Ensuring an equity of access to e-learning resources, regardless of disability
What is accessibility?
Online accessibility ensures equitable access to content that is prepared and presented online, regardless of disability.
This might include, but is not limited to, learners who are:
- blind or vision impaired
- deaf or hearing impaired
- physically disabled
- suffering a cognitive or neurological disability
- colour blind.
Why is accessibility important?
As educationalists we have an obligation to provide equity of access to our learning resources. Learners with disabilities have often struggled to access education delivered by traditional means. E-learning provides new opportunities to these learners. Consider:
- a blind learner
Traditional resources are often heavily print-based and therefore inaccessible to a blind student. There are technologies available which can read online text aloud, thus providing access.
- a physically disabled learner
Travelling to a physical campus, and then navigating around the buildings can be very difficult for a student who might be, for instance, wheelchair-bound. E-learning provides them access to the learning resources within their own space.
Other important reasons
- Regulatory requirements
Equity to materials presented on the internet within Australia is governed by the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.
- Legal precedent
In the United States of America in 1998, there was an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act referred to as 'Section 508', stipulating that all material distributed on government web sites must meet a certain level of accessibility compliance.
- Funding opportunities. The majority of tenders to develop online resources have a stipulation that the materials developed must be accessibility compliant.
- social and moral obligation.
What do I need to do?
When designing or implementing e-learning, you should be aware of the Priority 1 Guidelines prepared by the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG 1.0)
What do these guidelines ensure?
These checkpoint items are to ensure that people, regardless of disability, have fair and equitable access to the materials you provide on the web.
Many of these checkpoint items are to ensure common sense outcomes, such as:
- wherever any image is used, provide a text based description of the image for blind or vision impaired users.
- wherever sound is used provide a text transcript for deaf or hearing impaired users.
- avoid causing the screen to flicker as this can trigger epileptic seizures.
- ensure that the level of language in your pages is the most simple and appropriate for the target audience. Although this is targeted at users with cognitive disabilities, it will also greatly assist our large user base of people from Non English Speaking Backgrounds.
Where do I start?
Fortunately, there are a lot of websites and resources devoted to web accessibility.
- Designing accessible websites http://www.vetonline.swin.edu.au/accessibility/
This resource provides you with information and examples to ensure that your online resources are accessible. It has been designed for a teaching audience.
The following tools are able to assist you to detect accessibility breaches in your websites:
- WAVE http://wave.webaim.org
WAVE is an online tool that allows you to enter the web address (URL) of a current webpage. WAVE will then superimpose a number of icons into your page to help you identify potential accessibility issues.
- Bobby http://bobby.watchfire.com
Like WAVE, Bobby is an online tool that allows you to enter URL of a current webpage. Bobby will analyse this page and generate a report. This report is much more detailed than the one produced by WAVE and identifies Priority 1 breaches.
- Cynthia says http://www.contentquality.com
Cynthia says allows you to enter the URL for your website. It will follow all links in your site, evaluate each page, and then prepare a table of potential breaches, so that you can check them manually.
- UsableNet http://www.usablenet.com/
UsableNet is a commercial company that provide online evaluation, as well as free and commercial extensions to Dreamweaver MX. You can enter a URL and have an accessibility check run across an entire site. The reports are very detailed but simple to understand. You may use the service up to five times free of charge.
The following tools can reproduce the experience that some users face. They allow you to experience how your webpage might look to someone with a disability.
- Lynx Viewer http://www.delorie.com/web/lynxview.html
Lynx is a text-only browser. The Lynx Viewer website allows you to paste in the URL of a webpage and view it in text-only mode. This is very similar to the experience that blind or vision impaired users, where the text is either read aloud or converted into braille.
- VisCheck colour blindness simulator http://www.vischeck.com/vischeck/vischeckURL.php
This service is able to take the URL of your page and render it as if you had a colour blindness condition. Very useful to test colour schemes.
- HTML Table Lineariser http://www.w3.org/WAI/Resources/Tablin/form
Many assistive technologies linearise tables (i.e read them from left to right). This service allows you to test the tables that are used in your pages and see how they will appear when linearised.