Back to School with iOS

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

In this post I would like to discuss my experience of recently beginning an online course of study. Before beginning this course, I had heard about online courses, but I had never explored the area.

Signing Up

In my case, signing up to an online course was as straight forward as completing any online purchase. It was just a case of providing my personal details and payment information.

I completed the sign-up process on my iPhone in a matter of minutes. Soon after I was sent confirmation of my payment, and the following day I was emailed login credentials.

Of course, the information requested may vary depending on the course provider. For example, another provider may ask you to upload a CV or previous qualifications.

It is fair to assume, if you were having difficulty with the sign-up process, you could contact the course provider. Most providers have a contact form or presence on

Study Materials

The study materials for my course are all provided online, and they comprise of PDF’s, videos and links to other relevant websites. There are also online quizzes to test yourself.

Like other websites, I am able to download the PDF’s on my iPhone, and save them to iBooks, or any other apps, for later reading. The videos stream online in a web-based player which is accessible for the most part.

What I normally do is, download the PDF on my Mac, select all the text and paste it into TextEdit, and transfer that text file to my iPhone via Dropbox. I can then read it in Voice Dream Reader.

This is a lot of additional work, but I think it is worth it as the information is much easier to read in a text file compared to PDF. I could have requested text files from the course provider, but I like taking on a little project now and again.

There are some visual elements to the study materials such as diagrams, charts and tables, but this is almost unavoidable in any course of study (i.e. online or otherwise). I have been able to interpret the tables and most of the diagrams based on the accompanying text.

This is something else which needs to be communicated to the course provider, i.e. I may have difficulty with the visual elements of study materials as I am visually impaired/blind.

This is what I have done, and my assigned tutor is now aware of the potential issue. I cannot say for certain, but I’m sure a course provider would explain a chart or diagram in words if you were having difficulty figuring it out.

Getting Assessed

The assessment process is quite straight forward for my chosen course. I am required to complete 3 individual assignments and submit them via an online form.

The form is your standard Choose a File/Browse upload process, and feedback on the assignment is provided by my tutor online and communicated to me via email.

I haven’t yet tried uploading an assessment on my iPhone, but assuming the document is saved in Dropbox or iCloud, I don’t imagine there would be any issues.

Important Considerations

For me there were 2 essential considerations, and they were:

  1. Do I have the time to complete this course, and other commitments?
  2. Is the online learning system going to be accessible? And will I be able to read the study material?

While the first consideration is personal, the second is something which will affect anyone using assistive technology such as VoiceOver on iOS or Mac.

To deal with the consideration concerning accessibility, I contacted the course provider, and I was surprised to be allowed to access the online learning system and study materials for a 7 day free trial.

This trial gave me the opportunity to evaluate everything, and it completely convinced me that I would be able to access all aspects of the online system.


I hope you have enjoyed reading this post, and if you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate in sharing. Also, just in case you are interested, the online course I began is concerned with the area of Project Management.



Submitted by sockhopsinger on Friday, September 9, 2016

Did you sign up for courses through a college? Through an app? You are making the assumption that people know what courses and what area you are referring to. Is it part of Apple? I am not trying to be snarky, but I am genuinely curious.

Submitted by sockhopsinger on Friday, September 9, 2016

I'm not trying to pry into any personal areas. I have heard of sites like @Coursera and wasn't sure if that was what you were referring to. I imagine online signups may be different for different providers.

Submitted by Niall Gallagher on Friday, September 9, 2016

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hi Sockhopsinger,

The course provider I signed up to is an online college which is setup here in Ireland, my home country.
You can search Google for online courses, and you will find a range of providers, specific to your location.

Some physical colleges are now offering online versions of their courses, but this is not what I chose on this occasion.

Kind regards,


Submitted by techluver on Saturday, September 10, 2016

I signed up for a course, paid, not accessible. now they won't refund me.

Submitted by Niall Gallagher on Saturday, September 10, 2016

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hi Techluver,

I am sorry to read about your bad experience.
The course provider is not being very considerate if you have explained that the study material and/or learning system is not accessible with your assistive technology.

I would take this opportunity to say, it is very important to make contact with the course provider before committing to your chosen course to see if they have any information regarding accessibility.
When making such contact, it may be an idea to ask about a free trial like my course provider offered me.

Kind regards,


Submitted by Deborah Armstrong on Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Techluver's experience is far from unique, but I do have solutions. I work at a college and also take online courses regularly.
First, take a course from a school who has a real live human to consult about accessibility, especially if you are paying. If a student inquires about how accessible a course is at our college, someone will ask me to research it though that's not my official job, just because I like doing that sort of thing. The student will be in contact with the human who is consulting with me, and they will have both a phone and email contact so they can get an answer. (If web accessibility was my official role I'd be in contact with that student directly.)
Second, make sure you have a guarantee that if it isn't after all accessible you can get your money back. For example, the learning management system (LMS for short) might be fully accessible, but the instructor's stuff is not. If it turns out that it is all video and image-only PDF material, you won't want to struggle to learn from it. Take calculus, or anatomy for example.
Third, if you do encounter an inaccessible piece, such as an image-only PDF, is there again a real live human who can fix the problem? Find that out before you enroll. Today, for example, I'm running a ton of inaccessible sociology handouts through OmniPage to add text and emailing them to a student who needs to both magnify and hear them read out loud.
Fourth, make sure you are organized. If you take several classes, create a separate folder for each class and put your notes, textbooks, handouts, instructor slides, syllabai, screen captures and snippets from online research in that folder. Dropbox or other cloud storage works well for this as you can use any computer, even one in a public library to keep things neat. Many schools offer free cloud storage, such as through Office 365 or Google drive for registered students.
To help stay organized, create a text file for each class that contains book information, instructor office hours, and all the other random details associated with the course but not with any particular textbook chapter. It will be quick and easy to find this on your pphone if you need the office location or the exact name of the book when you are at the bookstore. This is the one thing most of my students fail to do for some reason, but keeping all the details about a course in one text file that can be accessed anywhere is essential!
Fifth,make sure you have access to a real computer. It can be yours, your brother's, the computer lab's, or one in the local library. You can't do everything a course might require on an iDEVICE most of the time. For example, our college won't let you use an iDEVICE to take exams. Another course I'm taking needed a perfectly formatted essay which I rough drafted on my phone but cleaned up on the computer. One course I took let me do everything on my phone except pay my fees; for some reason the website for paying my registration was accessible with NVDA but nnot VO! So be sure you have access to a computer, even if you prefer to use your iDEVICE whenever possible.
Lastly, ask for help intelligently. "I can't submit an assignment" is unclear. "I tapped on the submit button after I've checked the box to agree the work is my own and I've filled in the edit field with my answer. But the screen doesn't change. Can you confirm my assignment did actually get submitted last night at 7:15?" Now that's a clear request for help stating exactly what you did and what you need the helper to do. The other big mistake my students make is either asking for help in a vague sort of way; "It doesn't work!" or being afraid to ask for help until it's too late.