Accessibility in Educational Technology

Educational Technology has the potential to offer learning opportunities to a wider audience than ever before, and as such has the power to promote a fairer and more equal society. The issue of accessibility is concerned with ensuring that the opportunities offered by the technology truly are available to as large and diverse a group as possible. In particular it is concerned with ensuring that learners with disabilities, including those who may be accessing materials through assistive technologies such as screen readers, are not unduly disadvantaged.

Accessibility concerns are not solely altruistic. The number of people worldwide with some form of disability represents a massive potential audience that few educational providers (or indeed commercial operations) can afford to exclude. Additionally much educational provision is, or will soon, be subject to accessibility legislation.

In the USA Section 508 of the 1998 Rehabilitation Act requires that Federal agencies’ electronic and information technology (including Web) content is accessible to people with disabilities. In the UK the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) makes it illegal to discriminate against disabled students by treating them less favourably than others. Institutions must make reasonable adjustments to provision where students with disabilities would otherwise be at a substantial disadvantage.

Creating accessible applications does not have to be complex, in fact simpler is usually better. In many cases the principles of good design and accessible design are the same.

Some key principles are:

  • Use cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to define presentation. These may be overriden by users with particular needs.
  • Use the ALT attribute to provide meaningful descriptions of images. This will not only benefit visually impaired users but also those with slow Internet connections who browse with images turned off.
  • Select easy to read, high contrast color combinations, eg don’t use yellow text on a white background. Avoid using high contrast images as backgrounds. Avoid color combinations such as red and green which may not be distiguishable by people with color blindness.
  • Don’t rely on color alone to convey information as that information may not be accessible to color blind people, or those with monchrome monitors. For example, using red text to indicate items in a list is not accessible. However, it would be acceptable to use bold red text (assuming other items are normal weight).
  • Test applications on a variety of browsers and platforms, including a text-only browser; the bells and whistles won’t work, but the textual content should be viewable and the site should be navigable. Also test with a text-to-speech synthesiser (screen reader).
  • Provide, or be prepared to provide, textual alternatives to audio-visual resources.

See also

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)

WebAIM – Web Accessibility in Mind WebAIM’s mission is to expand the potential of the Web for people with disabilities by providing the knowledge, technical skills, tools, organizational leadership strategies, and vision that empower organizations to make their own content accessible to people with disabilities.

TechDis aims to be the leading educational advisory service, working across the UK, in the fields of accessibility and inclusion.

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