Educational organizations provide learners with access to online education. For most people, all that is required to learn online is a computer with internet access. However, for those with specific disabilities, that may not be sufficient. Increasingly sophisticated devices are available to help those with sensory or physical challenges to interact with computers. Unfortunately, even with sophisticated devices at the receiving end of the internet, these devices will not work unless the online course content is appropriately “encoded”– denying many people with disabilities access to courses.
The project started with the analysis of existing electronic courses. Adaptations and necessary changes were made inside WebCT (the university-supported CMS at the time). Through consultation and collaboration with users, advocacy groups and other university and government agencies (SFU and SET-BC), these different modules were encoded, so that they were made as user-friendly as possible for persons with disabilities. The existing academic content served as practical “test beds” for enhanced accessibility. The experimenting and testing was performed through close collaboration with SET-BC. This was a matter of providing online learners with disabilities, who were academically qualified, to have full, fair and equal access to all University services and programs. The project did not entail any modification of the academic standards of the University or the elimination of the academic evaluation of students. All steps in this process were carefully monitored and recorded. Over the years, all online courses offered in the Faculty of Education were brought to standards and they comply with the international standards of WCAG 2.0, Section 508.
Making online courses accessible to students with disabilities, i.e. structuring the content to be clear and easily navigable benefits all students, regardless of their physical and mental condition. The main goals of this project were to:
- Develop concrete procedures to operationalize existing standards for web accessibility, based on real experience with modules from online courses;
- Develop a manual of procedures for operationalization; and
- Develop a series of five one-hour workshops about operationalization (both in a face-to-face and online format).
As well as to:
- Improve usability for non-disabled and disabled visitors;
- Support persons with low literacy levels;
- Improve search engine listings and resource discovery;
- Repurpose content for multiple formats or devices;
- Increase support for the Internationalization of courses;
- Assist access for low-bandwidth users.
- Concrete procedures to operationalize existing standards for web accessibility, based on real experience with modules from existing online courses;
- A manual of procedures for operationalization; and
- A series of five one-hour workshops about operationalization (both in a face-to-face and online format) emphasizing best practices and procedures to design and implement enhanced online access.
Process Manual for Operationalization
A Manuals was produced “Accessibility in Online Learning: Web Accessibility Process Manual.”
Five workshops were developed to accompany the Manual. These were:
- Web Accessibility Basics
- Coding an Accessible Site
- Accessible Multimedia Content
- Creating Usable Content
- Disabilities and Assistive Technology
These workshops were offered from August 21st to August 25th 2006 over the Internet, using Horizon Wimba’s Live Classroom. There were over 25 participants for the five days—mainly from across Canada, but from the USA and other countries as well. A blog was also created to provide a space for sharing additional resources and viewing the workshop PowerPoint slides.
BCCampus Repository, SOL*R
The Manual and the workshop materials are available under a Creative Commons license as part of the BCCampus repository, SOL*R.
In addition to the planned activities, the project team decided to participate in various public events.
- BCEd Online Conference “Connected Learners”, Vancouver (April 19-20, 2006)
- IOP (Investigating Our Practices), UBC (May 6, 2006)
- UBC Learning Conference, UBC (May 11-12, 2006)
- CADE (Canadian Distance Education) Conference, Montreal (May 23-26, 2006)
- BCEd Online Conference, Panel discusion (2007)
- CSUN (Technology and Persons with Disabilities) Conference, Los Angeles (2007)
- ICTA (Information and Communication Technology and Accessibility) Conference, Hammamet, Tunisia (2007)
- NMC (New Media Consortium) Conference, Princeton (June 2008) – Judges Choice Award for the poster
Boskic, N., Bole, K., Hapke, N., & Kelly, K. (2008). Accessibility and universal design. In E-Learning: Education for a digital world: Advice, guidelines, and effective practices from around the globe. London: Commonwealth of Learning, Part 1. Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.
Boskic, N., & Bole, K. (2007). Talking about people, not technology. Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Information and Communication Technology and Accessibility. Hammamat, Tunisia.
Natasha Boskic, Educational Technology Manager, EPLT
Administration, Code Writing and Web Design
Kirsten Bole (now Starcher), EPLT
Nathan Hapke, Undergraduate Student, Faculty of Education
Dr. John Nesbit, Professor, Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University (SFU)
Mike Bartlett, Provincial Coordinator, Special Education Technology, BC (SET-BC)