W3C set the standards for web content accessibility and is now working on standards for authoring tools and access devices. Courseware fits into the category of authoring tools. Some users of such courseware use the courseware to create resources, or edit them, but most at least use the courseware to make resources available to students. If the courseware is not accessible, this practice renders the original resource inaccessible, whether it was accessible originally, or not.
What does this mean?
See the following images of a course developed in WebCT 3.5 as seen through MacLynx and some images from within Netscape 4. In both examples, WebCT was used reasonably well, according to the standards known at the time, but it can be seen that the user who is not able to work with a graphical interface can be suddenly dumped, with nowhere to go.
In the browser preferences demo, the setting of browsing preferences is shown and the effects are demonstrated. This gives some idea of what happens to web pages when one or other feature of the page, as rendered by a browser, is not available to a user.
In some cases, although the courseware developers are now trying to make their products accessible and so they produce accessible content, this has not yet happened. Some advice often worth noting comes from Laurie Harrison, Jan Richards and Jutta Treviranus at ATRC (see http://www.utoronto.ca/atrc/rd/library/papers/accesscurric.html):
"The designer/instructor is often left with the task of finding "workarounds" or developing alternative access methods in order to accommodate users of adaptive technology. The following are some strategies for ensuring access to your educational courseware.
(Taken from http://webct.bu.edu/web-ct/help/access/accessibility.html#design_access)
Users with special needs may have to interact with computer hardware and software, as well as input and output, in different ways. Users with vision loss may need adaptive software to access information that they are unable to read on a screen. Users with limited mobility may use an adapted keyboard to navigate the web. The following is a list of commonly used adaptive technologies.
- Screen readers:
Screen readers allow users with vision loss to access web page text. Text is read out by a voice synthesizer. Tab or Shift-Tab allows navigation through the links on a web page.
- Screen magnifiers:
Screen magnification systems enlarge portions of the screen to allow users with vision loss to access computer-based materials.
- Alternative keyboards:
These keyboards offer larger or smaller target areas for users with loss of gross or fine motor control. They may be switched to mouse emulation mode so that the arrow keys or numeric keypad of the same keyboard are used for mouse movements.
- On-screen keyboards:
This software allows users to enter text and select buttons that emulate menu functions on the monitor. Users have a pointing device or a switch to select buttons.
- Voice recognition:
Users speak into a microphone to navigate software applications, surf the web, and input text. Commands correlating to macro sequences may be created to customize usage for specific software or frequent tasks. Mouse control may incorporate a grid system.
See http://www.w3.org/WAI/AU/reviews/ for reviews of authoring applications. If an authoring tool has not been evaluated, there is a recommendation for how this should be done.
Last updated: 8 March 2002