When designing and delivering online education there is a strong focus on engaging the learner. In order to remediate the effects of teacher and student being separated in time and space, the course content needs to be as engaging and interesting as possible.
This becomes even more true as the interest and motivation of the student decreases.
It is natural for teachers to seek out professionally produced digital content to add to their course in an attempt to make the course more engaging and interesting.
Ironically, this content for creating student engagement can sometimes create accessibility problems.
Learning Tool Integration (LTI)
There is a class of technology available for online learning that enables powerful extension of your LMS’ capability. It can bring third-party content into the LMS and tightly integrate it with your content.
Utilizing internet-based computing, it is easy to add engagement to your course through an LTI module that integrates content and interactive functionality.
These LTI technologies are often created for faculty who want to add engaging and interactive content to their course without the hassle of learning HTML or digital design.
With an LTI module, additional menu items can even be added into the menu of the LMS, and affect the core functionality of the LMS.
Unfortunately, a lot of LTI modules and other content that is created for enhancing the engagement of online courses is designed with sighted mouse-using individuals in mind.
Before you integrate third-party digital content, it is a good idea to perform a basic accessibility test and make sure you aren’t setting the stage for an accessibility drama to unfold.
Accessibility Considerations for LTI and Third-Party Content
When considering the accessibility of new technology for your online course, it is wise to start with a quick and simple keyboard test to weed out the obvious accessibility dead-ends.
Even though it is a quick and simple test, you still need to be thorough and ensure that all critical functions are keyboard accessible, at a minimum.
However, even if the content passes the quick initial test, that is not all the testing you need to do. Ultimately, you need to ensure that the content and technology can pass WCAG AA criteria for accessibility.
Quick and Simple Keyboard Testing
Install the LTI or content pack into your development course and make sure it is activated and working.
Using the standard keyboard commands for navigating and interacting with digital content, use the keyboard to navigate and interact with the content/technology you are evaluating.
Consider the following issues:
First, identify how the LTI or content pack will integrate within your course.
Does it add any menu items?
Does it add any options within an internal form, activity, or toolbar?
Can you navigate to the new interface items with the TAB key?
Does the LTI or content pack follow a logical order when you consider it’s sequence among the other elements you can TAB to?
If applicable, can you use the ARROW and SPACEBAR when you would expect them to be available options?
Now that you’ve ensured a basic level of keyboard access, we can expect a basic amount of accessibility. This simple level of testing will disqualify many of the worst LTI modules and content packs that are inaccessible.
If you can answer yes to the above questions, then your LTI or content pack is on good footing so far, but it’s still too early to get happy.
We’ve only done a quick check so far, a basic inspection to make sure there are not giant obvious gaping accessibility issues.
You still need more detailed data in order to determine the accessibility of the LTI or content pack. Following are some additional considerations to keep in mind as you continue testing the LTI or content pack for accessibility.
WCAG 2.1 AA
You will need to ensure the LTI or content pack satisfies the Section 508 requirements for electronic technology and information as well as meeting the WCAG 2 AA criteria.
This is where you should seek some assistance from your instructional support team, or hire a qualified accessibility professional to assist with more in-depth testing and a thorough accessibility audit.
In addition to an accessibility audit against the Section 508 and WCAG 2 AA criteria, a usability test is the ultimate test for whether or not the LTI or content pack is going to be accessible and truly usable by all students.
An individual with a disability who uses Assistive Technology every day can provide essential insight to help answer some of the following questions:
Does the LTI or content pack provide an advantage for students that is not possible for students with certain disabilities?
Is it inherently inaccessible to certain individuals for some reason?
Is there an equivalent academic accommodation you could provide?
As a responsible educator you are given a lot of deference in terms of deciding the instructional value of these things. Now you have the essential skills to make a more responsible choice for your students when selecting content to enhance their engagement.
At the hub of your online learning toolkit is a foundational bit of technology that is often taken for granted, the Learning Management System (LMS).
The LMS is a huge determiner of what kinds of content you can use as part of your online course. The ability to interact with data across different technologies while maintaining the security and privacy required for the modern world is a critical aspect of delivering online education.
Essential LMS Capabilities
In general, it is expected that a modern LMS should be able to provide a suite of basic functions:
Storage of files
Creation of HTML pages
Various activities/modules for organizing content
Assessment tools (Quiz/Exams)
To name a few…
Accessibility has largely been built into the framework of most modern Learning Management Systems, most likely as a requisite element in getting the government-sponsored contracts with public school districts across the US.
That’s the beauty of Section 508, it requires you to buy the most accessible version of technology that delivers your business need, so all the LMS vendors basically have to deliver the same level of accessibility.
However, there is nothing so simple it can’t be undone with some third-party “enhancements”.
Accessibility in your online course may start at an acceptable level, but it is possible to introduce technologies that do not provide the necessary level of accessibility.
LMS Virtues and Weaknesses
Typically, the LMS provides an accessible structure you can build your course in. Issues like heading structure and accessible interactive elements are built into the interface, so theoretically your LMS is accessible. But this is mostly true when your course is empty.
As you build your course, your design decisions will influence the final measure of accessibility.
If you use the formatting features in your content creation tools to enable accessibility as you create content, then your course accessibility remains intact.
If you introduce content that does not provide the formatting required for accessibility, you actually take away from the overall accessibility of your course.
It doesn’t matter if the LMS framework is accessible if you put an inaccessible file inside it, the file is still inaccessible. Information doesn’t automagically become accessible by virtue of being loaded into the accessible LMS.
There is no accessibility through osmosis or association.
WWW – World Wide Web, or Wild Wild West?
Each and every piece of content needs to be formatted for accessibility – if not by the original author, then by you.
This includes the world outside of your LMS – the Internet. When you link to a third-party website, you should check the website for basic accessibility. Remember, it is often easy to copy and paste the educationally significant information into an accessible LMS page, if necessary.
Don’t assume that a content pack you purchase from a textbook publisher is automatically accessible. Even if the sales rep assures you it is.
You need to verify the accessibility of ALL the features of the content and technology you attach to the LMS and expose to your students.
Ask the sales rep to cover the cost of accommodating any students with disabilities if their product is found to be inaccessible and see how they react.
There is much of the world of online education that is not yet accessible, but plenty of sales people who will try to sell you a problem waiting to happen.
Now you know better, and you can choose content more responsibly for the good of your students and for your success as an educator.
Be wary of people selling accessibility checkers for your LMS. Often these tools can be useful additions to your online tool kit, but so far none of them are capable of addressing all the accessibility challenges in your course.
Always ask about the capability of accessibility checkers to test individual documents such as MS Word, PDF, PowerPoint, Excel, etc., as well as websites you want to link to from your course.
Ask if they can test different quiz questions.
Ask if they can test the LTI cartridge you want to integrate into your course.
Unfortunately, the range of true help available from most accessibility checkers remains rather limited.
As they say, “Some assembly is required” in building an accessible learning experience for your students. Slick shortcuts and ready-baked solutions are rarely accessible. Often these are just bright shiny broken things that interfere with education for your students with disabilities.
Accessibility through Phones and Tablets
It is important to verify that all the different aspects of your LMS and your online course are also accessible when viewed through a phone or tablet using a mobile operating system such as Android or iOS.
There are many happy examples of accessibility functioning across technology platforms and operating systems, but it is not a safe assumption that everything automatically works.
Verify, and adjust your workflow as necessary to ensure information is accessible for all users in as many contexts as possible.
Support in Different Browsers
It is also a good idea to check out the accessibility of your course and LMS in different internet browsers.
Surprisingly, many LMS vendors can only claim accessibility in certain browsers using certain assistive technologies.
These LMS vendors get away with this lack of capability simply because your administrators continue to sign the contracts instead of requiring better support for accessibility.
But that is the topic for a different blog post. The point here is to be aware of any limitations that you can advise your students about before they flood your inbox with emails about broken content in a certain browser.
Portability of Content
While the LMS is a great tool for delivering online education, sometimes a student really needs the information presented in a special way to be most accessible and usable.
It is a good idea to become familiar with the export capabilities of your LMS.
Especially valuable is any ability to export course content as an ePub document.
ePub is a rich data format that is capable of presenting multiple media formats in an accessible file that is compatible with different assistive technologies.
ePub can also be loaded onto many reading devices, increasing the options for your students to be able to engage with content and study on their terms.
That’s half the joy of taking an online course, after all.
These are just some of the things you can keep in mind to make your online course more effective, truly engaging, and as accessible as possible.
The idea of representing math through sonic information might be a rather new and abstract concept for many.
For a lot of people, the meaning behind a sonic waveform is just the noise it makes. For instance, do you know what sin(x)+2 sounds like?
Can you provide an example?
By the end of this article, you will be able to answer yes to both of those questions.
Concepts of Sonic Data
For audio information, there are a number of issues that have historically been more constraining than liberating in terms of our ability to create and use it. Namely, a lack of tools and the related supporting culture of practice and use.
Most people have simply never encountered math deliberately represented through audio- or if they did, they probably didn’t realize it was happening.
Students and teachers need to have some preparation for using audio versions of math. Some overview of what is being represented, with context provided as to what the different sonic palettes represent, and how to interact with significant data.
The Evolution of Sound
Beyond live sound, our technological capability to record and produce sound continues to grow. We started in the world of analog audio, and ironically, many hipsters continue to return there…
An analog recording of sound is a direct and singular representation of something in the world. It is evidence of a unique moment in time, a direct translation of some event or data. It typically can not be reproduced without losing fidelity, making each use one time closer to the last time it will ever be usable.
Traditionally, there have been constraints related to the cost and complexity of analog audio recording technology that put audio-based math out of reach for most people.
Issues from recording equipment, barometric pressure, ambient temperature and humidity, the list goes on. Suffice it to say that there are many variables which combine into a very challenging situation when trying to re-create consistent representations of sound.
It helps to have a recording studio.
And don’t forget the talent, we need a source of the sound – a means of making noise. Cue the orchestra, or get out the xylophone, slide whistle, and kazoo.
For the longest time, in order to capture sonic information, the task required a range of expensive and sophisticated recording equipment (and audio engineers to operate it). This resulted in it being out of the reach of most teachers and students.
Today technology for making and distributing noise is ever-present. We carry the equivalent of a recording studio in our cell phones, as well as the means of distributing our noise across the globe. I give you the Internet as exhibit A.
The Internet has provided the means for a new paradigm where audio information is easy and affordable to record and share. We can even synthesize conceptual never-before heard sonic information according to our desires, with a variety of free tools.
Today audio technology enables us to create new kinds of sounds our grandparents would most likely not approve of.
And you can count on that…
Combining Sound and Sight for Superior Communication
Today we have a unique capability to express information in a variety of ways. We combine multiple forms of media into much more engaging representations than formulas scribbled in chalk or dry erase markers.
For example, consider the complexities of data-sorting algorithms, and the need to compare the logic of the algorithm in a way that demonstrates efficiencies and differences in theoretical approaches.
Besides being slightly hypnotic, this video efficiently demonstrate a rather abstract concept and relationship between the techniques of different coding approaches (sorting algorithms) used in computer science.
As a lot of people figured out in the 60’s, it is easy to get absorbed into the engaging mixture of audio-reinforced visuals. Now we can tap into that power for teaching and learning Math.
History of Sonic Math
Audio Graphing is the term applied to the process for sonic rendering of mathematic information.
As an instructional technology, audio graphing provides an interesting capability for teaching and learning – though it is not as familiar to most of us as the visual representation of math.
Audio Graphing has remained a niche use for people with disabilities, or else individuals who were deep into the science of math or sound.
The main issue has been the lack of tools that made it easy for average people to create or use audio graphing.
The most popular and reliable tool for many years was an expensive technology relegated to the fringes of assistive technology for students who were blind and studying math. Costing several hundred dollars, it was an unfortunate stranglehold on a powerful capability.
There is one notable tool from the past that still deserves some attention both for capability and for the spirit of supporting education for everyone: MathTrax from the fine folks at NASA.
MathTrax is a great example of how audio graphing can help explain math functions and concepts. It is an accessible graphing calculator that allows for individuals with disabilities to create and listen to math. There are also built-in samples for exploring the physics and functions of rocket launches and roller coasters, and it is all accessible.
As cool as all that is, it is still a rather limited range of options and a very outdated interface.
Happily, the world has changed for the better in terms of our ability to create and study math with audio graphing capabilities.
Current Evolution of Sonic Math: Desmos
Desmos is a company that provides a free suite of web-based math tools, which includes an impressive audio graphing calculator that is completely accessible, and it works across operating systems and devices.
Did I mention it’s free?
Desmos works to ensure their tools are accessible and available across operating systems and devices, as part of their mission to make math easier and more enjoyable to learn for everyone.
When you have finished creating/editing your expression, press ENTER.
If your expression is a valid function, it will be added to the graph.
Here is how to play your math out loud:
With your expressions selected, press ALT + T to engage the audio graphing tool.
Press H to hear the entire expression.
Use TAB to navigate through significant points like intersections with other functions or axis markers.
Use the ARROW KEYS to navigate along the graph in either direction.
Share Your Math with the World
To show your work outside of Desmos, click on the “Share Graph” icon in the upper right-hand corner.
You can download a picture, send someone a link, or embed the code within an HTML page.
Following is the same information via an HTML embed code:
Using Desmos as a Student
Before unleashing your audio graphs on your students, you should introduce your students to the concepts of using audio graphs and the different keyboard commands for interacting with the audio graphing calculator.
Desmos provides a thorough overview of how they support accessibility, including technical information and instructions for using their product with different screen readers and assistive technologies, across different operating systems and devices.
In addition to being keyboard accessible, Desmos also provides a “Projector Mode” that makes the lines fatter and easier to see when displayed through a projector. Projector Mode also helps when a graph is being viewed on a mobile device outside, or when being viewed by someone with a visual impairment.
Desmos Unlocks the Potential of Math for Everyone
Desmos products are used by millions of students around the world, and they are unlocking the ability to find solutions to universal questions and problems while helping every student realize their individual potential, understanding, and mastery of math.
As if they weren’t already the coolest math company in the world, or maybe because they are, Desmos is sponsoring a Global Math Art contest. Please check it out, and enjoy the amazing visual and audio prize winning content – all created with pure math.
Creating accessible STEM content for the web is not simple.
(In case you’re not aware, STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Math.)
There are limited tools for creating accessible STEM content for the web, as well as limited technology for reading/studying the content.
Typically, the visual nature of STEM is the biggest challenge in creating accessible digital content. So often, a visual depiction of STEM is created because it is so challenging to describe the content verbally.
Accessibility can be ironic.
Because there is no effective technology to decipher and describe graphs, charts, and other graphical representations of STEM content, we are reduced to simply describing the images of this content that can not be easily represented by other digital means.
You need a specialized ability to verbalize complex STEM content in a way that is understandable, as well as a deep understanding of the STEM content itself. It helps to have instructional design skills to discern the instructional strategy and create an accessible alternative.
Most of the math teachers I know do not have a degree in instructional design – thankfully we have a technology that is helping bridge the gap.
For the discipline of Math, there is some ability to render accessible expressions via digital technology.
Using a technology called MathML, it is possible to codify a mathematic expression so that it can be communicated over the Internet and even read by screenreaders.
The ML from MathML stands for “Markup Language”. The different aspects of the mathematical expression are identified through specialized tags to identify both the operator and/or value of numerical information and their placement within the expression.
Semantics Through Layout
For math content, another confounding issue is that a lot of the meaning is conveyed through the visual layout of expressions. It becomes challenging to accurately express complicated expressions simply as verbal descriptions.
It is even more challenging to learn math by listening to verbal descriptions without the ability to interact with the components of the expression.
True usability occurs when a student can interact with each part of the expression and navigate through the different parts of the expression – in the same way a sighted person “studies” key parts of the expression to discern the meaning.
Simply listening to the expression is not the same thing as studying and navigating through the individual parts of an expression, and MathML provides a solution that is more accessible than a simple description (however difficult the description might be to come up with).
Another confounding issue with STEM is the use of special characters and the Greek alphabet. These characters are not always commonly supported, either from the reading or creating standpoint.
Because MathML is so challenging to work with, a lot of people simply create images of expressions and provide a verbal description.
This is not really an equitable experience for someone who can not see, and certainly not the most effective way to teach Math.
For those few individuals who have the ability to read Nemeth Braille, there is a solution in the form of electronic refreshable Braille displays. Much like a screenreader can verbalize information, they can also provide a tactile representation through a refreshable Braille display.
When provided with properly formatted MathML.
But hey, it’s easier than making Nemeth Braille!
LaTEX (pronounced LAW-tek) is a text-based code for representing mathematical expressions.
Originally used in the printing and typesetting of STEM books before the digital revolution, LaTEX is a code that allows for representing mathematical expressions in a text format. This is a good option if you and your students happen to know LaTEX.
Reading Expressions vs. Interacting with Expressions
For most people, it isn’t very difficult to recognize the challenge of learning math by only listening to descriptions of mathematical expressions.
Realize that students need to express their understanding of the material as well.
So students need to learn how to speak mathematical expressions back to the teacher (in addition to learning math), or be able to transcribe into LaTEX.
MathType allows for easy creation of mathematical expressions and chemistry formulas that can also be rendered as accessible web pages for use with screenreaders and magnifiers.
MathType also supports LaTEX, so for students and teachers who know LaTEX, it is even more powerful.
MathType has a standalone application as well as multiple plugins for different popular authoring programs such as MS Word and PowerPoint.
Recently, MathType released new plugins for Google Docs and WordPress, as well as the Canvas LMS and Moodle LMS, increasing the range of options for creating and presenting accessible math content.
Desktop vs Web
There are different pricing options for MathType plugins for Canvas and Moodle. Read more about the differences at the Design Science Website.
The Google MathType plugin is free, and it creates accessible math expressions within a Google doc.
The standalone version of MathType will also integrate into all recent versions of MS Word, in addition to having its own standalone interface.
MathType Basic Workflow
You create and edit your mathematic expressions in the MathType Editor.
Whether you prefer working in the Desktop version…
… or the Web-based version of MathType.
Both versions allow you to create accessible web-based math expressions, the desktop version also supports additional workflows for non web-based and printed math.
MathType in MS Word
When you install the desktop version of MathType, it also populates MS Word with a plugin that allows you to create and embed math expressions within your MS Word document.
The MathType toolbar provides powerful support for creating and editing math expressions inside MS Word.
You can also use the MS Word plugin to create accessible web-based math expressions.
Creating Math Expressions
MathType provides many pre-built expression components that are commonly used in math, and it also provides the individual elements of math expressions to allow you to create whatever kind of math you need to.
There are common groupings on dedicated tabs for Algebra, Derivatives, Statistics, Matrices, Sets, Trigonometry, and Geometry.
Click on the element you want to add, and then use the keyboard to enter the numbers and variables of your expression.
Use the arrow keys to move around within the expression.
DON’T USE the SPACEBAR, it does not work in MathType. MathType takes care of the spacing automatically.
When you have finished entering the math expression, go to the File menu of the MathType editor and choose “Close and return to MS Word”.
MathType will ask you if you want to save the expression, say yes.
Publish to Webpage
When you have completed your page of math and you are ready to create the web-based version, click on the MathType toolbar.
Click the “Publish to MathPage” option.
The Publish to MathPage options will open. In the “Equations” section, choose MathML.
There is a pull-down menu that allows you to fine-tune your choice of technology for rendering the MathML. Check with your system administrator to verify which version is supported by your LMS.
Firefox for Math
The support for MathML varies from browser to browser, and unfortunately, it often varies over time as well. As of today, I had best results in the Firefox browser using NVDA to test the different output options.
I also found adequate support in Chrome with the Google Docs MathType output using the NVDA screenreader.
MathType enjoys a place as the sole option in terms of being able to easily produce accessible math expressions.
Learn more about MathType and the different authoring environments it is supported in at the Design Science website.
Now you have an option for creating accessible math expressions for the web.
Sometimes you find a novel or impressive way of communicating information out in the wild west of the World Wide Web. You find some form of content that would be a great addition to your online course – but you quickly find that it has some critical accessibility failing that makes it unacceptable.
If you’re thinking that you can’t use this otherwise impressive content because of the lack of accessibility, consider another option.
Sometimes you can bring a problem out of the rough and sink it into the nice manicured green of your LMS.
Admittedly, this is not always possible, as some content may require complete re-programming to address the accessibility problems it contains. However, for certain media you can recreate the essential aspects of what is being communicated as an HTML page within your LMS.
Essential Accessibility Concepts of WCAG – POUR
When considering content that can be improved upon, remember the four guiding principles of WCAG, POUR:
Ultimately, the WCAG nails accessibility down in simple terms that are easy to remember and apply to content you are teaching.
Perceivable content is styled and represented in a way that allows it to be presented to at least one of the human senses.
No content is invisible to ALL of the senses, there must be a representation of the content that is perceivable by whatever capability a user possesses.
The interface menus, links, and functionality must be operable by all users. Keyboard control is one of the easy tests to see if content is operable, but it is just a beginning.
The content and the intended use and operation of the interface must be understandable. As an educator, this should be an easy one to discern and improve upon, if necessary.
Content needs to be adequately formatted and designed so there is enough information for a variety of different user agents to make sense of it. Over time, the information should retain the core meaning and capability of being expressed through evolving technologies.
Having thorough text descriptions and formatting content with semantic styles like headings and lists is a great way to make content more robust.
When you find digital media that can be improved upon, follow the WCAG concepts of POUR to enhance the message as much as possible.
Essential Interactive Elements
Your LMS can be used to create many of the interactive elements used by digital designers. From basic HTML pages to more sophisticated content packages, today’s modern LMS offers the capability to create several types of accessible interactive content.
Consider mapping out just what kind of interactivity is present in the content, and see if you can duplicate it within the LMS.
Undescribed and Unlabeled Content
It is very easy to provide alternate text descriptions for images within your LMS.
If the only accessibility issue you find is missing or inappropriate alternate text, then copy and paste the images into your LMS and provide appropriate descriptions for those images.
Remember that form fields require text labels as well.
Inaccessible polls and surveys can be recreated accessibly with the assessment and feedback tools of your LMS.
If there is bad contrast between text and background, that is another issue that is extremely easy to fix.
Copy and paste the text into your LMS and apply appropriate colors for WCAG-compliant contrast ratios.
Likewise, if the focus indicator has been styled to be invisible or difficult to see via linked CSS, you can copy and paste the content into your LMS. The styling for the focus indicator will be formatted according to your LMS CSS settings.
Bad Instructions and Layout
Sometimes good content comes with bad instructions, explanations, or just a confusing or cluttered layout. Redesigning a problematic page for easier readability is a valid activity for accessibility and a great use of the LMS.
Another benefit of fixing accessibility issues by redesigning the content within your LMS is the opportunity to demonstrate to your students how to responsibly synthesize information into new forms of media, and how to properly cite sources when using other people’s content.
Reproducing content within the LMS can provide a simple means for addressing basic accessibility concerns, and it can also be a great way to focus user attention and keep students in the LMS.
You’ve learned not only how to assess content for accessibility, but how to make content better for accessibility and learning. Now when you encounter inaccessible content, it doesn’t have to be a dead end – you can create options and improve the situation for everyone.
It is hard to imagine an online course without any links to other sources of content on the Internet.
Talk about a wasted opportunity – to have the whole world wide web at your disposal as an instructional resource, and to not tap into that power?
Again, hard to imagine.
What We Know Now
We’ve covered the basic aspects of web accessibility this month, and if you’ve followed along, you should have a pretty good grasp on what it is we should be hoping to find in any accessible web content:
Headings with logical structure
Alternate text descriptions for imaged
Text transcripts for audio files
Captioned video in accessible video players
Color Contrast that ensures easy readability
Forms with labels and keyboard control
Page title and language – meta information matters
Visual focus and keyboard access
Strobing animations and blinking text
These are all simple aspects of web design that carry a significant impact on the accessibility of the content. There is more to consider before a web page can be considered completely accessible, but satisfying these criteria puts the web content into pretty good standing for being usable if not completely technically accessible.
So let’s look at some of the considerations for checking other people’s web content for accessibility.
We will be making good use of the WAVE tool for today’s activity.
Headings with Logical Structure
Of course we want to have headings in the web pages, but that is not enough. We also want those headings to be used properly in terms of their structure.
Paste the URL of the webpage you want to include in your course into the Web page address field and press ENTER.
When the WAVE report loads, click on the Structure tab to review the heading structure.
The report will provide an outline comprised of the headings.
If the results don’t look like a proper outline, you know there is a problem with the content.
Another issue that is commonly found in problematic content is that of text that does not gracefully change size.
When people with visual disabilities enlarge the web content to make it easier to see, poorly formatted text will present problems. Sometimes parts of sentences become invisible, or text will wrap on top of other text, or text can grow beyond the size of the layout and disappear.
There are two primary ways to enlarge web page content.
Page magnification enlarges everything, including images and layout elements like space between lines and paragraphs.
Text enlargement only increases the size of the text. It is with text enlargement where you tend to find the most egregious problems.
The specific instructions for text and page zoom vary from browser to browser. Consult your browser help section for guidance in adjusting your settings.
Alternate Text Descriptions for Images
There are two aspects to checking for alternate text descriptions for images.
First is the simple verification that there is any kind of alternate text present in the “alt” tag for the image.
Second is to make sure that if there is a description provided, that it is appropriate and effectively describes the image.
To check a webpage for alternate text descriptions, copy and paste the page URL into the WAVE accessibility checker.
Use the icons generated by the WAVE report to assess the status of the document’s alt text descriptions.
If there are images with missing alt text, WAVE will indicate this with a big red Alt icon, bearing a white stripe down at a diagonal.
If there are images with alt text present, WAVE identifies them with a big green Alt icon, with the word “Alt” written in white. For these results, check the description and make sure that it is accurate and effectively describes the image it refers to.
Visual Focus and Keyboard Access
When you review third-party content to include in your course, always check for the visual focus indicator and do a keyboard check of the basic accessibility of the interactive elements of the page.
TAB between different interactive elements.
Use the ARROW KEYS to explore different options for menus and forms.
SPACEBAR will engage with most form fields that can be checked or activated, and allow you to select an option.
ENTER will activate the interactive element under your focus.
ESCAPE will cancel form entry for the currently focused form field.
Text Transcripts for Audio Files
If you find any audio files included in the content, check for the presence of a text transcript.
Depending on the audio file format, a transcript could be provided through an associated text file, or embedded into the Lyrics meta-information field.
At a minimum the audio should be accurately represented by the text file.
It is not required for accessibility, but usability is greatly enhanced when the transcript is provided as interactive timed text.
Captioned Video in Accessible Video Players
With digital video, you need to have proper captions that effectively describe the audio content via text.
Play any videos contained within the page and ,make sure there are captions available, and that they are actually representing the audio information accurately.
It is optimal for the captions to be capable of being toggled on or off, but it is acceptable to have captions that are always displayed.
In addition to the presence of captions, ensure that the video is presented through an accessible video player that is keyboard controllable.
Color Contrast for Easy Readability
Color contrast is one of those issues that can have a surprisingly large impact on a lot of different visual disabilities.
The WAVE tool provides a wonderful contrast check as part of it’s accessibility assessment.
Enter the page URL into the WAVE tool and click the Contrast tab to evaluate the color contrast ratio.
Forms with Labels and Keyboard Control
Form fields are interactive elements, and as such they must be operable via the keyboard.
Using the TAB key, you should be able to navigate to any form elements contained in the page.
Using the ARROW Keys, SPACEBAR, ENTER, and ESCAPE, you should be able to verify that the forms are in fact keyboard controllable.
In addition to being keyboard controllable, each form field needs to have a text label that describes the form field.
Sometimes it is possible to have a visual label appear next to a form without actually being associated with the form field. This is an accessibility problem, as someone without sight could end up not knowing what kind of data the form is expecting in that field.
Use the WAVE tool to reveal any forms that are missing labels.
Page Title and Language – Meta Information Matters
One of the invisible aspects of a web page that you need to verify is the presence of a page title and a declared language.
Once again, the WAVE tool makes it easy to find out if either of these elements is missing.
Look for a big red square with a white T in it for a missing page Title.
Missing Language will be indicated with a big red square containing a white globe icon.
Strobing Animations and Blinking Text
There is an unfortunate response to certain frequencies of animation that can cause seizures and narcoleptic reactions. It is important that you do not include any content that has blinking text, flashing text, or animations that create any kind of repetitive or strobe-like effects.
By ensuring the above accessibility concerns are addressed in the third party content you include as part of your online course, you help ensure that your students with disabilities are able to complete the assignments and gain the same educational opportunities as their non-disabled peers.
Dynamic content is content that can change based on the interaction of the user. The difference between information that is simply read, and the content that is “clickable” comes down to a small group of interactive controls.
Interactive digital content is what makes the Internet the most amazing thing to ever happen to human beings since the opposable thumb – it enables a new potential for communication and connectivity between humans that is inspiring and life altering. Interactive content on the Internet is facilitating social and political revolutions around the world.
Now the revolution will not only be televised, it will be accessible to people with disabilities…
By allowing people to interact with each other through remote technology, the Internet has broadened the potential of humanity. The Internet helps people to embrace and celebrate knowledge of each other. Interactive media enables people to participate more fully in all the different aspects of modern life.
When created properly, this is especially true for people with disabilities.
Here is one big takeaway: when you create opportunities for your audience to interact with you or your content, follow the standards for accessibility to ensure that your interactive content lives up to its potential and is not missed by those with differing abilities.
Another big takeaway: when you select digital content to use as instructional materials, you can use the keyboard commands at the bottom of this post to evaluate the accessibility of the interactive content.
Standard Interactive Elements
Despite all the different websites and applications in existence, there are just a small number of interactive elements that make them possible.
Following is a list of common interactive elements found in digital media:
Menu – Complex
Menu – Simple
Select Menu (Drop Down Menu)
Interactive Elements across the Internet
The interactive elements listed above are like building blocks for digital designers who create content and applications. These elements are expected to function the same way in MS Word, PDF, HTML, and your LMS, just to name a few examples.
Designers who create interactive elements that resemble the above elements in appearance but do not include the keyboard controllability described below are not accessible.
The process for interacting with each of the different elements via the keyboard should be the same across browsers and applications.
You can navigate to and among interactive elements by using the TAB key, or SHIFT + TAB.
When you are selecting interactive content to use as instructional materials, ensure the different interactive elements can be controlled via the following keyboard commands:
Start typing to initiate the auto-complete suggestions.Use the ARROW Keys to navigate among the different options.Use ENTER to select an option.
ENTER or SPACEBAR will both activate buttons.
SPACEBAR will toggle a checkbox between checked or not checked.
ESCAPE will close dialogs.Modal dialogs need to retain keyboard focus and return focus to the element in the document that initiated the dialog when closed.Non-modal dialogs should close automatically when they lose focus.
ENTER will activate a link.
Menu – Complex
UP and DOWN ARROWS move between menu options.ENTER can expand a menu to reveal its items.ENTER will select a menu item that is not expandable.LEFT and RIGHT ARROWS will expand or collapse menus.
Menu – Simple
TAB will navigate between menu items.ENTER will select a menu item.
UP and DOWN ARROW keys navigate between options.LEFT and RIGHT ARROW keys expand or collapse submenus/move up or down a level in the hierarchy.
ARROW KEYS move between options.SPACEBAR selects/toggles options.
Select Menu (Drop Down Menu)
UP and DOWN ARROW to navigate between options.SPACEBAR expands menu.ENTER selects an option.
ARROW KEYS increase or decrease the value.HOME or END take you to the beginning or ending value for the slider.
TAB to enter the menu. ARROW KEYS navigate between the different tabs.
The keyboard commands to interact with data.
Limited Keys Bring Great Potential
The entirety of the Internet should be available via just a handful of keys.
Using just TAB, SHIFT, SPACEBAR, ENTER, ESCAPE, and the ARROW KEYS will allow you to interact with most accessible content.
Now you know how to test interactive content for keyboard access, and you can more effectively select appropriate content to include as part of your instructional materials.
Captioning digital video is a straight-forward, if slightly focused process:
Transcribe the dialog and relevant sound effects, music, and any other significant audio information,
Format the captions into individual lines of captions that will fit onto the screen in a readable format,
Apply specific formatting to the captions to reflect specific information and distinguish between dialog and other sonic information,
Determine the timing for presentation of each line of captions,
Adjust the positioning of each line of captions,
Saving the caption file,
Associating the caption file with the digital video file for playback.
Captioning takes time, just because of the nature of the activities involved. Once you have completed the above steps, you will most likely have watched the video at least three or four times. There is a lot of focused viewing and reviewing of the digital media as you create and edit the digital captions.
Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) Keys to Access
The DCMP is funded by the US Department of Education and administered by the National Association of the Deaf. The DCMP provides various services to assist students who are blind or visually impaired, and/or deaf or hard of hearing.
The DCMP is the authoritative source for all things related to captioning and describing media. The DCMP hosts a robust Learning Center that covers everything from explanations of how to caption and describe digital media, the laws and regulations surrounding captions and accessibility, as well as coverage of assistive technologies used by individuals with disabilities.
During the COVID-19 Pandemic, the DCMP is providing free memberships to teachers or families who have at least one student with a disability. This means free access to over 8,000 captioned and described high-quality instructional resources. More information about the program and resources can be obtained at the DCMP website (https://dcmp.org/).
Even if you don’t have a membership, the DCMP also provides many accessible videos that can be viewed by anyone.
Captioning Key: Basic Captioning Conventions for Instructional Video
The Captioning Key provides the style and formatting guidelines for captioning instructional videos.
The Captioning Key is a robust resource that covers the range of questions and concerns about captioning, including how to deal with language mechanics, presentation rate, identifying multiple speakers, sound effects and music, as well as resources for dealing with YouTube, captioning vendors, and different tools for creating your own captions.
The Captioning Key is free to use, and download. The DCMP also provides a printable version, for those of us who prefer a physical user manual.
The Description Key: Basic Guidelines and Resources for Describing Media
Just as the Captioning Key provides guidelines and information for captioning digital media, so too does the Description Key provide guidelines and information for describing digital media for individuals who are blind or visually impaired.
Describing media is a challenging task, requiring technical skills, recording and editing software and hardware, as well as a talent for voice acting and narration.
Happily, many faculty possess the equipment and software to record and edit narrative descriptions. Now with the Description Key, answers about what and how to describe are answered, as well as basic workflows, recommendations for technology, software, and equipment as well as best practices for getting a good quality recording.
Applying the Captioning Key and Description Key
In the coming days I will cover some captioning workflows and demonstrate some of the resources and guidance from the Captioning Key.
You will be able to provide completely accessible captioned and described media for your online courses, and increase the engagement and instructional capability of your online course.
As a digital medium, video combines the power of visual and auditory information in a way that can provide a deeply engaging and provocative experience for the viewer.
Video can be especially powerful as an instructional material as the synchronicity of auditory and visual information creates a stronger cognitive impact for the viewer, resulting in an ease and immediacy of understanding for many viewers.
The ability to structure layers of information lends itself to portraying complex information that can be comprehended in a more time-efficient way. Adding the elements of dramatic context and storytelling allows for the communication of attitude and emotions in a particularly powerful way.
The point for instructional video accessibility is to determine if any of these information channels carry significant instructional content.
In other words, “Will this be on the test?”
If so, it needs to be communicated explicitly across the auditory and visual channels.
Video is Complex
As a medium, digital video covers a lot of categories of communication. Most obviously, video can provide a visual demonstration of procedures, as well as principles and concepts spelled out in text and illustrated in motion. Audio information can supplement and reinforce the visual information, as well as provide additional information beyond what is being displayed. The subtle integration of visual information in background elements and scenery can also reinforce and supplement information while post-production graphic overlays, closed captioning, and narrative description also provide additional channels for communication.
Basic Production Concerns
The quality of video and audio production is an accessibility concern. Audible and visual static, noise, insufficient volume, or weak lighting can all exacerbate problems of perception for people with visual or auditory disabilities.
The access strategies for video are easy to state, but can be rather varied in their application.
In a nutshell, to make a video accessible requires captions and narrative descriptions. Essentially, the spectrum of information for the visual sense is portrayed through audio narrative description and the spectrum of information for the auditory sense is portrayed through captions.
Not all digital video formats are capable of supporting caption files, sometimes the captions need to be included as separate files that the video player combines in the final playback.
Closed vs Open Captions
Most people are aware of Closed Captions, but have you ever heard of Open Captions?
Open Captions are a thing. The difference between Open Captions and Closed Captions is that Closed Captions can be turned on or off, while Open Captions are always visible on the screen.
There is such variety in video playback options that some people use Open Captions to avoid any problem with a student not being able to turn captions on if they need them.
As technology continues to improve, using Closed Captions is the preferred solution. If possible, ensure your institution utilizes an accessible video player within your LMS so your students have an accessible option that supports closed captions.
Emerging Narrative Descriptions
Like captions, narrative description is not always supported with the native video file. It is a relatively new advent for most people as a form of accommodation, and is still relatively uncommon for a lot of small production studios.
In many cases, adding narrative descriptions to older videos can be extra problematic in terms of technology and in finding time to squeeze in the descriptions between the spoken dialog.
Like so many accessibility practices, narrative description is more easily handled when it is included in the video planning and production instead of being added as a post-production element.
While the optimum access strategies for video are captions and narrative descriptions, the value of a text transcript can not be overstated. While a text transcript is not an acceptable substitute for captions, it can be very useful when studying material.
Captions vs. Subtitles
Traditionally there have been different technologies used for displaying captions and subtitles. The digital video revolution also added some variety and chaos to the industry.
There is also a technical distinction between subtitles and captions that makes a significant difference in the effectiveness of the two as an accommodation.
Captions portray all the dialog as well as sound effects, and they are always in the same language as the spoken dialog.
Subtitles only portray the spoken dialog, and they are usually in a foreign language.
This distinction was not always known or respected by the producers of DVD’s and Video, and sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. Sometimes you will find “Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing” which are effectively captions.
There is still an issue for accessible video after the creation of captions and narrative descriptions, in the need for an accessible video player.
Not all video players support captioning or narrative description, making it impossible to turn the captions or description on.
In addition to limited support for captions and narrative descriptions, many video players are not keyboard accessible either.
Happily, there are a growing number of options for playing back accessible video with captions and narrative descriptions.
Two of my favorite options for playing accessible video:
Not surprisingly, it is possible to pay a vendor to provide captions and narrative descriptions for your instructional videos. If you have the means, I highly recommend it.
The time and effort that goes into creating captions and narrative descriptions can be surprisingly intensive. However, if you have the desire and the time, there are free tools available to do it yourself.
YouTube and Vimeo
When using other people’s video from the Internet, the same rules apply, plus copyright law. Using videos from YouTube and Vimeo still need to have captions and narrative descriptions. The auto-captions of YouTube are not done to a level of acceptable quality for a legal accommodation, but they can be edited and improved on.
I’ll be covering YouTube captioning and additional workflows for creating your own captions over the next couple of days.
Those of us who were around back when the Internet was invented can tell you horrible tales of how random and unpredictable digital information once was.
The advent of a file format that could provide a consistent layout across different computers, monitors, and printers – that was a huge deal.
Funny how quickly we can get used to something – but in the case of PDF, it is almost spooky how it gained such overwhelming dominance. There are so many ways to make a PDF that it is impossible to guess what the source might be for any unsolicited PDF file.
The PDF file format is one of the most powerful and popular digital containers around. I have found that the percentage of PDF files in any online course is usually higher than the percentage of HTML files.
Value of the Source Document
Most PDF documents tend to start as another form of information, such as an MS Word file, MS PowerPoint file, MS Excel file, Google Doc, Google Sheet, InDesign, Pages file, Photoshop, Illustrator, Chrome, Firefox, your copy machine in the corner, my flatbed scanner, your cellphone, and somebody probably has a toaster or refrigerator that can make a PDF.
I would not be surprised…
The tricky part is, if you don’t have the accessibility solutions in place within your original content, the PDF you create will also not have any of the access solutions you need.
Worst of all, it can sometimes be very challenging to apply the access strategies in Acrobat – assuming you own it.
Which reminds me, you need to own a Professional version of Acrobat to address the accessibility of your PDF documents. Get your school to buy you a copy if they haven’t already.
While you can create a PDF from pretty much anywhere, you still need to own a full version of Acrobat in order to edit and ensure accessibility is possible. I wish there was some less expensive option, but to the best of my knowledge, Acrobat still wins that category.
Access Strategies in Acrobat
Just like all the other digital formats in the world, our basic challenge is applying the access strategies for different types of digital content:
Structure (Headings, list styles, paragraph styles, etc.), clarity, legibility, contrast.
Text descriptions and captions
Captioning and narrative description
Text labels, keyboard control, Section 508 & WCAG
All of the above…
Digital Media Access Strategies
The easiest, most straight-forward and trouble-free approach is to start with a document that has all of the above access strategies in place before it was converted/saved to PDF.
If this is your first time dealing with accessibility in Acrobat, it is most likely the case that your Accessibility Tools are not on deck.
Near the bottom of the toolbar at the right-hand edge of the program window, find and click the “More Tools” button.
Acrobat will open the Tools inventory.
Select Accessibility from the “Protect & Standardize” category and Action Wizard from the “Customize” category near the bottom of the list. You should now have the Accessibility and Action Wizard at the bottom of your toolbar.
Click on the Accessibility Tool and you are ready to begin.
Tags or No Tags?
Before you can do anything with your PDF, it needs to be tagged. To view the tags tool, we need to open the Navigation Panel on the left-hand side. Find and click the expander handle to reveal the Navigation Pane.
If this is your first time checking accessibility with this document, you will probably need to load the Tags tool into the Navigation Panel. Go to the “View” menu and select “Show/Hide, Navigation Panes, Tags”.
Click on the Tags tool to reveal the Tags explorer.
If it says No Tags available, proceed to the next step.
Otherwise, if you’ve got tags, skip ahead to the last step: “ACTION WIZARD: Make Accessible”.
If you’re reading this step it is because your source document did not include the advanced formatting to tell Acrobat about your content.
But this is not a big problem!
Now we will have Acrobat examine the document and do its best to figure out what kind of data the PDF is comprised of.
From the “Accessibility” tools on the right-hand side of the program window, select the first option, “Autotag Document”.
Acrobat will process your document and generate an “Add Tags Report” that typically includes any Accessibility concerns it could identify, such as images without Alt Text descriptions, questionable reading order, and various meta-information.
Issues such as discerning a logical reading order still require your attention to determine, as well as determining if alternate text descriptions are descriptive enough.
Now that your PDF is tagged, click the view control to make Acrobat display one page at a time. The Accessibility tools behave themselves better in single page view mode.
You are now ready to begin!
ACTION WIZARD: Make Accessible
Choose the Action Wizard from the toolbar. An “Actions List” will appear.
The first action in the list is “Make Accessible” – click it and follow the directions to address basic accessibility issues, the sorts of things an automated testing algorithm can deal with.
The last process the Make Accessible routine will do is prepare an Accessibility Check of your document. Examine the parameters it is testing for, and then launch the check.
Once the Accessibility Check is finished it will create an Accessibility Report with any issues affecting the accessibility of the PDF.
You can click through the links for the different issues in the report and get individual instructions for any issues that need to be addressed.
Go ahead and see what you can figure out on your own. Run the test again after you have made the suggested adjustments and make sure you didn’t miss anything.
Save your PDF with a different name if you’re worried about making mistakes.
I’ll be covering the results from an Accessibility Checker scan of a simple document in tomorrow’s post, and show you how to resolve the common issues and how to do the human verification required for others.