Accessible Virtual Exchanges

A teenage boy uses sign language with a person on a computer screen.
Virtual exchanges connect communities across the globe at a fraction of the cost of in-person exchanges. What will you do to ensure that people with disabilities are fully participating?

"No miles are traveled. No one meets in person. But attitudes are changed."
- Judith McHale, Former Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

International virtual exchanges

Virtual exchanges are growing more popular for sharing information and ideas across international borders. There is no precise formula to virtual exchanges, but they typically take the form of online cross-cultural courses between individuals, between classrooms, or between institutions around the world. Educational activities and dialogues may draw from video, audio, text, and social media.

The U.S. Department of State is one such entity taking advantage of virtual exchanges to supplement or enhance in-person exchanges. Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, clarified the State Department's commitment "to take advantage of every venue -- both face-to-face and through new, virtual connective technologies -- in order to extend and sustain the personal relationships created during exchange programs.”

Are virtual exchanges accessible?

With the increased use of distance and e-learning technologies to support virtual exchanges, there is a need to focus on the potential accessibility challenges users with disabilities may experience with these systems. For many organizations, virtual exchanges represent a grey area when it comes to accessibility, but current trends indicate an increased focus on improving accessibility in digital environments.

Improving access to online content also has benefits beyond the disability community. Building a more universal experience means improved access for people with limited technological experience, people with limited English fluency, people in areas with slower internet connections, and users of mobile devices, among others.

As you consider options for a virtual exchange, it's important to plan for accessibility from the beginning. Read through the Table of Contents to learn how.