(Fifth in a Series of 8)
While accessibility has been a part of the eLearning discussion for the past several years, accessibility has come to the forefront this past year as Section 508 Compliancy has been increasingly enforced.
Section 508, an amendment to the Rehabilitation act of 1973, requires all Federal agencies to make their technology accessible to those with disabilities. The recent crackdown on agencies that haven’t abided by section 508 has made waves in the eLearning world, sparking action and discussion. Accessibility has long been a priority within eLearning. Whether it be for training or learning, access to information is key and should not be withheld from anyone. Furthermore, with the introduction of each new smartphone or tablet, there inevitably follows a discussion as to whether the latest technology is up to scratch with the latest accessibility features.
Stay tuned for the top 3 in the countdown this week!
(Part 2 in the USDA Case Study…keep following tomorrow!)
Team AgLearn needed a solution. They realized that the best solution would allow more people to work together to build courses, while also allowing them to meet the USDA’s standards faster and easier. Developing a course “template” or “style guide” was one option, but Team AgLearn quickly saw that tools like that still depend on each developer applying the “style guide” correctly and don’t help the developers build more courses in less time with less money. Those tools might help the courses meet the USDA’s standards, but they wouldn’t solve the other problems. Team AgLearn also wanted to identify a solution that would work across the entire USDA. As Davin put it, “We were looking to alleviate a bottleneck across the Agency. Therefore, we needed the pilot project to truly test enterprise- wide scalability and applicability.”
After a formal solicitation process, Team AgLearn chose CourseAvenue Studio©. Team AgLearn chose CourseAvenue for several reasons. One is CourseAvenue’s unique “player skin” technology.
More than a simple “template,” CourseAvenue’s Player Skin builds in all of the USDA’s use and graphics standards. This includes everything from the use and location of media controls to when and where an audio script is displayed to the overall screen size and navigation elements (the “help,” “glossary,” “back” and “next” buttons). Team AgLearn and CourseAvenue also designed the USDA’s Player Skin to have the same color scheme and branding for every course.
Another benefit to CourseAvenue is its built-in LMS communication – both SCORM 1.2 and 2004 – and its built-in Section 508 standards. “CourseAvenue’s handling of 508 compliance was an important factor in our decision to use their product,” says Davin. As opposed to relying on each developer to make each course 508-compliant, CourseAvenue builds 508 compliance into the Player Skin and the course itself. This allows people to focus on building content – not trying to learn and meet the USDA’s standards – which allows them to build more courses in less time.
Read more tomorrow to see the results to this case study!
(Third in a periodic series)
Meeting the challenge head on
Using our understanding of the marketplace, CourseAvenue launched an initiative to create accessible eLearning content on a large-scale. Our approach was to make our learning technology universally accessible.
Instead of relying on a single developer to understand and correctly apply accessibility design, we assembled a team of people dedicated to building this kind of accessible technology.
As we learned more about the challenges of building accessible eLearning, we realized we could capitalize on a technology we called the player skin. Originally developed to enable organizations to have one course for multiple brands, we embarked on using this technology to build an accessible version. We named this the “Accessibility Player.”
We wanted to create a product that, with 508 compliance, functioned in the same as our normal, core product. Therefore, audio, video, text, graphics, true-false assessments, multiple choice, matching, fill-in-the-blank, and ordered list question types all had to work in the 508 compliant version the same as they did in any other form. You see, we were not just skirting
the issue of accessibility (as we mentioned is a common problem in our previous blog post). Instead, we want to enable as much functionality as possible.
To do this, we did not want to rely on any given content developer to know about accessibility. Other tools that are developer-dependent are too prone to error and time consuming. Instead, we created a player that handled the content development. Things like tab order and learner feedback are all handled bu the Accessibility Player. Instead of relying on the eLearning developer to set a tab order on a given page, our technology now does this, ensuring consistent navigation through the entire course, no matter how many elements are on a given page.
We also saw the need to create and manage a single course for all learners — independent of their need for adaptive technology. Aside from just matching what we believe to be the spirit of ADA/Section 508 compliance law, it enables organizations to maintain a single source of content, dramatically reducing the cost of development and content maintenance.
Just as today you probably don’t realize just how accessible public buildings are compared to those built years ago, our Accessibility Player is designed to be visually pleasing and highly functional. While not everyone may use features such as keyboard shortcuts, audio transcripts, or closed captioning, their presence really blends in with the overall course design and are available for those who can truly benefit from them.
508 compliance should not sacrifice the quality of a product, and our Accessibility player testifies to that. Moreover, at the end of the day, it helps people who may need accessible eLearning content the most.
(Second in a periodic series)
As a continuation of our previous blog post, we pose the question…what is happening today with accessible eLearning?
There have been many responses to the daunting technical and process problems associated with creating accessible eLearning. As we talked about earlier, if an organization starts with a “funnel approach” to eLearning development, there is a built-in process challenge.
Skirting the issue
There is a wide interpretation as to what accessibility standards look like. In many cases, developers are liberal in their interpretation, resulting in courseware that may be deemed as compliant. In reality, this courseware can be challenging to actually use. Ideally, adaptive technology and accessibility should be integrated into the entire design, thereby producing an efficient and useable course.
Multiple versions of the course
To avoid the complications of having a single source for a 508 Compliant eLearning course, some organizations have provided the content in multiple formats make sure they are accessible for those with disabilities. For example, there may be an interactive version of a course built using a Flash-based delivery interface. Another non-interactive version of the course targeting those with adaptive technologies might also be made available.
There are a few problems with this approach:
First, how do you decide which format is best?
Second, it’s difficult enough to maintain even one version of the course, much less two, three, or four different versions. This poses many problems – do you hire double the staff to do this? Do you spend double the time? With this approach, efficiency goes out the window.
And finally, a number of technical and design issues come to the surface. Let’s illustrate this with a specific example. You want to embed a video as part of a learning exercise. Where does the video fit into the non interactive (say a .pdf) version of the course? Would the video be embedded in the interactive version but have a link in the non-interactive version? How would the interactive version present a post-video assessment?
Bottom line: multiple versions DO NOT make sense!
Least common denominator
In the attempt to avoid multiple delivery formats, some organizations produce all of their content in the most basic accessible format. We have seen a range of solutions using this approach, which, at its best, provides a decent learning experience for all learners. At its worst, the courseware is ineffective for both those using adaptive technology and those not.
Now, we don’t want to say that no one is creating efficient, accessible eLearning. There are a number of organizations that have produced quality work. Thanks to skilled employees and committed management, they are capable of creating this content. However, in cases where organizations do not have this sort of staff, inefficiency tends to reign.
Our next post will consider how to face these challenges head-on!
(First in a periodic series)
There is a widely held and mistaken belief that eLearning is, for the most part, a type of web site. That slapping a table of contents, next button and a few questions on a series of pages and this “course” can be managed like any other set of web pages. This “it’s so simple” approach is then propagated by technology marketing departments promising no coding and courseware developed by anyone.
Just as developing any eLearning is more complicated than is marketed, developing courseware that is useable by those using adaptive technologies (e.g. screen readers, alternate pointing devices, etc.) has proven to be extremely difficult. The challenge is also masked by tools and technologies that try to simplify this process with the 508 compliant box.
As many organizations have found out, simply checking the 508 Compliance box does not produce useable or necessarily compliant software. This gap between perceived compliance and actual useable/compliant eLearning introduces stress, cost, and inefficiency to everyone involved. The worst of these effects is that the people that could likely derive the most benefit from 508 Compliant eLearning technology are often the ones who have the greatest difficulties using it.
Disclaimer: We recognize that the above comments are generally negative but we do not want to cast all attempts at building accessible eLearning as “failures”. There are many examples of companies providing truly accessible content.
Section 508 has provided an extensive and valuable framework for building accessible materials. However, there is a huge gap between “standards and guidelines” and their practical implementation.
This gap exists primarily for any of the following reasons:
The interactions between accessible technology, web browsers, eLearning content and the LMS are very complicated. A significant number of layers of technology must be in sync for things to work. Consider the following software that must work together for every learner:
- Type, version, and options used in the operating system and support components (e.g. how are accessibility features of Windows XP, Vista used?).
- Type of and version of the browser (e.g. IE 6.x, 7.x, 8.x), Safari, Firefox – are there any add-on’s? Type and version of multimedia player (e.g. Flash player x.y, version).
- Make and version of accessibility tools (e.g. WindowEyes 6.x, 7,x or JAWZ x.y, or x.y)
Simply navigating and coordinating this matrix of technologies is challenging. The addition of an accessible technology layer adds another dimension to an already complex landscape.
A Process Problem
When developing eLearning, many organizations suffer from the “funnel problem,” in which all eLearning content is dumped or funneled down to an author. The author uses their desktop authoring tools to integrate all instructional design, graphics, multi-media, corporate standards, subject matter experts, and the ever-changing input from the “functional owner” of the course. Add to all of these demands the need to be useable and 508 compliant, and the likelihood for success is minimal.
Additionally, many organizations list “adaptive usability” and 508 Compliant as one of the requirements. For any number of reasons, treating 508 Compliance as one of the requirements likely will not work. From our experience, often regardless of 508 Compliance, by the time the core eLearning content is reviewed and approved, the content itself may be outdated. If you treat integration with adaptive technologies as another step in the review process, the timeframes extend greatly. Combine this process problem with the technology complexities, and, frankly, it is a wonder any accessible eLearning is created.
Accessibility Standards are a .pdf
Section 508 is a specification, a listing of do’s and don’ts. While there are tools out there to assist with adherence and interpretation, for any given organization or eLearning developer, adherence means understanding and applying a very large and complicated set of standards and guidelines. In summary, this is not an efficient or necessarily repeatable process. When organizations have the “funnel approach” to development, their results are dependant on “who” the effort is funneled towards.
When you combine a multitude of complicated technologies and inefficient development processes with open interpretation of requirements, it is clear why building effective and useable accessible content is so challenging.
Keep following this series to read more about what is happening with accessibility and 508 Compliance today and how we should meet these challenges.
We think they have quite a bit in common. Yes, they can both raise a person to new heights, but we’re looking at a commonality that’s a bit more grounded.
Both eLearning and elevators must comply with accessibility laws. This compliance is not a one-step process: eLearning providers should no more depend on a “make accessible” button than a building owner should depend on a verbal assurance an elevator is ADA compliant. Building architects don’t leave designing accessible elevators, stairs, and restroom facilities to chance. We can’t say that eLearning designers take the same care.
When the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, the learning curve was high. Lawsuits involving lack of handicapped parking and non-accessible elevators abounded. Businesses scrambled to meet the learning curve and understand the specifics of accessibility.
Now, the legal tide is changing direction. We’ve recently seen a surge of lawsuits against organizations that are not providing accessible eLearning. As with any law, ignorance of Section 508/ADA regulations is no excuse.
Accessibility for both eLearning and elevators has many layers. For example, you may believe if an elevator uses Braille signage, it’s ADA compliant. Not so. There are many components to an ADA compliant elevator, starting with the height and location of the call button sign and ending with proper handrails. If one piece is missing, it’s not legally ADA compliant.
It’s the same with eLearning. Accessibility starts at your web site, continues with your LMS and travels to your eLearning content. If one layer is missing, your eLearning is not accessible to all.
CourseAvenue provides eLearning solutions that are Section 508/ADA compliant. We can’t help you with your elevators, but we can guarantee your eLearning will be accessible to everyone.
We’re not trying to be “scare mongers,” but we certainly feel compelled to point out real-world ramifications of poor eLearning design and technology. The tidal wave is coming, and recently hit the higher education arena once again. No institution or organization can afford to ignore its danger.
We predicted this in our September 2010 blog post ADA and Section 508 Lawsuit Tsunami. Since then, the 508/ADA lawsuit tidal wave has only increased in size. What is it? Who is threatened by it? And how can it be avoided?
Section 508/ADA is a type of civil rights legislation designed to protect people with disabilities. We’ve seen its effects in things we now consider mainstream: handicapped parking spaces and wheelchair ramps, for example. What is not yet mainstream: accessible and useable eLearning, which is just as vital to the disabled as handrails.
Organizations and institutions failing to provide accessible and useable eLearning for everyone are beginning to drown in lawsuits, payouts and remediation.
Accessibility begins with your organization’s website, continues through your Learning Management System (LMS) and travels to your custom eLearning content. While LMS accessibility is largely the responsibility of the LMS vendor, your custom eLearning is your responsibility. Is it accessible to those with disabilities? Are you relying on a simple “make accessible” check box on your desktop authoring tool? If so, you could join the ranks of major corporations and the VA Administration, who have all faced legal challenges due to website accessibility issues.
CourseAvenue can protect your custom eLearning development from the surging tidal wave of 508/ADA compliance lawsuits. We provide eLearning development software that has Section 508 and ADA compliance built into the technology. With CourseAvenue, there’s no guess work and no risk. We’ll keep the tidal wave from reaching your shores.
While participating in this year’s Interagency Disability Educational Awareness Showcase (IDEAS) conference, CourseAvenue announced the winners of the 2010 Accessible eLearning Leadership Awards. These awards recognize those organizations that are producing true accessible e-Learning courses – courses that serve both learners who use assistive technologies and those who do not, without the need to create multiple versions of each course. Awards were given in Government, Commercial and Not-for-Profit categories. These industry leaders have demonstrated how the intelligent use of instructional design and technology can produce e-Learning titles in the true spirit of complying with both the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974.
Producing accessible e-Learning has been an elusive goal for many. Although the ADA and Section 508 are federal law, too often compliance is either non-existent or an afterthought. And while those who use assistive technologies arguably have the most to gain from online education, compliance often means, at best, a “plain HTML” or “PDF” version of an e-Learning course. These award winners clearly show that the days of creating separate or limited e-Learning courses to achieve ADA and Section 508 compliance are over.
Congratulations to the recognized leaders for 2010. A donation to Spectrios Institute for Low Vision will be made on behalf of each of the winners.
PSI, Inc. – Planned Systems International
“Veterans Affairs’ My Recovery Plan®”
ILRU – Independent Living Research Utilization
“Foundations of Independent Living”
“Google Search & Gmail”
About the Accessible eLearning Leadership Award
The Accessible e-Learning Leadership Awards recognizes organizations in Commercial, Not-for-profit, and Government categories that demonstrate dedication to advancing the field of Accessible eLearning through successful development and deployment of education materials that meet or exceed the standards defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974. For more information, visit http://www.CourseAvenue.com/Award
As part of recognizing these leading organizations, a donation will be made on their behalf to the Spectrios Institute for Low Vision (www.spectrios.org) – an organization that provides comprehensive visual rehabilitation programs that includes a low vision evaluation, counseling, and teaching the skills of daily living and the use of technology.
I’m pleased to report that the US General Services Administration will be holding a panel discussion on accessibility in eLearning at the GSA’s Section 508 Coordinators Annual Conference this November, 2010, in Gettysburg, PA. Attendees will learn of the requirements, challenges, myths, and best methods for creation of courses that are also fully Section 508 compliant. It is my hope that the attendees will find this information useful in pursuing active validation of eLearning compliance under Section 508.
Section 508 eLearning Compliance Discussion
The panel will include experienced personnel from the USDA, the Department of Education, and other agencies and will be moderated by Joe Gorup of CourseAvenue. They will examine examples of compliant and non-compliant eLearning, and discuss a range of issues, obstacles, and solutions that apply to eLearning under Section 508 accessibility compliance such as
- The causes that contribute to uneven compliance to Section 508, including the wide range of compliance processes between agencies.
- Examples of non-eLearning eLearning such as pure .pdf files; a maze of HTML links; and a .PPT with a play button will be looked at in comparison to examples of what most people agree is truly self-paced eLearning.
- The role of active validation of Section 508 compliance vs relying on standard and guidelines, VPAT’s and the like.
- The effect active validation has on rejection rates for Section 508 compliant eLearning and the downsides of non-compliance will also be examined.
Agencies Take The Lead On Accessibility
It’s good to see these agencies taking an active lead in eLearning accessibility. The acknowledgment of the need for accessibility in eLearning certainly seems to be moving in the right direction, even if slower than I’d like. As authoring platforms become available that allow a single, media rich course to be used for all learners–including those with disabilities–the old excuses of “it can’t be done” become harder (and more costly) to maintain.
A tsunami of lawsuits may hit businesses, government agencies, and educational institutions. The targets are websites and elearning. The advance lawsuit storm waves have already hit Target, the VA, Arizona State University and others. Your website or elearning courses may be next.
The New Definition of Facilities
Though providing equal access to buildings, restrooms, elevators, and the like has become common and expected, until recently equal access to an organization’s “digital” facilities” has often been more of an afterthought—if thought about at all. The ADA and Section 508 are essentially civil rights legislation aimed at ensuring equal access to people with a disability. Though the acts were initially aimed at access to physical facilities, with the pervasive rise of the internet, wheelchair ramps and wide restroom stalls are not enough. As a result, the ADA and Section 508 now encompass the accessibility (or lack thereof) of websites and elearning.
But I Don’t Have Blind Employees
It’s a common misunderstanding that the ADA and Section 508 only apply if the organization has a blind employee. Wrong. The acts apply to a wide range of disabilities including color blindness, reduced vision, hearing disabilities, and physical disabilities such as the inability to use a mouse or keyboard. In addition, the acts are not restricted to employees but include those in the general public who might use your facilities. Finally, if you operate a business open to the public, or have accepted federal funds, or are a local, state or federal government agency, you are subject to the equal access requirements regardless of whether you have employees with a disability. Again, failure to provide equal access is a civil rights violation and a losing hand in a lawsuit.
Inaccessible Website Costs $6 Million
In brief, Target does business with the public and its website was not fully accessible to people with disabilities. Target paid $6 million and corrected their website. The VA had training courses it’s employees were required to complete. However, the courses were not accessible to employees with disabilities. The VA lost the lawsuit. The list goes on.
Accessible vs. Usable
Faced with the daunting obstacles of creating an accessible course— whether to avoid a lawsuit or to simply provide users an accessible elearning experience—several common methods are used. Unfortunately, many may simply be providing a false sense of security. Creating an accessible course is often not as simple as checking a “make accessible” box; adding some alt text; saving a PDF; or creating a Flash file. These methods may be little defense against the ADA/Section 508 lawsuit tsunami. For example, a “Make Accessible” check box in an elearning authoring tool does not say “Make Section 508 Compliant”! Adding alt text only addresses some elearning accessibility issues, and a PDF or Flash file may be technically accessible but practically unusable. What is meant by “practically unusable”? A 45 degree wheelchair ramp may be a ramp, but the steepness makes it unusable by someone in a wheel chair and an expensive lawsuit would likely result.
Separate But Not Equal is Expensive
Besides the extra cost and maintenance issues inherent in creating a separate “accessible” version of an elearning course, many simply do not provide the same rich learning experience of the “standard” course it is based on. Then there is the issue of lack of SCORM and AICC conformance. The solution to accessibility as well as usability is to create one course, usable by everyone. Sounds easy, but up until now that meant hand coding by a team of very skilled (and expensive) programmers. Coordinating the complexity of a two-way learning experience to accommodate assistive technology such as screen readers and voice control, while correctly building in appropriate navigation focus, a glossary, table of contents, and assessment questions is not for the inexperienced or those on a tight budget.
A New Approach
Until now, many organizations were caught between the looming lawsuit tsunami and the expense and time required to achieve ADA and Section 508 compliance. However, there is a new approach that is both affordable and more efficient than maintaining separate course versions. It also enables staff to create courses, rather than a team of expensive programmers. By starting with an authoring platform that has accessibility built in (and is independently certified), your staff can shorten development time while delivering media rich elearning courses that are both accessible and usable by everyone. Better to do the job right the first time and avoid separate course versions that are expensive, hard to maintain, and often an easy target for a lawsuit.
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