An attempt to redefine or reframe the term ‘disability’, in the context of online learning as a mismatch between a learner’s needs and the education process delivered, is enshrined in a new international e-learning standard.
ISO/IEC 24751:2008, ‘Information technology – individualised adaptability and accessibility in e-learning, education and training’ (
has been published by the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).
The standard says it views disability as “a consequence of a mismatch between the learner’s needs (or preferences) and the education or learning experience delivered.
“For example, an individual who is blind is not disabled when the lesson is delivered in audio. However, an individual who does not have the necessary background knowledge to understand the lesson, or who is listening to the lesson in a noisy environment, is disabled.
“Thus, the needs and preferences of a user may arise from the user’s context or environment, the technical requirements of the user’s device, the tools available (e.g. assistive technologies such as Braille devices, voice recognition systems, alternative keyboards, etc.), the user’s background, or a disability in the traditional sense.
“Given this reframing of the meaning of “disability”, a learning environment is deemed as “accessible” when learner needs can be addressed or matched.”
The new standard is published in three parts. Part 1 offers a framework and reference model to describe and specify learner needs and preferences and the corresponding description of the digital learning resources. Part 2 sets out “access for all” criteria on personal needs and preferences, including how they can be ranked by priority. Finally, Part 3 provides a ‘digital resource description’, a common language for describing aspects of a computer system to facilitate their being matched to learners’ needs and preferences.
The standard or individual parts are available at a charge from ISO national member institutes such as the British Standards Institution, or from the ISO Central Secretariat.