SCoPE Seminar: Accessibility of eLearning: December 4 - 17, 2006

Current Challenges

Current Challenges

by Christie Mason -
Number of replies: 23

I'm seeing comments regarding specific challenges of creating accessible online presentations, by product and process, buried in the introductions and thought it would be useful to begin a new thread to identify those challenges and collect practical suggestions on how to avoid those challenges.

I view the training and educational industry standards, SCORM etc, as anti-accessible. Most (all?) of the online authoring programs used by the training/educational (T & E) industries appear to continue to ignore accessibility issues, even though it's been a core focus of the web design community for years.

I wish I'd seen more web designers attracted to this discussion because, until AJAX, the concepts of making the web more usable had a strong alignment with making the web more accessible. Yes, the web design community did have "Flash Fever" for a while but that's long gone, except in T & E presentations. Web designers didn't stop using Flash and frames all the time for everything because of accessibility issues; they stopped because of pragmatic usability issues. If someone can’t use a page, understand how to navigate to that page, then that page has failed.

Try doing a "view source" on the page you're forced to use to enter a new topic  (if you're like me and have trouble finding it then click on this link http://tinyurl.com/ymmgrx,). How does this page adher to or ignore accessibility issues?  What's useful and not useful on this page and with the overall process? Look at the HTML source of this email, there’s not an alt attribute for the image (notice this is not an “alt tag” issue, “image” is the tag, “alt” is an attribute).   CSS is used but so are tables and embedded font styles along with deprecated tags.  Web standardistas would quibble about the links that open a new window but I think they're appropriate because some read their email in a browser.

Christie Mason
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Current Challenges

by Larry Hull -
Christie's comment concerning a lack of Web designers triggered a button. While not a professional designer, I do provided Web accessibility training.

I'd like to add to Christie's comment that the image lacks alternative text. This system we are using for discussion is one example of the emerging systems that are part of what some call Web 2.0 and, in particular, is a good example of a system where the users provide Web content.  The average Web user, heck the average Web designer unless he or she attended a session such as those that I and others provide, has had no Web accessibility training. The lack of Web accessibility is an issue that will only grow unless a solution can be found.

A related issue is the lack of accessibility of online documents, i.e., documents downloaded by clicking on a link at a Web page. Quite often these are Microsoft Word and PDF documents. Ignored are (1) not everyone has Microsoft Word and (2) PDF documents are not necessarily accessible despite the means provided by Adobe to make them so.

BTW, the Insert Image dialog box (click on the Insert Image button in the message toolbar, next to the table button that is followed by the smiley face button) does allow for alt text to be entered for images. Has anyone tried it?

Larry Hull
Accessibility Engineer (Retired)
In reply to Larry Hull

Re: Current Challenges

by Sylvia Currie -
Larry asks (talking about working here in SCoPE):
BTW, the Insert Image dialog box ... does allow for alt text to be entered for images. Has anyone tried it?

Yes, in fact unless you hand code the HTML the software prevents you inserting an image without the alt text in the body of a forum post. The same goes when creating web page resources. That's what we need -- more reminders built right into the software we use. It's still up to the user to put something meaningful though!
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Current Challenges

by Cath Stager-Kilcommons -
Christie commented about the web design issues, and accessibility barriers.  I wish I had the luxury to call myself a web designer, but wearing that hat is such a small part of my job that I spend much more time training web designers and creating awareness of usability and accessibility overall.

Barriers:
Timeout: Shall we start with the timeout function? No ability to extend time, nor is there a warning.  Have you ever sat with a student actively using screen reading software when their course dumped them out for "inactivity"?

Link names: I note poor use of naming conventions - not only are the pulldown links truncated and thusly appear redundant, but they convey no sense of where the user will go.  The other link names in the pages are similarly useless to convey meaning.

Page Title: The page title could use the key elements that distinguish this page in the first words of the title.  The titles do not work very well in browser history, or as bookmarks.

Form elements lack associated labels.

Use of headings could be much better - the outline comes out as:
h1 - Scheduled Seminar Discussions
    h2 - You are here,

Link titling and text issues: The unsubscribe link is the same destination as subscribe, and the link title is misleading: "I don't want email copies of posts to this forum." 

The input button with the value of "Add a new discussion topic", lacks an associated label, and would not appear in a list of links, although it returns a new page.

The picture associated with the person who started the discussion links to the same page as the name of the person, yet the link text would be the graphic name.

The table lacks an overview summary and does not code to associate the headers with the values in the rows (does not use scope nor id values).

Most of these issues are issues of the design of the interface, and seem fairly typical. Title text that does not even contain any of the same words as the link text is an issue that I have seen generate much confusion.  Simply having three links that go to the same place can stump users - "Which one do they want me to use? How are they different? Does the picture take me someplace different than the words?"

I have sat alongside numerous students, using various types of tools to access the content, and have watched them scratch their heads.  Typically, they might choose one of the little graphics of a question mark, looking for directions as to what they should do.  When the pop-up window appeared with a definition about subscribing, they might read far enough to find the list all help topics link, but after triggering that, once they saw that the general links held 3 links labeled "cookies" "directory paths" and "how to search", only the most tenacious of them would continue to try to find an overview  that might describe what was  expected of them.

As designers, we are supposed to remember there are no user errors, just design flaws. As AT trainers, we are supposed to help students navigate a maze of non-intuitive interfaces. As accessibility trainers, we have even more challenges: creating awareness of the issues, finding the best way to use non-optimal systems, prioritizing the types of barrier and the solutions, and finding solutions that staff and faculty will actually use. 

Nothing like aiming at a moving target...

Rarely do I encountered staff or faculty who are not willing to do a little extra to ensure more usability.  Most frequently it is the lack of awareness.  Personally, I would love to see the elementary age child taught universal design when they first make a webpage at the age of 10 or so... then maybe we could have a trickle up theory, and we would not have to be re-educating each department when the new whiz-kid graduate student redesigns the professors web pages.

Has anyone else noticed that interlibrary loan materials are now sometimes being supplied as a graphic-based pdf?

I do not want to sound like a pessimist, because  I have seen our  grass roots effort make great strides across our campus.  It is a vast task, but  we do make a difference.


 







In reply to Cath Stager-Kilcommons

Re: Current Challenges

by Linda Christiansen -
Excellent description of some of the issues that plague users today!  Thanks for that!
In reply to Cath Stager-Kilcommons

Re: Current Challenges

by Christie Mason -
I thought I'd found a lot of issues but you found many that I missed.  Thank you.

What I can't figure out is what is the intended use for the jump menus?  Even if you give up on trying to figure out what the options are trying to list and just begin to randomly select some, most of the links don't go anywhere useful.

Christie Mason
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Current Challenges

by Sylvia Currie -
Christie, the jump menu follows the same links and sequence as the SCoPE Seminars area ("course" in Moodle language). The left and right arrows allow you to cycle through. In that sense, it's redundant, but avoids an extra click for the power user. That's the intention, but having said that, it's probably never used because it's so squishy!

Thanks for the thorough list, Cath! I immediately changed the time out setting from 2 to 4 hours (the max), although I get the point that that isn't the solution. A warning would be best. And interesting point, Larry, about new challenges as we put the creation of web content into the hands of the users. Ideally, prompts and reminders to add alt text, think about who can access attachments, etc would be built into the software. Some good work is being done at moodle.org in terms of addressing accessibility issues. Perhaps one outcome of this seminar could be a list of recommendations for Moodle developers.

Anyway, we've been documenting changes we will be making to the SCoPE site. We started out with mostly out-of-the-box Moodle with a few changes to labels and language to make it more community-like. The work is ongoing, and our development is always based on members' participation. Some of the suggestions and feedback rolling in are new to our list so your expertise is sure appreciated. approve
In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: Current Challenges

by Christie Mason -
I've often found that using a tangible, shared example works better than discussing generic intangible concepts. Using the content and presentation of the Jump Menu offers a tangible example to discuss some intangible concepts.

The initial perception of usability/accessability is determined by navigation elements. How well does the navigation support the user's ability (usability) to find/access/understand the presentation?  Often site designers and users have very different perceptions of the usefulness of navigational elements. Designers tend to make assumptions based on themselves as users w/o realizing that most users usually have different maps/assumptions than designers.

I suspect one of those perception differences is occurring now.  The intent of the Jump menu may be to offer quick links to seminars but what is the value of being able to quick link to a previous or future seminars? Does that element earn it's space within a prime viewing area?

Yes, those forward/back buttons have no text and are non-intuitive, but it's how the list is presented and what it presents that are the real problems.  First, there's no indication of what type of links it lists.  My first assumption was that it would allow me to jump to different topics because that was the level of the page I was viewing.  I'm a typical web user so "when in doubt, click on it".  What the list presents is illegible.  5 characters of text that are mostly repetitions of "SCoPE..."  The list appears to be generated by a database but there's some type of code trimming the # of characters it displays. 

Repeating "SCoPE Seminar" within the seminar title is one of the contributing problems in the jump menu and it's also a breakcrumb/navigation problem.

SCoPE r_breadcrumb.gifSCoPE: Seminars r_breadcrumb.gifForums r_breadcrumb.gifSCoPE Seminar: Accessibility of eLearning: December 4 - 17, 2006 r_breadcrumb.gifCurrent Challenges 

Descriptions of a higher level should not need to be repeated in lower levels.  SCoPE doesn't need to be repeated in the next level description of "SCoPE: Seminars" and "SCoPE: Seminars" doesn't need to be repeated in the 4th level description.

SCoPE r_breadcrumb.gifSeminars r_breadcrumb.gifForums r_breadcrumb.gifAccessibility of eLearning r_breadcrumb.gifCurrent Challenges

My recommendation would be to either remove the Jump menu.  Or,  expand the # characters displayed in the list, simplify the descriptions and let the hierarchy supply the context. And/or, make the jump menu context sensitive so that it lists seminars on pages at the seminar level, forums at forum level pages, topic, replies etc.

Christie Mason
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Current Challenges

by Sylvia Currie -
The big challenge in web design is that in solving one issue often another emerges!

A quick example: Christie mentions the redundancy of having SCoPE in front of Seminars in the breadcrumbs. It was added to the group name based on member feedback last year to help identify incoming email as being generated from the SCoPE site. SCoPE in front of the seminar title gives context to an RSS feed from a forum.

Life is full of trade offs. thoughtful The ability to choose an interface based on personal needs is appealing. For example, one webmail program I use allows the user to switch to low bandwidth interface if on dial-up.


In reply to Sylvia Currie

Current Challenges - RSS etc

by Christie Mason -
You bring up an interesting issue.  Since eLearning is increasingly using RSS, blogs, with occassional emails.  What are the accessibility and usability issues of those channels?

One thing I've noticed is that adding "SCoPE: Seminar:", it's not just "SCoPE:" , to the email subject and RSS Feed Description results in a long line where the topic/seminar description is cut off.  (Click here to see RSS screen shot) It reminds of when eGroups/Yahoo etc started offering their free forum services.  Each service offers a literal that goes in front of the subject to identify the forum.  It took a couple of rounds before people realized that shorter is better. Click here to see email screenshot and notice there are 2 Yahoo forum messages in my Inbox.  One is tagged with [of] instead of "Online Facilitators" and another is [eAll] for "eLearningAll".

Since both the emails and RSS Feed are database generated (it looks like they reuse the same code notice the "Re:" in the RSS feed which is something I didn't expect)  my fingers just itch to either embed a literal like [SCoPE] in front of each email subject or RSS Feed, or for a more generic solution use a variable for the site name or add a "tag" field.  All site names may not be as short as "SCoPE" so adding a specific field to be used for RSS and emails would probably be a better choice.  That way the site owners wouldn't have to add "SCoPE: Seminar:" to each seminar's name.

Just thinking out loud,
Christie Mason



In reply to Cath Stager-Kilcommons

Re: Current Challenges

by Larry Hull -

Cath Stager-Kilcommoms asked, "Has anyone else noticed that interlibrary loan materials are now sometimes being supplied as a graphic-based pdf?"

Yes, and the problem is that scanned pages are images of text (and anything else on the page) not electronic text that can be read by a screen reader. While OCR (optical chararacter recognition) has become very good, it is far from perfect and often frustrating.

Actually things have not changed that much from the days when pages would be copied and sent by fax. I may be dating myself...

Larry

In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Current Challenges

by Janet Bowen -
Beyond some of the issues raised here, is the problem of making the "client" understand the need to make things accessible. The other issue is the LMS that these are deployed into. I currently am designing a instructional offering that must be Section 508 compliant and SCORM compliant and still not be seen as a page turner and boring. Simple things can be done to accomodate these issues. Even though I use Flash for presentation, it is possible to make these accessible also. I find that my biggest issue is educating the client to the need to be accessible.
In reply to Janet Bowen

Re: Current Challenges

by Christie Mason -
I'd be very interested in how you've been able to achieve 508 AND SCORM compliance with a Flash presentation.  What authoring program are you using?

Christie Mason
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Current Challenges

by Janet Bowen -

Currently I am not using any authoring program. We develop our designs in house using Macromedia Flash and some very talented designers who can tweak coding to do just about anything. Because I work on government contracts it is required that they be both SCROM and 508 compliant.

 

Janet Bowen

In reply to Janet Bowen

Re: Current Challenges

by Christie Mason -
How are you verifying that the Flash presentations are 508 compliant? That's an issue that still confuses me. I haven't upgraded to Flash V8 but I know verifying compliance has always been a tricky issue.  Every article I've read about how much additional effort it takes to make Flash accessible and/or 508 compliant left me wondering why anyone would use Flash in the first place?  I can get as far as understanding that video to Flash works well but get stumped on why any other elements should be mashed into Flash.  I'm sure that's just some type of ignorance on my part and I'd appreciate learning someway to understand that choice better.

Accessibility and 508 are similar but not the same.  Adobe's Flash 8 Accessibility Design Guidelines  "Many of the most common issues in accessible Macromedia Flash design are not reflected in accessibility standards such as Section 508 or the W3C guidelines. Macromedia Flash designers and developers should rely on a variety of methods for validation of Macromedia Flash content for accessibility. "

To see real irony, take a look at Best Practices for Accessible Flash Design and note how Adobe's using Flash to present a PDF file.  Why? To paraphrase Oscar Wilde it looks to me like "the ineffectual in full pursuit of the unusable"

Christie Mason


In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Current Challenges

by Janet Bowen -

Christie,

I will pass this question on to the ones who deal with Flash daily. They have a better understanding of how it works and what they are doing to make it accessible. I am like you I'm not completely familiar with all the workings. I do know that we provide closed captions for audio and alt text for graphics.

Janet Bowen

In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Current Challenges

by Andrew Kirkpatrick -
Christine,
A few points that I'd like to repond to:
Verifying compliance always requires expertise, even for simple semantic HTML web pages.  For Flash, you need to be familiar with assistive technologies to verify that performance of the Flash content is meeting the needs of users. 
 
If you are comparing simple HTML to an interactive Flash application/movie in terms of level of the level of expertise needed to develop, HTML is easier, and that is whether you are making it accessible or not.  However, you need to consider what you may be losing.  Does the plain HTML web page offer the type of experience that benefits all of your users?  The type of interactive experience that we often see developed in Flash can assist users with cognitive challenges as well as be made to provide an accessible experience for blind, low vision, and deaf/hard of hearing users as well.
 
It is possible to get additional interactivity and a more engaging experience by introducing JavaScript into the mix, but then you up the difficulty associated with making it accessible.
 
Ultimately you should determine what you need for the users, and then go looking for technologies that meet that need best.  There will be compromises.
 
> To see real irony, take a look at Best Practices for Accessible Flash Design and note how Adobe's using
> Flash to present a PDF file.  Why? To paraphrase Oscar Wilde it looks to me like "the ineffectual in full
> pursuit of the unusable"
I wouldn't read much into that. FlashPaper started as a Macromedia product - it isn't a PDF file.  There is a PDF version and a FlashPaper version of the best practices.
AWK
In reply to Andrew Kirkpatrick

Re: Current Challenges

by Christie Mason -
Flash Paper - Great,  another product that continues the multi page, print paradigm online and requires manual maintenance versioning for original format and transformed format.  Any time that type of process is required I view it as breaking accessibility because it delays access to current, correct content.  Access to updated content is delayed while someone reruns the multi step process of finding the source, making the changes, transforming the source, reuploading the file.  Finding the source file can be real challenge, too many times I've heard some variation of "Dorothy wrote it and then Susan & Dan updated it but I think Henry was the last person to edit it and then his hard drive failed and he hadn't backed it up."  I fail to see a gain worth that type of pain. 

Oh well, at least they didn't use columns in the Best Practices for Accessible Flash Design link and the font/graphics zoom easily using the browser keyboard shortcuts (something that's iffy with PDF files), even though their TOC links don't work.

Christie Mason

In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Current Challenges

by Emma Duke-Williams -
Chrisite said:
left me wondering why anyone would use Flash in the first place?

I suppose it's in part a question of why you'd decided to use Flash in the first place. For example - if you have a look  at  http://www-medlib.med.utah.edu/kw/pharm/ - the section that's labelled "Tutorials"  (not sure I'd call it that, but that's a different matter), once you are in the main section, has all the information about what' the heart's doing, and what the various traces would be showing at the same time. Adding the flash animations admittedly doesn't add anything extra for visually impaired students, but it does for many of the other students.
Assuming that the visually impaired students (if there are any) could be sent tactile diagrams for the images, is it fair to the rest of the class to not create the animation to enable them to better visualise what's going on?
In reply to Emma Duke-Williams

Re: Current Challenges

by Christie Mason -
I definitely question the use of Flash in this example for navigation on the opening page.   That was frustrating to figure out and the Flash based links were difficult to read and understand.

Then, after finally figuring that out, seeing the heart do its thing was somewhat interesting, but not hugely interesting, and I think some sound would have added a lot.  The "tutorial" links didn't need to be mashed into the Flash, they could have been text based because they lead to tables of images, with empty alt attributes, and text.  Those links could have supplied an alternative for those with visual challenges, except they were poorly designed and you'd have to be able to "see" the links in the Flash presentation in order to find them.

As long as I'm splitting hairs, I spent a few moments looking for "pop-up-menu to select the phase" as directed in the opening page.  I think that refers to the "Tutorials" control?

For me, I "got" more info from the tutorials than by watching the heart go through its cycles.

Clicking on the "?" control resulted in a new window that was just ugly, Times Roman text, and full of <tr></tr><tr></tr><tr></tr><tr></tr><tr></tr>.  Using empty table rows to create visual space is just wrong.  Actually there was no need for a table on that page.  A little application of CSS would have gone a long way.  Oh, and images once again had empty alt attributes.

As far as usability I was left wondering "where do I go now"?

Christie Mason
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Current Challenges

by Emma Duke-Williams -
Hello Christie
Sorry I have taken so long to get back to you. I'd never tried to use that particular site from the point of view of using a screen reader. I certainly found that the visual heart was much easier to understand than the text; I'm also not sure which way round they were developed - whether they had the text & put in the Flash - which is what I thought they had done, or whether they had the Flash and put in the text to support it. (It's now also quite old).
I have to say that I thought that they had sound, but it's quite a long time since I used that particular site - and when I checked that it was still live, I was doing it on a PC that doesn't have sound.
In reply to Janet Bowen

Re: Current Challenges

by Chrys Dean -
     Those interested in making their Flash 508 compliant should read this page:
http://www.adobe.com/resources/accessibility/best_practices/bp_fp.html
     Most of the needed features for accessibility are now included in Flash.
-Chrys
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Current Challenges

by Klaus Reich -
Hi Christie,

what we experience here in Austria - and presumably in most other European countries as well - is a lack of training of webdesigners on accessibility issues. Most trainings given have the form of "Becoming accessibility expert in two hours". I am personally only aware of one training course in Europe providing a certificate at university level for "barrierfree webdesign" (http://www.bfwd.at - sorry, German only).

I am personally interested in SMIL and "challenges" in practical application. Would be great if any of the participants had some experience with that.

klaus

BTW, terminology is still rather difficult to handle for me in English, e.g. "barrierfree webdesign"; please excuse any misunderstandings.
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Current Challenges

by Shawn Draisey -
Hi everyone,


I have been sitting in the corner and listening or should i say watching.
I really like the comment about web page failure. That is so key. I can readily admit that i have designed VLE's with me in mind at times and that 'they" will catch up.

The web page failure comment hit me like a brick. I also like larry's addition about allowing the user to author content easily.


Shawn Draisey
Talent Maximizer/CEO
Pointdexter Career Consulting Inc.