27
     Liberté, égalité, fraternité
     By Angus Main




     A rather grand title for an Advance article I hear you sa...
Okay, so what do we actually                                       Does accessibility cost more?
                         ...
Mind your language                                                  Ten tips for accessibility
Language is often a barrier...
Ongoing testing for
accessibility
When building an e-learning course, your process should
allow for frequent accessibility...
Angus is the Product Manager at Saffron Interactive. He has a background in Flash
                                        ...
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e-Learning accessibility

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This article is a practical introduction to accessibility for e-learning projects. It’s designed to help developers, designers and project managers understand the key issues
involved and the practical steps that they can take to make their content easier to use, easier to understand and more
engaging. Drawing on many years of experience, the article also features the thoughts of the only team to have won
the e-Learning Age award for ‘Care Taken to Achieve Inclusivity in an e-Learning Programme’.

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e-Learning accessibility

  1. 1. 27 Liberté, égalité, fraternité By Angus Main A rather grand title for an Advance article I hear you say. However, I believe we’re covering a grand topic – accessibility – which has two things in common with the cries heard in 1789. Firstly, it promises to free our content, making it accessible to all. Secondly, the term has different meanings to many people and is implemented in various ways. The title of the article is where the fancy stuff ends. This article is a practical introduction to accessibility for e-learning projects. It’s designed to help developers, designers and project managers understand the key issues involved and the practical steps that they can take to make their content easier to use, easier to understand and more engaging. Drawing on many years of experience, the article also features the thoughts of the only team to have won the e-Learning Age award for ‘Care Taken to Achieve Inclusivity in an e-Learning Programme’. So, why worry about accessibility? Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2009 Recent research conducted by CSR Europe indicates that as many as 20 per cent of people have a disability that may interfere with the use of a computer for educational purposes. This means that a huge population could be taking e-learning courses but not getting the best out of them. It could mean that one in five members of your team take an e-learning course but don’t really benefit from the experience, risking non-compliance, frustration, anxiety and lost productivity. Even if you acknowledge and accept this, the truth is that e-learning that’s designed to be accessible tends to be more effective for everyone. Bottom line, accessibility matters! 1
  2. 2. Okay, so what do we actually Does accessibility cost more? mean by accessibility? This is not our experience. If you think about accessibility before you start the project and plan how Most people associate accessibility with meeting the needs you are going to build accessibility into your design, of the physically disabled. However, as Jonathan Snook then the additional costs are minimal. In addition, this points out in his blog1 this definition misses the point. investment usually leads to a course that is more usable Snook see accessibility as being a spectrum: at one end and more accessible. we have people with a disability whilst at the other end we have people who face no obstacles when using a PC. In the Just like brand guidelines, course duration or the tone middle, there are the rest of us: those that wear glasses, that of language, accessibility should be one of the factors don’t like using the mouse, that have trouble distinguishing that is considered by instructional and graphic designers colours, that don’t like looking at the screen for too long, and from the very beginning. Good designers can still create so on. Snook therefore sees accessibility as a usability issue. attractive and exciting content while keeping within A well designed e-learning course will be accessible and will accessibility guidelines. allow a diverse range of people to use it comfortably but will also create a design that is more effective for every learner. Everyone benefits from having interactions that are easier to Wouldn’t it be easier to use, colours that are well thought through and language that is clear. create a separate version for people with disabilities? The standards No. Firstly, creating different versions of courses in this There are a host of standards for accessibility out there way isn’t inclusive and can cause issues with equivalence. but the one that Saffron uses is the World Wide Web Secondly, creating more than one version of a course Consortium’s (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). The will increase your workload, impede testing and act as a W3C provides a set of guidelines and checklists that help you deterrent to testing. to grade your site from conformance level A to AAA – with AAA being the most accessible. We find that the AA rating Can you use Flash and still be provides the level of accessibility that most people need. You can learn more about these standards by going to accessible? With the release of Flash 6, Macromedia provided http://www.w3.org. accessibility features to Flash based content. Although the W3C AAA standards preclude the use of plug-ins, in One thing to be aware of here is that these guidelines are practice Flash’s accessibility properties make it possible not focused on e-learning – they are guidelines for websites. for the content to communicate fully with accessibility This means that there will be some items on the checklist software such as screen readers and magnification tools. that your e-learning course cannot meet, which is fine as In fact, the way that Flash is dynamic and vector based long as you can satisfy the majority of the criteria – aim for can assist these programs. accessibility not perfection. Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2009 You can find out more about Flash accessibility at the following link: www.adobe.com/accessibility/examples.html 2 1 http://www.snook.ca
  3. 3. Mind your language Ten tips for accessibility Language is often a barrier to accessibility that many people forget. Having content that can be read by a screen 1. Images and animations: use the alt attribute (or reader but that can’t be understood because it’s complex, accProps in Flash) to describe the function of each full of jargon or out of context does not help the learner visual with or without a disability. Complex language can also be a problem when English is not the learner’s first language. 2. Image maps: use the client-side map and text for hotspots When building courses, we have found that the guidance provided by the Plain English Campaign is very useful. You 3. Multimedia: provide captioning and transcripts of can find out more about this campaign at audio as well as descriptions of any video http://www.plainenglish.co.uk. 4. Hypertext links: make sure that your explanations of links make sense when read out of context, for Horrors to avoid example, avoid ‘click here’ Interactions which require a high level of mouse control or rely on an awareness of the visual layout of the screen will 5. Page organisation: use headings and lists for variety always be difficult to make accessible. Avoid describing and ensure that your course is structured consistently, screen items in relative spatial terms. If your instructions using CSS for layout and style where possible sound like ‘drag the correct answers to the column on the left’ or ‘match these questions with the correct responses’ 6. Graphs and charts: summarise where possible or use then you will have problems. the longdesc attribute You should also avoid low colour-contrast in graphics and be 7. Scripts, applets and plug-ins: provide alternative aware of how your course will look to users who are colour content in case active features are inaccessible or blind. A useful tool to help with this can be found at unsupported http://www.vischeck.com. 8. Frames: use the noframes element and meaningful Type that is too small or cannot be resized is a problem titles for everyone. These days, laptops are getting smaller and mobile devices are more sophisticated. Learners need to be 9. Tables: make line-by-line reading sensible and able to resize content but enabling this can be difficult. You summarise should try to avoid overlapping elements that obscure each other at larger font settings. However, if increasing the font 10. Check your work: validate all that you write and use size results in sections of text appearing with scroll bars, this the tools, checklists and guidelines at can in itself have a detrimental effect on accessibility and http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG usability. Our approach is to use a suitably large font size Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2009 as standard throughout courses, and then to make sure that screens work with magnification tools. Source: W3C Web Accessibility Initiative 3
  4. 4. Ongoing testing for accessibility When building an e-learning course, your process should allow for frequent accessibility testing. The earlier you find an issue, the easier it will be to fix. A number of tools are available to help you with this process at http://www.w3.org/WAI/ER/existingtools.html. However, we have found that accessibility testing needs human intervention; it can’t be simply driven by the tools. As the folks at Skills for Access2 say ‘accessible e-learning is achieved by engagement, not by formula.’ We always use a diverse pilot group of end users who test various aspects of the accessibility and the usability of our courses. In the past, we have found that although our courses are technically accessible, they’re not very usable and this creates a barrier to real accessibility. We therefore try to have members of this group available to our designers and developers throughout the development process so that we can test for accessibility all the way through a build. Finally, it’s useful for developers to have access to tools such as JAWS3 – a screen reader that is used by many people who have a visual disability. It works by reading out the text on each page and, although designing courses to comply with JAWS and other screen readers takes some thought, this enhances the usability of courses for everyone. 1789 and all that! In conclusion, if you are building e-learning content, you have the opportunity to make it effective for the majority of the population – don’t pass this chance up, free your content! Building accessibility into your e-learning course should be a matter of best practice. Intelligent design, proactive Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2009 engagement and the appropriate use of the tools available will ensure that not only is your content available to a diverse group of people but that it delivers this content in the most usable form possible. 2 http://www.skillsforaccess.org.uk 3 http://www.freedomscientific.com 4
  5. 5. Angus is the Product Manager at Saffron Interactive. He has a background in Flash development and over five years of experience in object oriented programming, design and testing. He has planned and implemented the development on a range of e-learning projects for clients such as Microsoft, BT, O2, and Hilton. Angus holds a BA in Interactive Multimedia Production and is a Certified Flash Designer. He has a wide skill set in development technologies and techniques, including Actionscript 3, JavaScript, XML, PHP, Visual Basic, SQL Server, AICC and SCORM communication. He is currently working at the forefront of learning technologies, developing a range of products that utilise the latest in mobile, video and RIA technology. Angus can be contacted at angus@saffroninteractive.com Gray’s Inn House 127 Clerkenwell Road London EC1R 5DB t: 020 7092 8900 f: 020 7242 2757 e: info@saffroninteractive.com Design by Madhesh Arthanarisamy ISSN: 1478-7641 © 2009 Saffron Interactive All rights reserved www.saffroninteractive.com

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