Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Making your online class accessible

After attending the Texas BlackBoard Users Group (T-Bug) conference last week, I came back with lots of new grey matter fodder. But, the one that sticks out in my mind as an action item was the break-out panel on “Suggestions for Accessibility for Visually Impaired Students”. I have always promoted accessibility for any online material throughout my training career and felt I was rather concise and thorough about my information. Well, I found out that I was close but still had a lot to learn about some of the common uses of online tools that make web pages and Course Management Systems less than user friendly. I have l listed below the notes I gleaned from the panel:

• On images and animations give a detailed “alt” text to give a meaningful description for the reader. To illustrate: think of describing the item over the telephone to a friend.
• When the item is complex use a long description “alt” text page.
• Make hyperlink text that is specific to where the link is going instead of “click here”.
• Convert all PDF files where the text is seen as an image so the screen reader can translate the information. Scan PDF’s as text and not images.
• Don’t use frames within web pages.
• When using video make sure to have a transcript available and to have a note on what kind of player will be needed to play the media source. This will help the individual to know what player is needed and how to use the player.
• Scripting languages that are not supported by readers will need an alternative site to provide the information.
• Use "strong" and "em" tags instead of Bold and Italic when creating your web pages.
• Try to use tabs to navigate your site instead of mouse clicks.
• Do not use color as the singular indicator of different types of information.
The panel also played a typical web page through a screen reader named JAWS. It was the most confusing thing I had ever heard. Imagine looking at the source code for any web page and then hearing R2D2 on speed reading aloud to you! It definitely caught my attention and made me plan a trip to my university’s disability support services office to learn more on how to help our impaired students with their online learning courses.


Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI):

Histosoft validation software:

U.S. General Services Administration IT access for Persons with Disabilities

Markup Validation Service

Texas Woman’s University Disability Services Support:

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