Today on Slashdot there is a post about website accessibility for the blind. There are some views and some comments which I find unbelievable. Provision for visual impairment is still very poor. There are still not effective ways of presenting web-content which is by its nature visual. Flash is a particular bug-bear although I have been to meetings where they have talked about making Flash accessible. One of the main problems is that if you are visually impaired one way you interact with visual media is by touch and you cannot do this with a computer screen.
The question of making our online statistics course accessible caused some heated debate. I wanted to render the equations as images - the course was written in LaTeX and you can do this usng mimeTex. The web learning people wanted it all as MathML for accessibility and to comply with the Disability Discrimination Legislation in the UK. For me the development time of the conversion to MathML is too long as there is no simple translation/parsing tool. This meant that the course was almost not available to any students visually impaired or not. In the end we did it in MathML but the clarity of the equations for everyone suffers.
By writing it in LaTeX I have a source that can readily be converted to Braille and provide a hardcopy of the course material. For me this is the only way to deal with complex equations, reading them out loud from a browser is not useful as the equation is a whole and reading it linearly it loses its sense. The important part of online learning is the interaction between students, how they get the raw materials is less important. So if the website does not provide the right type of resource then why shouldn't it be supported with paper materials?
I still have never had a visually impaired student on any of my courses although I have interviewed some and we have explored with them how we could help them within the course. It is a difficult problem for online learning but one where you have to think about what part of the content is important and ask what aspects of the course are people with different dissabilities missing out on?