What is Accessibility?
Accessibility means that persons with upper body impairments, blind and those with visual impairments, with visual or cognitive /learning disabilities and hearing impairments can have ease of access to online course content (Coombs, 2010). Accessibility is important so that all users have equal opportunity to interact with whatever is being offered. The designer, in making a website accessible, must make an effort to capture all opportunities that exist to reach those with disabilities. A Learning Management System (LMS) should be easily accessible to learners, with or without disability, and empower the learners with all that is needed to successfully complete the course.
What is Universal Design?
The Disability Act 2005, defines Universal Design, or UD, as the design and composition of an environment so that it may be accessed, understood and used to the greatest possible extent, in the most independent and natural manner possible, in the widest possible range of situations, without the need for adaptation, modification, assistive devices or specialized solutions, by any persons of any age or size or having any particular physical, sensory, mental health or intellectual ability or disability (National Disability Centre, 2015).
Our online courses or modules should therefore be accessible to students who have auditory, visual, cognitive, and/or physical disabilities (Blackboard, 2017), so that they can fully participate in every aspect of the offering. Learners who enroll in any of our modules, whether fully-online, blended or web-assisted, need a rich and fulsome experience that is more than just being technology-mediated. UTechOnline aims to give each user a great learning experience that is focused on their achievement of their educational goals.
Universal Inclusive Design (UID) Approach
Universal Design engages tools known as assistive technologies which range from screen readers to touch screens and head pointers. Inclusive design emphasizes equal participation and recognizes that all students have varying abilities and needs. UID aims to:
- Make each teaching method accessible to all students
- Consider a wide range of abilities, interests, learning styles, and experiences
- Speak content presented visually
- Use large visual and tactile aids
- Use manipulatives to demonstrate content
- Make visual aids large for example use large, bold fonts
As we begin to explore how best to satisfy learners with diverse characteristics, here are some guidelines to follow to ensure that modules reflect Accessibility Principles or Universal Design (UD) for online.
Severe Visual Impairment
Individuals with severe visual impairment may rely on a screen reader to access Web sites. Use visual cues, such as images, section divisions or table headers with descriptions. Low vision users need a mechanism to zoom in on content on a computer screen, sometimes to a great extent. Zooming works well for vector-based text and graphics in PNG format.
Hearing Impaired or Deaf
These users need to be provided with amplified sound or alternate ways to access information through vision and/or vibration. Aids would include hearing technology, alerting devices and communication software supports.
Accessibility or UD Guidelines
Do not add flashers that blink more than 3 times in a second
Content that flashes at certain rates or patterns can cause photosensitive reactions, including seizures (Canvas.com, 2016). Flashing content is ideally avoided entirely or only used in a way that does not cause known risks.
Use distinguishable content since it is easier to see and hear. Such content displays features, such as:
- Colour is not used as the only way of conveying information or identifying content
- Default foreground and background color combinations provide sufficient contrast
- Text is resizable up to 200% without losing information, using a standard browser
- Images of text are resizable, replaced with actual text, or avoided where possible
- Users can pause, stop, or adjust the volume of audio that is played on a website
- Background audio is low or can be turned off, to avoid interference or distraction
- Descriptions of all images and photos
- Where possible, the photos may be enlarged on clicking for better viewing
- Use closed captioning and script for videos
Meeting this requirement helps separate foreground from background, to make important information more distinguishable. This includes considerations for people who do not use assistive technologies and for people using assistive technologies who may observe interference from prominent audio or visual content in the background. For instance, many people with color blindness do not use any particular tools and rely on a proper design that provides sufficient colour contrast between text and its surrounding background (Web Accessibility Initiative, 2016) . For others, audio that is automatically played could interfere with text-to-speech or with assistive listening devices (ALDs).
The visually impaired user will be able to hear the description if a reader is used.
Those who cannot hear will read the script.
The reader will play the audio of the script for those who are visually impaired.
Blackboard (2017). Strategic Planning for Accessible eLearning. Retrieved from http://www.blackboard.com/accessibility.aspx
Canvas.com (2016). Canvas Voluntary Product Accessibility Template. Retrieved from https://www.canvaslms.com/accessibility
Coombs, N. (2010). Making online teaching accessible: Inclusive course design for students with disabilities. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco: CA. Retrieved from googlebooks.com.
National Disability Centre (2015). What is Universal Design. Retrieved from http://universaldesign.ie/What-is-Universal-Design/Definition-and-Overview/
Web Accessibility Initiative (2017). Abou-Zahraname, ed. Web Accessibility Standards. Retrieved from https://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/people-use-web/principles