I’ve been to several ITC eLearning conferences over the past few years and each year accessibility rises further up the list of important presentation topics. This year was no different. There were two presentations I attended that addressed accessibility.
To Care and Comply: Approaching Accessibility in Online Courses
Presented by Loraine Schmitt, Sue Quast, and Karen Sorensen, Portland Community College
This presentation focused on accessibility in distance learning and was co-presented by our friends and colleagues up at PCC.
They began with a video produced last year to build awareness on the subject of accessible learn. This is an inspiring and informative video that includes interviews from students, faculty and administrators at PCC.
The presenters went on to discuss their approach, goals and process. First and foremost, they emphasized their approach. “We are all in this together and are working to meet our goals.” This was important to note, since their primary goal is to make all distance learning courses and content accessible by 2014. Their process is thoughtful and well planned. They began with a planning group comprised of faculty, students and staff represented by Disability Services and Distance Education. First, they addressed new courses under development and require that faculty attend some training on accessible learning. Next, members from Distance Ed, Disability & Library Services work with the faculty course developers to provide support in making content accessible. This might be captioning videos and providing transcripts for media, checking for proper alt tag descriptions on images and the use of headings, subheadings and paragraphs on written text based content, checking for the use of inaccessible content such as interactive Flash content that can often be difficult to for screen readers to interpret and navigate without the use of a computer mouse, and seeking out alternative content for substitution where needed. If a piece of content is not accessible such as a video that is not captioned, the faculty member can make use of that content for 1 term before the video must be captioned or replaced with an accessible alternative. Any courses that receive accommodation requests from Disability Services must be addressed immediately.
For more information about Portland Community College Web Accessibility Guidelines, visit:
The second presentation I attended was on accessibility in Mathematics.
Accessibility in Mathematics
Presented by Chris Hughes, Scot Leavitt, Portland Community College
This presentation covered several aspects of making mathematics courses and content accessible to all people regardless of disabilities. Scot Leavitt and Chris Hughes, Mathematics Faculty at PCC were given a one term sabbatical to research, study and develop recommendations for their college and program on accessibility in math courses. Their process covered accessible formats, math languages and tools such as MathML and Math Jax, best practices, faculty responsibilities and final product recommendations.
First Chris and Scot reviewed the various tools and formats that math faculty make use of. They found that a large majority of faculty utilize Microsoft Word to develop their learning content and of those, 60% of their math faculty made use of MathType. Next, they analyzed content using the Rule of Four (an attempt to balance students’ abilities to use and interpret information in numeric, graphic and symbolic form with similar facility). They then discussed the workflow of how faculty would maintain original files and provide those files to Disability Services to further develop accessible electronic files. This might result in the form of accessible screen reader content, braille ready formats and enlarged text versions. During this exploration Scot and Chris discovered that much of the content on the Pearson My Math Lab homework website was published using Adobe Flash, which posed challenges for accessing content without the use of a mouse and the ability for screen readers to interpret. They contacted Pearson and were told that Pearson was making efforts to publish new accessible forms of content on the My Math Lab website by the end of 2013.
Chris and Scot used a Stand Alone concept. Can content, formats and tools be equally effective and stand alone without the need for alternatives or adjustments? They provided a list of formats and tools that were capable of this as well as those that were not.
At their conclusion, they presented four straight forward recommendations:
Instructors need to keep source files (.docx, .tex, .odt, etc).
Instructors can create graphs and images however they prefer, but all images need alt text.
Instructors should work ahead of schedule and try to be prepared at least a week in advance.
Instructors should consider splitting longer tests into smaller parts for students that are allowed a time extension (such as a double time extension).
They also presented what they called “Potentially Prickly Recommendations”:
Instructors relying upon online homework systems should consider migrating to WeBWorK.
New (online) course developments and takeover courses relying upon MyMathLab and MyStatLab will be put on hold.
New textbook selections must consider accessible online content a top priority.
Ultimately Scot and Chris suggested that their faculty need to be aware of their process but not much change was needed to make math more accessible to students. The concept of what workflow can stand alone would depend on each school’s use of technology and disability services.