Practical vs. Pedagogical: Accessibility for Learning, Part 2

Sep 11, 2017

You get what you pay for. If you want something done right, do it yourself. The simple answer is the best answer. Out of sight, out of mind. Amidst adages and clichés, there exists an air of truth, and today I’d like to focus on one whose truth is rather apt: If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

Do a search on web accessibility, and the preponderance of results will undoubtedly pertain to standards/guidelines, testing tools, reiterations of the law, interpretations of the definition, and so on. If you are looking for help and guidance for you or your company, I’m sure you are worried about the guidelines and what it means to achieve conformance. If you or your company deals in accessibility solutions, I’m sure your marketing is heavily directed towards the public’s lack of knowledge and your ability to help them achieve conformance. Conformance, guidelines, lawsuits, testing tools and methods…what about the user?

In a black and white world, there are two options for everything, and when whittled down, the results of these options are either “yes” or “no.” Does my website comply with the law: yes or no? Is my content accessible: yes or no? Does the Department of Justice want to file charges against our institution: yes or no? Although these are major concerns, attention and resources should not be dedicated to these worries as their sole point of emphasis. As much as you may want it to be, accessibility is not black and white. And now we have reached the heart of this posting.

Who am I? Why are we here? What is existence? No, not quite that deep, but in the same ballpark. The question we should all be asking is, “Practicality or pedagogy?” As a company or individual, what is your intention. Is it baseline compliance accessibility, where the content is (technically) accessible? Or is it to provide equal access in the truest sense of the idea, where the instructional process remains equal, as well as the content on the page? If you couldn’t already tell, you should aim for the latter, and here’s why.

The U.S. Access Board has signed off on a revamp of the guidelines governing web/digital accessibility. There are literally hundreds of LMSs (Learning Management Systems, such as Blackboard and Canvas) used by companies across the globe, and each one presents its own set of complications and barriers to accessibility. There is no, and there will never be, a point-to, do-this blueprint to accessibility that will remain effective indefinitely. Simply put, what constitutes accessibility will change. And these changes affect what it means to achieve compliance—especially those with bottom-of-the-barrel compliance.

Don’t take this the wrong way and think that you need to set the bar for the most accessible content/website/digital environment in the world (although you wouldn’t go wrong with that goal); that is not the point. The point is to understand the goals and change course (if necessary) to aim toward equal access. Take this example below:

This drag-and-drop interactive utilizes a process that is innately inaccessible to a seeing-impaired user. For a visual learner, this interactive teaches thinking skills. It teaches the user to process information, organize this new info, and then prioritize what they have accumulated. It stokes creative thinking, looking for patterns, and making connections; it offers new methods for absorbing information and more. An accessibility-directed question you should ask is, “Is it possible to recreate this learning experience for a seeing-impaired student?” This question not only will direct your path to accessibility, but will push you beyond mere conformance and into the strata of the accessibility forefront. In black and white: You can approach the drag-and-drop interactive—from an accessibility standpoint—using the methods below.

Practical: Create an alt text description for the entire interactive, which will essentially replace the interactive portion with a text (accessible) version of what takes place. To do this, silo the information in two categories: Static Pieces (green ring, blue ring, red ring) and Draggable Pieces (green circle, blue circle, red circle). This can be done, in simplest form, in a two-column table with the headings “Static Pieces” and “Draggable Pieces.” Fill in the information from there, and voilà, accessible. The teaching/learning processes associated with the interactive nature of this interactive will be lost, but the content will meet the necessary level of conformance.

Pedagogical: Using the same drag-and-drop format, write alt text descriptions for each element (what is being dragged, where it potentially will be dropped), and code so that the user can tab through the first “drag” group (using ARIA attributes added to markup, using shortcut keys) before moving on to the second “drop” group. Without getting too deep into the weeds, you will need to allow the user the ability to pick up from the “drag” group and move to the “drop” group while maintaining the screen reader’s ability to access/read each element in both groups as the tabbing is taking place.

Is your organization looking for digital/web accessibility guidance that goes beyond audits and maintenance? Contact us!

Accessibility for Learning, Part 1

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