A learning based system (eLearning module) is viewed and interacted by a myriad number of users spread geographically among different cultures. One important aspect that is often ignored is the fact that the module content is also viewed by people with various abilities, which include visual inability (blindness, colorblindness and other sight related issues), hearing difficulties (deafness) and other physically challenged people. It becomes really difficult for the institutions to facilitate such interactive learning sessions for their pupils. The answer for such a dilemma is to make learning based system that are accessible in nature and cater to the needs of the differently abled individuals.
What is accessibility?
Accessibility defines certain guidelines that enable a course to be accessed by a wider majority of audience (including differently abled individuals), so that the facilitator does not have to maintain a separate version of an existing application for people with different needs. The accessibility features adheres to Section 508 of the federal sector.
What is section 508 ?
Section 508 is an amendment to United States Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It mandates that all electronic and information technology applications should be accessible to people with disabilities and people without disabilities (http://searchcio.techtarget.com/definition/Section-508).
JAWS Screen Reader
People with disabilities who are unable to read the content of the screen often use screen reader that reads out the content of the screen whenever an element in the screen gains focus. The focus is generally gained by pressing the tab key or its equivalent by people with disabilities. JAWS is one of the most widely used screen reader available for such users.
How to make courses accessible?
While there are a number of guidelines available for making a course accessible, however there are certain most widely used tips and tricks that are followed as listed below:
1. Font Size: Use relative font size expressed in percentage and ems instead of absolute font sizes expressed in points and pixels.
2. Provide “alt” tags for Images<img/> : The HTML Image element (defined
by <img/> tag), contains an “alt” attribute that brings up a “Tooltip” that can be read by a screen reader. Therefore it is imperative to provide long description for the image element (not more than 56 characters), so that it can be read by the screen reader.
3. Provide long description for links <a/>: People with disabilities mostly use tab to navigate between links. Therefore we should provide long and meaningful description for the links so that it can be read by the screen reader.
4. Explicitly State Information: Do not use indentation or color alone, to convey its meaning. Example: Indicating required fields in a form by making them bold is bad. Indicating required fields by using a phrase such as "required" is good.
5. Explain the default value of select (combobox): The default item in the select menu should clearly define the purpose of the box. For example, using "Select Age Range" is preferable to "18-25."
6. Provide Skip Links: Skip links allow the speech software or braille user to bypass information that is repeated on every page, such as navigation bars. Speech and braille users generally read the page from top to bottom, and consequently are subjected to repeated information before reaching the heart of the page. Skip links allow these users to jump past the repetitive navigation links to get to the main content on the page. To implement skip links, place a link before the repeated information as follows:
<ahref="#content"><img src="empty.gif"height="15" border="0" alt="Skip Main Navigation" width="5"></a> and place an anchor at the beginning of unique copy: <a
The image can be transparent, so that the visual display is not affected, but speech and braille users can hear the alt tag reading "skip main navigation".