling. You can be sure that Gallaudet’s faculty and staff are accommodating to your specific needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do Colleges Make Their Online Courses More Accessible?
Pursuing a bachelor’s degree, master’s, or doctorate degree online is popular. Online programs are flexible, convenient, and affordable. This is especially true for visually impaired students who may not be able to navigate campus life. It’s important for online colleges and universities to make their content accessible.
The Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act requires colleges that receive federal financial aid to be accessible to everyone. They’re also required to remove barriers that might prevent a person from accessing their services.
Colleges must follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), too. This is a series of guidelines for improving web accessibility.
There are many ways online colleges can help students with visual impairments:
- Providing guidelines to university staff on how to ensure accessibility
- Ensuring that websites are easy to navigate
- Providing transcripts for video and audio content
- Providing written or audio descriptions of images
- Ensuring websites are compatible with assistive technology such as screen magnification and readers
- Ensuring there is good color contrast on screen
- Ensuring that Disability Services are responsive and available to create solutions for students
- Providing guidance for academics and a career counselor to aid in the transition from school to work
What are Learning Management Systems designed to do?
Another important factor in an online college’s accessibility is their choice of Learning Management System (LMS). An LMS is the platform used by faculty, staff, and students to:
- host course materials
- deliver assignments
- report grades
- host course materials
- deliver assignments
- report grades
Popular LMS Platforms
All the online colleges in our list use LMSs that are accessible by students with different abilities. The three most popular LMSs are:
- Brightspace, which was the first LMS accepted into the National Federation of the Blind’s (NFB) new Nonvisual Access Partnership (SNAP).
- Canvas, which allows educators and students with disabilities to configure it in ways that make online learning accessible.
- Blackboard, which according to research conducted by the American Foundation for the Blind, is accessible to blind and visually impaired users.
Another tool with increasing accessibility is Ally. This tool is from Blackboard, but it can integrate with other LMSs.
Ally is great for both instructors and students. For teachers, it provides guidelines to improve the accessibility of content. It also allows teachers to check for common accessibility issues.
For students, Ally offers different formats (audio, electronic braille, etc.). You can also report accessibility problems.
Can Visually Impaired Students Get Scholarships for Online College Degrees?
The high cost of a degree is one of the barriers to going to college. Some of those costs are offset by choosing an online degree, which can be cheaper than on-campus programs.
How can visually impaired students get an education without a mountain of debt?
There are dozens of scholarships for people with visual impairments and those below the poverty line. Some of them offer a one-time amounts. Others cover your entire tuition (and more!). It depends on your financial need.
Common Scholarship Requirements
Some scholarships require you to have a certain degree of sight loss or that you are legally blind. Other scholarships are for students in a certain field, like STEM, literature, or music. There’s scholarships for athletes, musicians, and actors, too.
Some blind colleges also offer their own scholarships. Call the school’s Disability Services, Financial Aid Office, or the department to which you want to apply. Not all funding is on the school’s website.
Some scholarships are limited to the state level. Contact state agencies that cater to the visually impaired to find out what’s available.
Certain states have laws that provide college tuition waivers for people with a certain level of visual impairment. Texas is one such example.
Looking for financial aid might not be fun, but it’s worth it. Start as soon as possible!
You might also look for colleges with low tuition.
Which is the Best Online College for Visually Impaired Students?
The goals of visually impaired students are diverse. While one online college might be perfect for one visually impaired student, it might not feel right for another.
But, the one thing all the colleges on our list have in common is the ability for you to gain access to accommodations. Can a visually impaired student enjoy what the college has to offer? Can they fulfill their academic potential? At the schools on this list, you bet!
The colleges listed above have courses accessible to visually impaired students. Some have done so through their choice of LMS. Others make accommodations available to visually impaired students. Yet others pay special attention to creating accessible online materials. You can get written materials and adaptive software. You might also receive braille materials or an individual plan for your education.
Additionally, many schools offer advanced study opportunities, like online masters visual impairments programs.
Michigan State University is one of the best online colleges for accessibility. This is part of the reason why it’s at the top of our list!
MSU has a good LMS for visually impaired students. There’s a wide range of other factors to consider:
- choice of courses
- available degrees
Make sure you take a look at our list and make an informed choice. Talking with admissions counselors can also be helpful in making decisions about your future.
Need more guidance on getting a degree? Check out these rankings: