The camera zooms in on a little girl sitting under a tree. She announces to her mother that she has just finished reading another book. Her mother suggests that they celebrate by visiting her favorite restaurant. As the little girl approaches the McDonalds counter, she asks for a menu. The server gives her a Braille menu. She is visually impaired.
The interviewee sits in front of his computer sharing information about his job as a stockbroker. He explains how he does his ever-changing job with the use of a screen reader. He is visually impaired.
Both of these individuals could be students in any California community college. It is for these students that we must all have an interest in accessibility for the impaired and for those with visual or hearing impairments, or learning or physical disabilities. It is our responsibility to provide learning opportunities for all.
According to the U.S. Department of Statistics, approximately 20 percent of the population has some type of disability. As we create the virtual classrooms of tomorrow, those with special needs must be considered as courses are designed.
What is the law in regard to accessibility?
The state will provide: resources to pay for assistive technology devices and assistive technology services; trained personnel to assist individuals with disabilities to use such devices and services; and, in general there should be an increased focus on universal design.
How are schools approaching this issue?
In discussing with Ellen the issue of web-based course materials for the visually impaired, she mentioned that, anything not in text on a web site, needs to be. That made it pretty simple. It is also Ellens belief that as faculty are taught new technologies web design, for one the issue of accessibility be woven into the process. Do not make it a special issue. Make the integration seamless. She also works with students to understand how to use the technologies that are available to them, whether it is screen readers or magnifiers, or alternative keyboards or voice recognition systems. She is there to assist them.
To assist faculty in their design, she has developed Some Universal Design Challenges which can be found at http://pdc.cvc.edu/uaccess/solution.asp.
At some colleges, such as Cerritos College, the Curriculum Committee addresses the issue of accessibility prior to approving a class going online. In their Curriculum Committee Distance Education Questions (http://www3.cerritos.edu/ic/curriculum_committee.htm) they state in number 8, Attention to access is required if your course entails the use of print media, audio or video conferencing, the Web or software such as Laser Video Disc, CD-ROM or DVD. If this issue is not addressed adequately, the course does not get approved.
What is the World Wide Web Consortium Committee?
The W3C Team includes 65 people working from locations across the globe. W3C is hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Laboratory for Computer Science [MIT/LCS] in the United States, at the Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique [INRIA] at various locations in France, and at the Keio University Shonan Fujisawa Campus in Japan. With a truly international flavor, the Team includes engineers from more than ten different countries.
What are the Priority 1 requirements?
What research has found?
The layout of the web-based environment is critical. A good layout makes it easier for the assistive technology readers and it also makes it easier for those with traumatic brain injury. Think of web-based instructional environments as electronic organizers for course information. Use consistent design strategies and navigational features for all documents to create an easy to use layout for all users.
If using frames, use the <NO FRAMES> tag. When using frames for navigation, use descriptive frame names such as <FRAME NAME=navigation bar> instead of <FRAME NAME=left>.
Provide users with an option to view the text on the page with no frames. Consider having a text only page. Be aware of color combinations for their readability.
Hinn found in her research that when students with disabilities were required to rely on an assistant for help, they became angry. They lost their independence in navigating their course on their own.
Where does responsibility for accessibility lie?
Microsoft has strived to make their Internet Explorer browser workable and must be available to anyone needing to use assistive devices, and the three largest CMS are trying to be more accessible. Additionally, the assistive devices are working to catch up, and course designers need to choose aspects that make their classes more accessible.
In speaking with Wayne Chenoweth about this issue, he suggests the following test in viewing a web site: turn off the graphics and hide the mouse. Navigate the course via the keyboard. This is an important test because it simulates the issue for visual, physical, or learning disabled. Chenoweth also encourages giving graphics a longer description of what is graphically depicted.
How do the various course management systems handle accessibility issues?
Blackboard is committed to the accessibility of their learning platform. It is a high priority to make Blackboard work with assistive technology, such as screen readers or text-only browsers. Blackboard is more text based in design, uses fewer frames, is easier to navigate, and has a simpler interface. Specific questions on the accessibility of Blackboard can be addressed to Reidy Brown at email@example.com.
eCollege is also committed to the accessibility issue and are currently working on having their software compliant for universal accessibility by 2001. The requirements have necessitated a re-design of their system in order to comply with all types of accessibility issues: visual, hearing, physical and learning disabilities. Currently their product is supported in Internet Explorer, but not Netscape. Specific questions on the accessibility of eCollege can be addressed to Joel Sanda at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WebCT reports that version 3 is Priority One compliant. Accessibility consultants to the CVC PDC are currently analyzing its accessibility in the context of the screen reader JAWS 3.7. The current version is difficult to navigate because of the use of frames and the programming used for several features, i.e. Chat and Whiteboard. Specific questions on the accessibility of WebCT can be addressed to Glen Low at WebCT. His email address is email@example.com.
The bottom line, at this time, is that even when a vendor states they are Priority 1 compliant, participants who are listening to the course with a screen reader will require mobility training to get accustomed to the software.
What can YOU do?
Do YOUR part!
Sources and links to web sites on accessibility are available online at http://pdc.cvc.edu/newsletter/
Reprinted with permission from California Virtual Campus Professional Development Center Newsletter