Imagine you have built an amazing learning experience. It will delight and captivate the imagination of all learner who comes across it. But, alas! To access your learning, the user has to go through an oddly shaped door. Hundreds or thousands of potential users will not be able to cross through it, at no fault of their own. Such is the reality for millions of users every day. Willing to prove themselves and gain new skills, they face unexpected roadblocks. Barriers that designers did not intend, but also failed to take into account.
Accessibility is best understood as the learning experience’s capacity to widen that door. In turn, it is also the learning designer’s ability to accommodate everyone in. In a broader sense, is the experience creator’s ability to guarantee that everyone has “equal access.” It can become a broader discussion, even a political and philosophical one. For eCreators’s Prathiba and Dani, the question is entirely practical, as they share insight about the fast-growing Australian company and the way the make LMS valuable to all kinds of users.
People should be able to consume the same type of content regardless of what they are dealing with
Prathiba shares some statistics: 4 million Australians face some form of disability, as defined by the national Department of Social Services. This amounts to 18% of the population.
It is already Australian law that government-funded information and services must be provided in an accessible manner. The government abides by WCAG 2.0, the most widely embraced standard for websites. While Australian websites are not under obligation to comply with WCAG or similar guidelines, the Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 can held private organizations liable for not being able to provide the same level of affordances to every user in a reasonable way.
In any case, WCAG 2.0 turned out to make good business sense, as companies found that services and information provided online are easier to make compliant. A modest investment in accessible websites would save companies lots of headaches, as some actual legal cases demonstrated.
Accessibility through third parties? Tread lightly
Despite government efforts, the poignant reality is that the Internet is not accessible. An assessment of the top 1 million pages by Utah State University’s WebAIM initiative, updated last August, showed that up to 98% of websites failed to comply with the full WCAG 2.0 body of recommendations. Most website admins, usually from SMEs, claim the process is too costly and confusing.
This reason does not hold too well for large websites, including social media. Dani notes that the limited support of screen readers by Instagram has been the subject of complaint by some of her followers. For many reasons, that could be seen as threading too thinly, or missing the forest for the trees. A “top-down” approach for accessibility analysis could be preferable, as there could be more basic impediments for a given learner to enjoy an online learning experience. All things equal, there are more people without computer or Internet access than vision or hearing.
Another reality is that most people and organizations react only after a complaint has been filed, which means they only act if legally compelled to. In the EdTech space, a notable episode was the settlement MOOC provider EdX reached with the US Justice Department in 2015.
It would seem enforcing WCAG 2.0 is too hard. In 2019, Harvard was sued for not using closed captions, considered a form of discrimination. The suit included videos hosted by YouTube and Apple iTunes. As of writing the lawsuit was ongoing.
Anecdotes can be misleading. On one hand, difficult or not, failure to comply with WCAG is not illegal. Discrimination is. On the other, many online content providers with fewer resources than big tech have shown that compliance can be achieved in cost-effective ways. Even in education.
Moodle to the rescue?
Among LMS, and even content platforms in general, Moodle deserves recognition for its copious efforts to build and test extensively with accessibility in mind. Moodle is designed to provide WCAG 2.0 compliant experiences. Mind you, whether a given Moodle site is actually accessible is beyond the control of the core development team.
But the truth is that, all things equal, Moodle provides exceptional tools to provide and test accessibility compliance throughout the development process. This includes:
- General WCAG 2.0 compliance and dependant compatibility with technological aids
- Accommodation for specific impairments, especially visibility
- With the help of plugins, assess the accessibility compliance of the website as well as content
Don’t miss Episode 3: Moodle Workplace, on Wednesday, October 23
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