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More than Compliance:
Accessible eLearning that Makes a DifferencePublished by The eLearning Guild
October 11, 2004
As eLearning expands, the gap will widen between people who can fully benefit from eLearning and those who will be excluded because of inaccessible design. The United States, other nations, and computer industry leaders have set upon a path to create standards and products for a more accessible electronic world. However, many eLearning practitioners are waiting and wondering about the future of accessible eLearning and how it will affect them. This article is a collection of current information about accessible eLearning in the United States, and practical tips for the novice, as well as the experienced designer or developer of accessible eLearning products.
Meet some users of accessible eLearning
To bring some reality to this subject, the editor asked me to introduce you to two of our colleagues who are regular users of accessible eLearning.
Michael Upthegrove uses a device called a communicator (see Figure 1 on page 2) to talk, communicate, and work, due to cerebral palsy. The following was transcribed from a recording that Michael made for this article.
“My name is Michael Upthegrove. I live with my parents at home in Norman, Oklahoma. I graduated from Norman High School in 1989. I spent very little time in regular classes. For good and for bad, I am a result of Special Education of the ‘80’s. I went to Vo-Tech School for basic math and reading. My communicator has always had access to a computer so I took a few computer classes. In the fall of 1993, I was asked to join a new program called Supported Employment at the University of Oklahoma. In preparation for some type of job, I got into the System, was assigned a Rehab Counselor, put my name in for a caregiver, and took an IBM class. This was when I met my job coach. We had a lot to learn about each other and how to work together. They found an opening for a computer data entry person to enter car rental accounts into a mainframe computer system.
“It was decided that I needed a new communicator called a Liberator. It had a lot more technology and would make my entries into the computer much faster and easier. The Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services bought the Liberator. At the time the cost was around $10,000. I started my job with United Bank Services in February 1994. What really helped me change to the Liberator was the macro programming. It allowed me to select two or three keystrokes that sent multiple keystrokes to the computer. If one of the accounts had needed 166 hits, with macros my hits were reduced to 30.
“I knew my job when I started, but it took several months to control the paperwork that I copied. When I first started to work, I worked for three mornings a week for three hours. As I got better, I increased to four mornings a week for four hours. My transportation was the Metrolift van that came to my door and took me to work and brought me home. My job coach would meet me at the van and take me to the building. They would take my ID card and run it through the time clock and open the door to the office. I was repositioned at my work station, plugged into my computer, post my password and I was ready to work. I would take a break in the morning to rest my neck and they would help me with a drink.
“When my job coach was no longer needed, my co-workers wanted to take over these tasks. I worked at UBS for 2-1/2 years. I had great personal and working relationships with my co-workers. The company was bought out by another company and moved away from Norman. I miss the people and a place to go every day.
“In 1999 I joined a program called Partners in Progress. I attended workshops every week for 9 months. Guest speakers from all over the country presented many topics of interest. This program was training for us to become advocates for ourselves and others. Over the past 2 years, I’ve tried to keep up with Medicaid cuts, Olmstead planning and keeping people out of institutions. I have taken some classes in Social Work and have lectured to local college students in Social Work and Education to help them understand communications and to not label people because of their disabilities.
“People with disabilities that can’t talk, I think they need to try and use A T devices with accessible eLearning.”
Figure 1 Michael and his Pathfinder augmentative communication device.
Blind since birth, Suzanne Tritten and her husband, Philip, are working hard to educate and prepare their two teen-aged sons for lives filled with music, technology and Christian values. Suzy juggles the demands of wife, mother and small business owner. Active in her church choir, she also is a member of the Singing ChurchWomen of Oklahoma — a choir of Southern Baptist Women — who recently returned from a two-week performing tour in Central Europe. Her business, Tritten Technologies, specializes in testing Web sites, courses, and software programs for accessibility. In addition, she converts documents from print to Braille. Suzanne’s projects include contracts with America Online to improve the accessibility of the AOL software, and conversion of menus into Braille for the Sonic Corporation — a fast food drive-in chain headquartered in Oklahoma City.
When asked about her philosophy for accessibility, she responds: “Rather than the word ‘accessible,’ I prefer the word ‘usable.’ Accessible software should provide the user with the opportunity to use the computer to the utmost of his or her potential. Therefore, if the user is new to computers or simply cannot perform beyond the simplest of keyboard commands, there should be a simple user interface to accommodate that need. On the other hand, if the user has advanced computer skills, they should not be expected to lower themselves to the most rudimentary of levels, simply because that is what is available. While the inexperienced computer user needs only the basic commands of Alt, Escape, Tab, arrow keys, and Enter, true accessibility for the advanced user adds multiple key commands and other features to facilitate more efficient use of the computer and his time.”
Who needs accessible eLearning?
According to the U. S. Census Bureau, as many as one in every five people in the United States has some type of disability that can interfere with the use of a computer. These disabilities (as defined by the Center for Disease Control) include hearing or vision loss, cognitive disabilities and physical movement limitations.
Figure 2 below, Disability Ratios in U.S., shows percentages and numbers of Americans by disability type. Based on the 2001 U.S. Census report, of the 257.2 million Americans, 49.6 million have a diagnosed disability: 9.2 million (or 3.6% of the population)have a vision or hearing loss, 12.3 million (4.8%) have learning disabilities, and 17.4 million (6.8%) have disabilities involving movement and dexterity.
Surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control indicate that there are 27 million working age Americans who have disabilities that could interfere with eLearning. Countless other people with undisclosed or temporary disabilities, language barriers and reading problems cannot fully access or use the Internet or computer-based instruction because it has not been designed to accommodate their needs.
As an example of these other barriers, consider that in the 1990’s, the number of Mexican immigrant workers in the U.S. grew by 2.9 million persons, a 123 percent increase in this segment of the labor force. The Labor Department reports that by 2010 some 24.7 million jobs will open up for persons with minimal education levels, and that these U.S. disability statistics will represent nearly 43 percent of all projected openings.
Although accessibility most immediately refers to physical disabilities, more than 300 million people worldwide speak English as a second language and 2.5 billion of the world’s population have low or no literacy. Accessibility advocates say (accessible) technology will benefit these people as well as the global population of 480 million aging people. (See the article by Darby Patterson, May 21, 2003, listed in the References at the end of this article.)
Without corresponding audio, text-based information delivery will exclude struggling readers, non-readers and people with vision problems. For example, a muscular disorder like cerebral palsy affects muscle response and control. Eye focus is dependent upon muscular control. Therefore, it’s much more efficient to deliver a spoken message under these circumstances. There are many people who can understand the spoken language but who are not proficient in the written word, and vice versa.
What is accessible eLearning?
The formal definition of accessibility is: 1. permission, liberty, or ability to enter, approach, communicate with, or pass to and from; 2. freedom or ability to obtain or make use of. (Merriam-Webster)
Accessible eLearning is electronically generated training that is designed for equal access and use, with support for individual learning or organizational performance goals. (Clark, R. and Mayer, R. (2003)., eLearning and the Science of Instruction. (p.13) New York: Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer) and Design Guide for Accessible eLearning, National Center for Disability Education & Training, University of Oklahoma, October 2004).
At a minimum, accessible eLearning in the United States should comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
What is the current status of accessible eLearning?
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998, implemented in 2001, requires that when federal departments and agencies procure, develop, maintain or use electronic and information technology (EIT), they must ensure that it is accessible and in compliance with the Section 508 guidelines developed by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board), unless doing so would pose an undue burden. (See the overview of the Standards for Electronic and Information Technology listed in the References.)
Federal agencies are gradually moving toward a fully accessible electronic environment. The Federal “Buy Accessible” Web site (listed in the References) provides information for government agencies and lists of authorized vendors of accessible products.
Most of the states have adopted their own versions of electronic accessibility mandates. And many countries have laws of their own (some predating the ADA) covering accessibility in the electronic domain. Canada, Japan, Australia and the United Kingdom are among the leaders who have taken up the search for electronic accessibility. (See the Laws & Standards listing in the References for more information.)
Numerous computer industry leaders have embraced accessible design as a desirable goal. Macromedia, Adobe, IBM, Apple and Microsoft are continually improving their products to comply with Section 508, and they have created impressive stores of technical information and assistance for eLearning practitioners.
The Web sites for IBM and Microsoft accessibility are good examples of accessibility: visually pleasing, with uncluttered screens that provide good contrast with no moving, rolling or flashing objects. Their content is well organized and easy to navigate; accessibility features are not discernible to non-disabled users. More importantly, these sites passed the usability test by our consultant, Suzanne Tritten. Her only suggestion was to add a “return where left off” from a footnote when she clicked on a link (which is frequently overlooked). This required her to surf back through the entire article she was reading until she found the heading and the footnote, a procedure that is time consuming and distracting.
A visit to the IBM Accessibility Center Web site (http://www-3.ibm.com/able/) shows an impressive commitment to accessible environments, tools and products. It is packed with numerous tips and articles, and is also a model accessible Web site. A useful article, Keyboard Equivalents for Actions, provides detailed information, checklists and testing tips for all types of accessibility features.
Elegant, relevant and responsive are some of the words that describe Sun Microsystems’ approach to computer accessibility. (See http://www.sun.com/access/general/index.html.) The state-of-the-art design of the Sun system is carefully crafted and tested, driven by the belief that “designing to meet the needs of users with disabilities can improve the productivity of ALL users.”
Even if you do not plan to design outside of a Windows environment, Sun’s Web site is informative and enjoyable because it is well-organized in a straight-forward way. It is also another excellent example of an accessible Web site.
Adobe’s Acrobat Version 6 offers a “read aloud” feature using standard operating system text-to-speech. This is a useful accessibility feature when sending a document to students who may not have good screen readers, but who could benefit from having a document read to them.
Aside from the big players, the corporate world is lagging behind in electronic accessibility. As disability advocacy groups and individuals become more vocal about Internet access, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will likely be a stimulus for change.
As a result of a lawsuit against Ramada.com and Priceline.com, according to the New York State Attorney General’s Office, “The Attorney General opined that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that private Web sites be accessible to blind and visually impaired Internet users. The ADA generally dictates that all ‘places of public accommodation’ and all ‘goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations’ of places of public accommodation, must be made accessible to disabled citizens, absent undue hardship. New York law provides similar civil rights protections.”
When eLearning is extended beyond job-specific to corporate-wide training, it can then become part of the larger need for accessibility. For example, if all employees in an organization must be certified for certain safety procedures, and if that training is delivered through a computer, accessibility can become an issue.
Because of the ADA, employers are more sensitive to the need for accessible training facilities and classroom accommodations on the basis of disability. Equally important, yet often overlooked, is the need for electronic accessibility and the potential difficulty of providing an accommodation for eLearning. For example, if a course is not designed to work with a screen reader or does not provide focus indicators, a technology-based accommodation at the receiving end (i.e., screen reader or magnifier software) is ineffective. If there are no embedded captions for audio in an eLearning course, the presence of a live interpreter could greatly alter the eLearning experience compared to that of co-workers. If an employee has limited mobility and cannot use a mouse, and if the course has no provision for keyboard alternatives, human intervention could reduce the educational effectiveness of the learning experience.
Post-secondary and higher education
There is a very real divide in the United States between students who do and do not have access to the Internet in education today. (See the related citations in the References at the end of this article.)
Faced with the daunting challenge of converting courses into electronic formats for the general student population, federal and state laws that require access for post-secondary and college students with disabilities are often met through individualized accommodations. For example, instead of accessible design at the sending side (i.e., captions for the deaf, keystroke alternatives for mobility impaired, screen reader compatibility), individualized support is given to each student at the receiving side (i.e., scripts, human assistance and assistive technology).
While an individual accommodation may be an expedient solution, it is more economical in the long-term to design for accessibility.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (formerly called P.L. 94-142 or the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975) requires public schools to make available to all eligible children with disabilities a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment appropriate to their individual needs.
In grades K-12, computers are mainly used for specialized instruction, in a laboratory-type setting where the student learns about computers and computer programs, or for gathering information from the Internet. As this practice increases, so will the potential for legal consequences because of electronic exclusion based on disability. The stakes are high and the market potential is vast.
A 2003 survey of special education directors in Federal Region VI (Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico) by the Disability Law Resource Project revealed that the special education directors were unfamiliar with Section 508 as it relates to information technology in the classroom.
Product accessibility was assessed in a 2001 survey of 25 ”award winning” companies who produce instructional software for students (pre-high through high school). (See the report at http:// www.atap.org/software%20accessibili-ty%20survey.htm.) Of the 19 responses received, only two companies suggested that they were attempting to address accessibility issues.
Figure 3 A screen from a multiple choice exercise uses graphics instead of text and is fully accessible.
Where does accessible eLearning belong?
While many people associate Section 508 with Internet accessibility and use, the accessible eLearning environment extends much farther. It includes any and all types of electronic instruction: distance learning through teleconference or simulcast, PowerPoint presentations and videos in the classroom, as well as courses on an intranet, the Internet and on CD-ROM.
When does accessible eLearning become a requirement?
At this point, eLearning accessibility mandates in the United States are tied to Federal employees, agencies and organizations that receive Federal money; and to legislation and court cases in the various states and in other countries.
How to design eLearning for accessibility
Whether designing a new course or retrofitting an existing one, designing for the Web or other delivery media, here are some processes that will increase your knowledge about accessible eLearning.
1. Study Section 508 guidelines and convert them into functional descriptions of your eLearning product(s).
2. Become familiar with assistive technology software and hardware, and learn how it will interact with your delivery medium.
3. Get acquainted with consumers (i.e., people with disabilities) and learn how they use assistive technology to access, receive, manipulate, store, retrieve and send computer-generated information.
4. Make research-based decisions on ways to incorporate accessibility into your current and future products.
5. Be creative, and seek innovative ways to engage your learning audience in interactive multimedia.
6. Develop prototypes as you go, and field test them with consumers on their systems.
1. Study Section 508 guidelines and convert them into functional descriptions of your eLearning product(s)
There are many Web sites with tips and technical advice on accessibility in general. The official government Web site is http://www.section508.gov/. I also recommend two more sites because they are comprehensive and easy to understand: WebAIM at Utah State University http://www.webaim.org/ and the Information Technology Technical Assistance Training Center (ITTATC) at Georgia Institute of Technology http:// www.ittatc.org/.
Most Section 508 guidelines address information gathering from Web sites. While this is important, accessibility and use of an eLearning product is different. The excerpt from our Design Guide for an Accessible Model Course on CD-ROM in sidebar on page 16 may be helpful because it provides functional descriptions of accessibility options that are thoroughly researched to meet or exceed Section 508 guidelines.
Designed for Windows, our model is funded through grants from The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research and the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services. Currently in the prototype stage, it is scheduled for consumer testing beginning in the fall of 2004, and national distribution in 2006. The course is highly interactive and rich with graphics, audio and video.
An authoring tool for creating accessible eLearning
There are many authoring tools for nonprogrammers to develop accessible eLearning for Internet delivery, but the selection is limited for CD-ROM delivery without advanced scripting skills. To address this need, Dazzle Technologies Corporation, Sterling, Virginia, is building an authoring tool, called Nexus, that can create accessible, Section 508 compliant, eLearning on CD-ROM. This tool is being developed as a companion product under the same research grants and will be distributed following extensive testing by consumers and eLearning practitioners.
Unlike many authoring tools that depend on advanced scripting skills, Nexus will take the guesswork out of building interactive, media-rich eLearning that can support access and use for students with or without sensory, movement or certain cognitive limitations.
Accessibility options, menu structures, navigation shortcuts and text-to-speech support will be readily available with minimal development time and effort. Screens will be easy to build using an editor that creates .xml, and other files extensive that are called from an external database. Captions can be customized, dynamically created and played on the screen from external text files. Log-in and software products appropriate for screens, tracking, reporting and other people with special needs, and administrative controls will also be easy to select, customize and implement. Prior to public release and distribution in 2006, the software will be field tested by eLearning practitioners and people with disabilities. For more information about this project, contact the author at [email protected]
2. Become familiar with assistive technology, and learn how it will interact with your delivery media.
Assistive technology (AT) is the term used in the disability field for equipment, devices, hardware, software, switches and other technology-based products that assist a person with a disability in their activities of daily living. There are so many types and manufacturers of assistive technology that it is impossible to test with everything that is on the market. Fortunately, API standards have been developed for most of these products, and responsibility for compliance rests with the manufacturer of the software, hardware, or device.
eLearning developers who need to know more about assistive technology and how it interfaces with eLearning will benefit from Closing the Gap, Inc., an organization that focuses on computer technology for people with special needs through its bi-monthly newspaper, annual international conference and extensive Web site.
Published six times a year, the Closing the Gap newspaper highlights hardware and software products appropriate for people with special needs, and explains how this technology is being implemented in education, rehabilitation, and vocational settings around the world.
The February/March issue of the newspaper, the annual Resource Directory, is a guide to the selection of the latest computer-related products available for people with special needs. (This acclaimed guide may also be purchased separately.)
One of the best ways to learn about these products is to attend at AT manufacturers’ exposition. Manufacturers and vendors are available to tell you about their products. Samples are freely distributed. Trials and demonstrations are everywhere. Registration costs are reasonable. Web sites post valuable information of proceedings. Closing The Gap’s annual international conference, Computer Technology in Special Education and Rehabilitation, is held each fall in Minneapolis, MN, exploring the many ways that technology is being used to enhance the lives of people with special needs. The 22nd Annual Conference will be held October 21-23, 2004. Information on this conference is available at http://www.closingthegap.com.
Another widely attended conference is Assistive Technology Industries Association, which is held in January in Orlando. http://www.atia.org/
The Trace Center, at the University of Wisconsin, is a good place to learn more about the engineering side of assistive technology. http://trace.wisc.edu/. You can also find information on compatibility at the Assistive Technology Industry Association’s Web site (http://www.atia. org/AT_ Compatibility_Guidelines_v1.05.pdf).
If an accessible eLearning product works well with a screen reader, Braille display, screen magnifier with focus and commonly used alternative input devices, all of which are described below, it will most likely meet the parts of Section 508 that address compatibility.
A serious developer of accessible eLearning must become familiar with screen reader technology — through research, personal experience and by watching consumers test their products. JAWS for Windows and Window Eyes are leading screen reader products. ZoomText is both a screen magnifier and screen reader. Links to the Web sites for all three of these products are listed with the References.
A Braille display is a tactile device consisting of a row of special “soft” cells. A soft cell has 6 or 8 pins made of metal or nylon; pins are controlled electronically to move up and down to display characters as they appear on the display of the source system — usually a computer or Braille note taker. (See the information on the Refreshable Braille Display in the References for more details.)
Many blind students routinely use Braille displays. These display around 40 characters of blocked text. Many low-end systems cannot handle multimedia playback concurrent with a Braille display. Therefore, the user should be forewarned to de-activate their displays during CPU-intensive activities like animations and videos. Windows XP handles this challenge better than previous Windows versions.
Source code that includes efficient ways to tell the system that multimedia playback has ended will help to prevent system conflicts. Keeping video and audio clips short (average 20 seconds) is also recommended.
Screen magnification software and hardware are important aspects of the accessible eLearning experience for users with low vision. Many types of screen magnification software and hardware are available. Windows provides a simple magnifier as part of its accessibility package. ZoomText, cited above, is one of the more sophisticated and widely used applications.
I do not assume that every member of my learning audience will have an acceptable synthesized voice in their system. Therefore, our courses will provide either human voices or quality synthesized voices. Although this exceeds Section 508 guidelines, voice quality is too important for compromise.
ScanSoft is a company that distributes many of the best synthesized voices on the market today (RealSpeak and IBM ViaVoice). TruVoice from Centigram is another good option. There are others and the list is growing.
This means that you can also send quality voices with your product in many different languages. The price is hefty (starting with $50 per student) for small releases, but it decreases with volume. Hopefully, competition will drive the price down in the near future.
This is a developing technology with the potential for alternative selection and manipulation. However, it is still not widely used by people with disabilities because it requires a great deal of patience and voice consistency on the part of the user. Dragon NaturallySpeaking (available from ScanSoft) is an affordable “off-the-shelf” speech-to-text alternative selection product.
People with severe physical disabilities depend on an array of augmentative communication devices, switches, alternative mice or uniquely designed keyboards. Again, a visit to an AT conference is the most thorough way to learn about these products. An alternative is to subscribe to vendor catalogs and to visit manufacturers’ Web sites.
Sign language software
Human or avatar sign language software is available. File sizes are large and vocabulary is limited (unless the software works from text input). This technology is very appealing to people who prefer to use sign language. However, there are at least three different sign languages in use around the world and every message must also include appropriate facial expressions to fully convey the meaning.
3. Get acquainted with people with disabilities and learn how they use assistive technology.
It can be a challenge to locate people with disabilities. Look within your own family, company and community. High schools, technical training centers, churches, public and private agencies that offer training and vocational services for adults with disabilities, or vendors of assistive technology products are good sources. Associations that represent disability groups are also a good resource: American Federation for the Blind, United Cerebral Palsy Association, Traumatic Brain Injury Association, etc.
Posting inquiries to community Web sites could also help you locate ideal candidates who are already experienced computer users.
Ideally, your circle of experts will represent your target audience and include computer-savvy people with a wide variety of characteristics, such as: blind, deaf, deaf-blind, low vision, hard-of-hearing, upper body paralysis, upper body spasticity, chronic mental or physical fatigue, learning disabilities, memory limitations resulting from traumatic brain injury and medication side effects.
4. Make research-based decisions on ways to incorporate accessibility into your current and future products.
eLearning development and design decisions must be based on current research, which is widely available on the Internet. New applications, publications and white papers are posted daily. It is also helpful to network with peers through Web sites, conferences and local user groups. Learn from the mistakes of others. Figure 4, to the right, shows a movie that complies with Section 508 guidelines, but the captions are unreadable.
The Microsoft accessibility Web site is requisite reading for serious developers of accessible eLearning in a Windows environment. Two especially helpful documents for eLearning practitioners are Guidelines for Keyboard User Interface Design and Making Your Applications Talk.
5. Be creative and seek innovative ways to engage your learning audience in interactive multimedia.
Some eLearning practitioners assume that an accessible product should be stripped of graphics, animations and rich media. It is just the opposite: People who are deaf thrive on visual stimulation.
The key is to use simple graphics with good contrast on a plain background, and to provide succinct, educationally-relevant descriptions of graphics, animations, videos and other visual screen events. These descriptions can be text tags that are read by a screen reader, embedded human or synthesized speech, or a combination.
Drag-and-drop or matching exercises can be replaced with a multiple choice activity that uses graphics, text and audio.
Figure 3 on page 7 shows a screen from a fully accessible multiple choice exercise using graphics instead of text. The user hears and sees the instructions, then tabs to, or clicks on, each of the screen elements to obtain an image description.
Interactive video can be adapted by adding a sound track that includes narrations, or by timing text-to-speech files to movie events. Well-designed video will eliminate the need for excessive narration.
Learners with visual limitations can also be provided with supplemental materials that have tactile information. Drawings, diagrams and flowcharts can be printed onto special paper that is thermally or chemically treated to raise the print. There are several companies that will do this for a fee. Or, lines can be raised with puff paint or other textures to indicate lines, directions and processes. Section 508 standards do not prohibit the use of materials that will enhance the learning experience for people with disabilities, as long as these are used as a supplement and not as a replacement for accessible interaction.
Simulations are a bit trickier, but within the realm of possibility. Paired learning with support materials during simulations might be a workable alternative.
5. Develop prototypes as you go and field test them.
“Not about me without me” is a term that underscores the absolute necessity of having people with disabilities be part of accessible eLearning design and testing. An eLearning practitioner can design a course that is Section 508 compliant and can play with assistive technology (i.e., screen readers, alternative selection devices, magnifiers and so forth). However, it is impossible to envision how accessibility features will affect the student until it has been tested.
This is not a difficult task, but it requires dedication and follow-up. In addition to field testing by our target audience, we rely on about half a dozen people with disabilities to test our prototypes. Two of them are more active than others: Suzanne, who is blind, has a home-based business that tests Websites and converts documents for Braille.
Michael is shown in Figure 1 on page 2 with his Pathfinder augmentative communication device manufactured by Prentke-Romich. He uses a head-mounted infrared laser pointer as he scans to activate a key. His keyboard includes customized macros and keyboard arrangements that minimize mobility and focus requirements.
The Alliance for Technology Access is an organization that can assist with product testing through its national network of assistive technology resource centers, individual and organizational associations and technology vendors and developers. 27
Prototype testing will yield valuable information about accessibility, use and educational effectiveness. Here are some things we learned from our first-run consumer testing:
· Deaf students and visual learners are incredibly bored if you strip out visual effects.
· Students who use image descriptions will be “turned off” by long and irrelevant narration.
· If your course has highly-compressed audio, it can create an echo that is irritating to someone whose hearing device picks up high frequency noise.
· Follow the Windows design for navigation and organization because it is an intuitive skill. (This is possibly the easiest and most overlooked aspect of accessible design because students will perform better if they can draw upon “pre-learned” movement and organization.)
Here are some other examples of how instructional designers and developers can overlook the obvious.
Figure 4 on page 12 shows a movie in a 320x240 pixel window, with embedded captions. This is an illustration taken from the Apple Web site at http://www.apple.com/accessibility/hearing/index.html#quicktime, intended to demonstrate the capabilities of QuickTime’s closed captioning feature. Note that closed captions are added through QuickTime scripts, and the developer controls details such as the size of the caption text. The particular example shown may comply with Section 508 guidelines, but unless it is played on a full screen, these particular captions are going to be unreadable – especially if the user has vision problems in addition to hearing loss. This is an issue that developers must keep constantly in mind – even though a tool makes a feature available, it is up to the developer to make the content accessible.
Anti-aliased text can result in reduced visibility when highly magnified.
Figure 5. shows Arial in Flash using Microsoft Magnifier with a setting of 8. Figure 6. shows the same text using system-based font. Decisions on font style, size and contrast should be based on research, testing and consumer input.
Ten tips to retrofit existing courses
Limited budgets and minimal accessibility of existing courses need not deter efforts to improve the level of accessibility and use, even in small steps. Here are some simple ways to get started.
1.Clean up screens and get rid of unnecessary adornment and busy backgrounds.
2. Test your products with consumers to analyze where you can do immediate improvements and plan for more extensive renovation later.
3.Analyze screen and text contrasts and change as resources permit.
4.Accompany on-screen text with human audio as much as possible.
5.Add speech “bubbles” to audio (i.e., captions).
6.Break up long dialogue into multiple screens.
7.Add keyboard navigation that follows the Microsoft default.
8.Provide scripts in multiple formats (.doc, .pdf – not .rtf).
9.Add focus indicators tied to cursor.
10.Build “paired learning” experiences into computer-generated training to offset accessibility issues.
And, finally, if you have no resources for accessible eLearning but want to get started, seek ways to involve people with disabilities in the testing and design of current and future eLearning products. The cost is minimal and the pay-off is great!
Exclusion of people with disabilities from the Internet or from eLearning opportunities cannot be fully corrected by guidelines, standards, legislative mandates, court rulings or government intervention. Inclusion is a matter of the heart. It stems from a personal desire to do the right thing and to take the initiative for change. This change can be made now or later, through baby steps or bold directives. The technology is available and affordable. The risk is minimal. The costs are manageable. Designers, developers, managers, educators and corporate leaders have the ability to create an electronic environment that either supports or disregards the needs of people who depend on technology for independence, enjoyment, employment and communication. The long-term dollar return on investment may be negligible. Yet, for people who want to experience freedom from computer-imposed restrictions and participate in the benefits of independent learning, the pay-off is immeasurable.
Sidebar 1 Design Guide for an Accessible Model Course on CD-ROM (Note: many of these features can be implemented with “off-the-shelf” authoring software; others require more advanced programming skills).
· Voice narration will be a combination of human and synthesized speech, supplemented by text-to-speech that is compatible with screen readers.
· Basic screen and navigation functions will be accompanied by sound and visual cues (i.e., next, leaving menu, replay screen, loading page, etc.)
· All video will have playback controls that include play, pause, rewind, and fast forward with a “slider bar” and time increment hash marks. Controls can be activated with mouse or keyboard alternatives.
· Captions will be visible at all times, synchronized with audio. Scrolling text will be avoided. Caption default will be white text on black background with Verdana size 14 font.
· Anti-aliased text will not be used.
· Captioned text alternatives will include size 24 and 36 font size, black on pale gray and yellow on black.
· Color palettes will provide good contrast. Monochromatic schemes will not be used.
· Default background colors will be pastel with no textures, watermarks or other distractive elements.
· Color will not be used for selection.
· Rolling, flashing and fast moving objects will not be used.
· Animations will provide audio descriptions and supplemental educational materials as needed.
· Menu selection will go no deeper than 3 levels.
· Navigation and keyboard shortcuts will be based upon Windows standard, with mnemonic assignments and NUMPAD alternatives.
· Keyboard shortcuts will be limited to fewer than 20.
· Single key navigation will be preferred unless it interferes with other programming options (i.e., keystroke echo).
· Course programming will not interfere with assistive technology hardware, software or other devices that meet industry standards.
· Course programming will not interfere with or alter a user’s system preferences and settings.
· All navigation can be performed with mouse or keyboard alternatives.
· Screen magnifier with screen focus indicator will be an option.
· The student will have control of time in which screen items are displayed and interaction is required. This includes all videos, animations, simulations, interactions, captions, screen replay and answers to quizzes.
· Accessibility options include keystroke echo, caption control, read menu items, screen description, image description, magnifier, use screen reader, alternate caption text size and contrast.
· Other features include “where am I?” button/keystroke to provide text and audio location information, and looped audio prompts when a screen is inactive for specified amounts of time.
· A navigator menu will always be active to provide easy reference to keyboard shortcuts.
· Plug-ins that require user installation or unique applications will be avoided.
· Scripts of instructional material will be provided in alternate formats that are compatible with screen readers, Braille printers and Braille displays.
· Documents generated by the course will be compatible with screen readers, Braille display and Braille printers. This includes progress reports, resource documents, course and self-evaluations, certificates and quiz results.
· Packaging will include identification in Braille.
1. U.S. Census Bureau,
2. Center for Disease Control,
3. The American Workforce: Strong Facts Trump Weak Myths, Tim Kane, Ph.D., http://www.heritage.org/Research/Labor/wm406.cfm
4. American Immigration Law Foundation, IMMIGRATION POLICY FOCUS, Volume 1, Issue 2, September 2002,
5. Government Technology, Accessibility Course Targets Industry, Darby Patterson, May 21 2003,
6. Standards for Electronic and Information Technology: An Overview,
7. Buy Accessible,
8. Laws & Standards,
9. IBM Accessibility Center,
10. Keyboard Equivalents for Actions,
11. Sun Microsystems Accessibility Program,
12. New York State Attorney General’s Office,
13. Accessibility of the Internet in Postsecondary Education: Meeting the Challenge,
14. The Condition of Information Technology for Special Education Students, in Federal Region VI: A Summary of Findings, Southwest Educational Development Laboratory for The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR), Disability Law Resource Project.
15. **Instructional software accessibility: A status report.
17. JAWS —
18. Window Eyes —
19. ZoomText —
20. Refreshable Braille Display,
21. RealSpeak TruVoice,
23. Avatar sign language software,
24. Guidelines for Keyboard User Inter face Design
25. Making Your Applications Talk
Martie Buzzard is project manager for eLearning at the National Center for Disability Education & Training, University of Oklahoma College of Continuing Education, Norman, Oklahoma. Her 20 years’ experience in the disability field, combined with eight years as an instructional designer and developer of eLearning, have uniquely prepared her to face the challenges of accessible eLearning. She is working on a research and development project, funded through federal and state grants, to develop, test and distribute a model accessible course on CD-ROM. Contact Martie by email at [email protected]
This document was developed under grant H133G030063 from The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS). However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal government.
A Comment from the Guild...
I’ve just read this article by Martie Buzzard, and I’m now acutely aware that we at The eLearning Guild need to “tend our own garden,” as it were. The Guild’s Web site doesn’t currently meet accessibility guidelines. To set a proper example for our industry, it must. Therefore I am making a commitment to all Members and Associates today that we will make our site more accessible over the next few months. In addition, we have already begun studying the feasibility of moving the publication of The eLearning Developers’ Journal and all Guild Research Reports from their current PDF formats to an XML-based format that will enable us to address accessibility issues with these publications.
Our goal is to serve ALL Guild Members and Associates, and we commit to doing this better in the future.
David Holcombe, President & CEO - The eLearning Guild
The eLearning Developers’ Journal™ is designed to serve as a catalyst for innovation and as a vehicle for the dissemination of new and practical strategies and techniques for eLearning designers, developers and managers. The Journal is not intended to be the definitive authority. Rather, it is intended to be a medium through which eLearning practitioners can share their knowledge, expertise and experience with others for the general betterment of all.
As in any profession, there are many different perspectives about the best strategies, techniques and tools one can employ to accomplish a specific objective. This Journal will share different perspectives and does not position any one as “the right way,” but rather we position each article as “one of the right ways” for accomplishing a goal. We assume that readers will evaluate the merits of each article and use the ideas they contain in a manner appropriate for their specific situation.
The articles contained in the Journal are all written by people who are actively engaged in this profession — not by paid journalists or writers. Submissions are always welcome at any time, as are suggestions for articles and future topics. To learn more about how to submit articles and/or ideas, please visit: www.eLearningGuild.com.
Copyright 2004. The eLearning Developers’ Journal™. Compilation copyright by The eLearning Guild 2004. All rights reserved. Please contact The eLearning Guild for reprint permission.
The eLearning Developers’ Journal is published weekly by The eLearning Guild, 525 College Avenue, Suite 215, Santa Rosa, CA 95404. Phone: 707.566.8990. The Journal is included as part of Guild membership. To join the Guild go to www.eLearningGuild.com.
Figure 5 Flash with anti-alias
Figure 6 System, no anti-alias