WebCT is a commonly used course management system. Some universities are using older versions but the current version is Version 3.6. A new version with additional accessibility features is due for release early in 2002. WebCT, as a company, is busy making their product more accessible and more suitable for producing accessible content.
The main focus of this section is for those trying to use, or set up, WebCT 3.6 so that it, and content managed by it, is maximally accessible. The latter often involves developing content using some other application and then importing it into WebCT or referring to that other content when it is not embedded in WebCT. Making accessible content is the focus of the Web Content Accessibility web site.
Compliance of WebCT 3.6 - the application is tested using the W3C Authoring Tools Guidelines Checklist.
Other resources in section on Accessibility of WebCT
See also the area especially for this topic, Accessibility: Universal Design and Students with Disabilities - http://www.webct.com/otl/forum/topics?discussion=7816, on WebCT's e-learning hub in the Online Teaching and Learning Community.
These notes refer to WebCT 3.6, the version released in June 2001. Version 3.6 is designed to meet the US Accessibility requirements known as section 508 but so far does not manage this standard completely.
Section 508 is a subset of the requirements in the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines that define the Australian standard. For this reason, it is useful to observe all s 508 requirements, and most commercial content authoring tools now assist in this process. It is also important to remember that compliance with s 508 is not sufficient. These notes, therefore, attempt to provide assistance for those wanting to conform to the Australian (and W3C) standards, while using WebCT. This means that there will, inevitably, be some things that cannot or should not be done.
WebCT can be used to author materials or to manage materials and/or students, or merely to serve up materials stored in its database. This means the use of WebCT in any context is under the control of several layers of users: the system administrator who determines what will be available for course designers, the course designers who determine what wlll be available for the students and staff working on the course, and the staff and students who use the materials and may be involved in creating content in some cases.
(The author of these notes tried to develop a course for students that would be accessible. The diary entry for that day shows the frustration, and indirectly, the need for this project.)
Below is what WebCT say on their website about version 3.6. It should be read remembering that ADA section 508 is not as stringent as the Australian law.
"WebCT 3.6 incorporates a number of new features including:
ADA Section 508 Compliance
WebCT is committed to making certain that online courses are open and accessible to people with disabilities. As a result, WebCT 3.6 complies with Section 508 of the United States Rehabilitation Act of 1973, enabling people with disabilities and using assistive technologies, such as screen readers, to fully use the software. WebCT has worked with the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre (ATRC) at the University of Toronto on compliance requirements. WebCT 3.6 enables faculty or course designers with disabilities to use assistive technologies with WebCT in their course creation and delivery. In addition, WebCT 3.6 makes it easier for faculty and course designers to create courses that are compliant with Section 508."
Updates for Version 3.5 in Terms of Overall Accessibility:
- ALT text has been included on all images, including the login interface of for MyWebCT. For example, image links on the Course Listing page for adding a course and self registration now have ALT text.
- Most of the pop-up windows now have a Close function as the first link in the new window. This assists screen reader users in terms of navigation and orientation, and improved usability in general.
- There is now an option to hide the navigation bar that appears to the left of the main content frame, which may be helpful to users of older screen reader software, many of which do not read columnar text. This also allows simplification of the navigation system or enlargement of the space available to display the main content, depending on user preferences. Administrators can also choose a compressed Menu bar, increasing the Content Area of courses.
- The quiz function has also been improved through addition of ALT text for the red circle and green star images that indicate whether or not a question has been answered.
- The bulletin board has been improved, particularly in the display of main topics in the threaded rendering of the message list. The first link in the thread reflects the main topic, while the name of the contributor acts as the link for subsequent messages in the thread.
- The download function for attachments has also been improved for easier keyboard access.
- A weekly view has been added in the Calendar. It now can be viewed in a linear format that improves general navigability, and also accommodates older screen reader users.
Major revisions to the user interface were evident in the release of WebCT Version 3.0. Version 3.5 presents some further improvements effecting access, as noted above, as well as the resolution of a number of bugs that occurred in the previous 3.x releases. The terminology used for utilities and functions is more consistent throughout.
With regard to the accessibility of the Chat utility, the Version 3.5 continues to require a mouse click to choose a room button. Hence users who require keyboard access, will not be able to gain access to the current format. Some options for the WebCT development team include replacing the Java-generated buttons with standard form buttons, or links, or similar reengineering to allow keyboard access. Beyond the room buttons, the chat application is somewhat accessible and it is possible for users of recent screen readers to read messages, and to tab through the chat fields and buttons. However, in the current version the buttons are not read. We have recommended to the development team use of standard buttons created using AWT or SWING, which should be readable. Another alternative would be for WebCT to provide a telnet based equivalent, allowing users who can not access Java, or do not have the correct version of Java, to access the same chat server through different means. WebCT development staff are continuing to work on the accessibility of the Chat interface.
Last updated: 8 March 2002