Online learning in universities has come of age during the Coronavirus crisis and publications daily extol how we have risen to the challenge. But online learning creates barriers to some of our students even while it liberates others. What should university’s do about this? Clearly, we need to make our online materials accessible, but why is this difficult? What is holding us back?
Accessibility is a classic example of the problem of unknown knowns.
We know what accessible resources look like. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) distils a set of thirteen guidelines for designing web pages that provide detailed criteria for meeting accessibility standards.
The unknown for universities is the where, the how, and the who: Where are the barriers, how do we fix them, and who will fix them. Victoria University has just implemented a trifecta unmasking of this unknown quantity.
Blackboard Ally is an accessibility reporting and remediation tool that we integrated with our D2L Brightspace LMS (VU Collaborate) to give us live reporting on what accessibility barriers exist in which resources. The tool provides unit and institutional level reporting about the kinds of barriers that exist and step-by-step instruction on how to lower each barrier.
Like a gauge or meter the “Web Accessibility Indicator” (WAI) provides an accessibility rating for each resource in an LMS site:
Clicking on the indicator provides a list of barriers and a short lesson on how to fix them. If academics follow the steps and upload a ‘fixed’ resource, the meter changes to a dark green ‘perfect’ score.
The indicators are only visible to academics in each site (not to students) but because they are visible to all academics, they put the power to lower accessibility barriers in the hands of those with the power to make a difference. Blackboard Ally enables the University to have a distributed responsibility for accessibility instead of leaving it to one or two overworked accessibility experts.
The Web Accessibility Indicator (WAI) helps academics ensure their content is accessible, but the student-facing complement of this is another Blackboard Ally tool called “Alternative Formats”.
Alternative Formats allow students to download content in new ways that enhance their learning by using different senses or different modalities (e.g. audible and offline versions for commuting, adjustable text and contrast versions for evening or extended reading).
In the next installment of this series, we will meet Jane Hickey, a Lecturer in the College of Arts and Education at Victoria University, and follow her quick progress through her accessibility remediation process.