Accessibility in E-Learning: what to know, what to avoid

E-Learn Team
29/11/16
Adjust the
text size

Nowadays, we are living in a multicultural world, where globalization has provided us with the possibility to interact with people from all over the world and know about their ways of life, beliefs and customs. We are living in a world where everybody is different; some of us like warm weather, while some others prefer cold weather; some prefer dress in white and others in black. All this has resulted in the development of products, services, and environments in line with different types of needs.

Nonetheless, instead of thinking about differences in preferences, it is necessary to think about the physical differences we may have, and being aware that everything around us should be designed in order to allow us participate in our environment without any obstacles. At this point, inclusion and accessibility began to play a leading role in the development of products, services and environments. Physical differences go beyond the size or eye color; in this particular case, we are referring to the different types of disabilities people may live with.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) more than one thousand people in the world, which means, 15 percent of the world population, live with some type of disability1. This provides a very big opportunity for inclusion, which is, at the same time, an opportunity to improve these people’s wellbeing. The field of action for the improvement of their quality of life ranges from the physical access to rural and urban infrastructure to, for instance, access to education and citizen participation.

Accessible education is synonymous with wellbeing

Let’s focus on the teaching and learning fields, a scenario where inclusion of everyone should be an essential requirement. Currently, the education portfolio is so wide that we might be learning something even if we are, for instance, in the top of a mountain, just requiring technology (an LMS platform), contents and the proper device. These three elements should avoid, however, falling into accessibility errors.

What common errors may be found in platforms and content?

In the development of content and support on platforms and other technologies, the following errors may occur:

Common errors in the Web, platforms and contents:4,5

 

Software developers, program designers, and teachers alike usually fall into errors that are against the accessibility standards for every type of disability. Some of common errors are:

1. Hearing Impairment: 

  • Content supported on audio only, such as videos with voices and sounds, without subtitles or transcriptions.
  • Media players not showing subtitles and without volume controls.
  • Web-based services, including web applications, based on interaction through voice only.
  • Absence of sign language to complement important information

 

2. Visual Impairment:

  • Images and other structural elements without text equivalent alternatives.
  • Designs, images, and pages where size cannot be changed or lose information when rescaled.
  • Absence of visual and non-visual signs for orientation, page structure, and other browsing aids.
  • Media players that do not offer options to adjust text size and colors.
  • Video content with no text or audio alternatives, as well as descriptions on those.
  • Web sites, web browsers, and creation tools that do not provide support for a full keyboard

 

3. Speech Impairment:

  • Web-based services, including web applications based on interaction through voice only.
  • Web sites offering telephone numbers as the only way to communicate with the organization

 

4. Motor Actions Impairment:

  • Web sites, web browsers, and creation tools that do not provide support for a full keyboard.
  • Insufficient terms to respond or complete tasks, such as filling out questionnaires online.

 

5. Cognitive Impairment:

  • Complex browsing mechanisms and page designs that are difficult understand and use.
  • Complex phrases that are difficult to read and with unusual words, long text passages without images, graphics, etc.
  • Webs and media players not providing mechanisms to suppress animations or audios.
  • Page design not adaptable to different types of browsers or devices

We already know what accessibility practices should be avoided. Now, let’s learn about some good practices to have accessible LMS and contents.

Tips to Render the Web, LMS and Contents Accessible6

1. Choose an accessibility-friendly Content Management System or Learning Management System: It is advisable to know how to choose the theme, make sure that content players or tool bars are able to run accessible contents.

2. Use titles correctly to organize the content structure: Screen readers are capable to play content if this is well organized by hierarchies. It is recommended to have a clear label structure – h1, h2, h3, h4 – etc.

3. Include “Alt text” adequately in images: Alternative text must be provided for images, so users of screen readers can understand the message transmitted by the use of images in the page. This results especially important for information images (such as computer graphics). When creating alternative text, it must contain the message to transmit through that image and, if that image includes text, this should also be included in the alt.

4. Links should have descriptive and exclusive titles: It is advisable to name links with more information than the usual “click here”.

5. Color must be used carefully: Colors may be useful to differentiate elements. However, it is important to find a balance in colors, especially when around 8% of the population lives with red-green color blindness. In this way, support provided by visual indicators is also suggested.

6. About questionnaires: When fields in a questionnaire are not properly labeled, it may cause difficulties for the learner. A suggestion is to use descriptive names on the labels and use the ARIA specification (a set of special attributes for accessibility that may be added to any label, but especially adapted to HTML)7.

7. Use tables to tabulate data: Using tables instead of fixed images with charts is extremely useful as screen readers are able to provide information on the number of columns and rows as well as on the information that they display.

8. Content must be able to be accessed through the keyboard in a logical way: Users with motor disabilities should be able to access contents by using a keyboard and clicking the “tab” key or the “arrow” keys, including people who only use their mouths and a stick to access. As a result, the presentation order and the visual order of the content must coincide.

9. Use ARIA features: This set of attributes enables accessibility to the web structure; it is screen reader-friendly and improves the browsing experience. Attributes are easily added to HTML and CSS.

10. Make the dynamic content accessible: Video players should be handled from the keyboard, as well as to have the subtitles and voice transcription options. Moreover, when contents are updated, the ARIA features will issue alerts that may be taken by screen readers.

By applying these tips for content development, platforms and tools will be more inclusive to anyone with disablities. These elements should be considered when developing strategy and the structuring of the course or program. For institutions or organizations, it is key to have their instructors aware of how to use accessible technologies, as well as the support they should provide to students requiring it.

Access to an inclusive education is a development goal that should involve organization at all levels and sectors, regardless their regional context. Reality shows that we are all different and that we need to provide the same opportunities, to ensure that accessibility is a requirement we should be reflect on in all the areas of our life.

The matter is not about “understanding persons with disabilities” as they are not unprepared to assume the challenges of the today’s world; it is about society developing any accessibility components that may affect people’s lives.

Infographic: TRiiBU Studio

References:

1World Health Organization. Press Center. In: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs352/es/ . Consulted on: September 8th, 2016

2Disabled World. Disability Definition. In: http://www.disabled-world.com/disability/types/. Consulted on: September 19th, 2016.

3Web Accessibility Initiative. What is Web Accessibility. In https://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/accessibility.php. Consulted on: September 7th, 2016

4W3C. Web Accessibility Initiative. Diversity of Web Users. In: https://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/people-use-web/diversity. Consulted on: September 8th, 2016

5 Coolfields Consulting. Web Accessibility, Types of Disability. In: http://www.coolfields.co.uk/2010/11/web-accessibility-types-of-disability/. Consulted on September 8th, 2016.

6University of California, Berkeley. Berkeley Web Access. In: https://webaccess.berkeley.edu/resources/tips/web-accessibility. Consulted on September 9th, 2016.

7Mozilla Developer Network. Aria. In: https://developer.mozilla.org/es/docs/Web/Accessibility/ARIA. Consulted on September 9th, 2016.

About the Author

E-Learn Team
Openness Initiative
E-Learn is a community openness initiative started by Blackboard. It’s a partnership designed to help educators share insights, perspectives and practices for the purpose of achieving student and institutional success.
End of Comments