Key online accessibility questions & answers
Our Accessibility in Online Learning webinar raised several insightful questions from attendees, which industry expert Léonie Watson of Tetralogical has answered here. If anything here is unclear or isn't covered, please do get in touch.
1. What are common online accessibility misconceptions?
People sometimes believe it isn't possible to be creative, engaging, and accessible all at once. This has not yet proved to be the case, and arguably there is little more disengaging than finding you cannot learn about the topic you want or need to.
They also think accessibility is too difficult or time-consuming, especially for potentially complex systems like LMS. Like most other things we learn to do during our lives, accessibility seems difficult at first. There are new skills and techniques to learn, and until they become familiar, they take a bit of extra time.
Once you learn those skills and techniques, though, and once you find good and reliable places to find answers to your questions, then it becomes second nature and takes no extra time at all.
2. Is there a simple online accessibility checklist?
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international community where Member organisations, a full-time staff, and the public work together to develop Web standards.
It's worth bearing in mind that many of the checks below are similar or identical to those used in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). As a result, you may find this checklist much less of a burden than you think in terms of web content.
If your web/marketing team are practising SEO (as they should be!), then much will already be covered. So, if you are trying to sell the need for accessibility internally, remember it's good for traffic, it's good for usability, and it's the law!
Useful accessibility checklists
3. Can learning platform accessibility be checked?
WCAG focuses on web content, and Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) focus on the accessibility of the authoring tool itself and its ability to output conformant content. ATAG 2.0 from the W3C is intended to help with this.
4. Any tips for neurodiversity accessibility?
Neurodiversity has only recently begun to emerge on the accessibility scene. So there are comparatively few resources available – in contrast to keyboard accessibility, for example, which has been recognised and documented since before the web came along.
Useful neurodiversity resources
5. Is there a preferred browser for accessibility?
No. Like everyone else, people with disabilities choose their preferred browser based on various factors like privacy, security, performance, or because they are invested in a particular technology ecosystem.
Accessibility is part of the choice, but accessibility means different things to different people, so there is no single choice.
6. How can e-learning help those visually impaired to achieve learning outcomes?
This is a huge topic (a substantial chunk of WCAG, in fact). There is too much to cover here, except to say it includes factors like:
- colour contrast, not depending on colour alone
- proper representation of content structures in code
- keyboard accessibility
- comfortable default text size
- clean and simple font faces
- good semantic HTML
- Audio Description for video
- text descriptions
- properly labelled form fields.
7. Which are the best screen readers?
It depends on your metrics, and so it's entirely subjective.
8. How hard is it to switch between screen readers?
It depends on the context. If someone uses macOS or iOS, there is no choice of which screen reader you use, only VoiceOver on both platforms. There are alternatives to TalkBack on Android, but user numbers are comparatively low, suggesting that TalkBack is the de facto choice.
Windows is the exception, where there is a choice of screen readers; the built-in screen reader Narrator, plus NVDA or Jaws. Most people use Jaws or NVDA, but we have no data about how interchangeably people use them.
There's a considerable overhead involved in learning a new screen reader. NVDA, Jaws, and Narrator have many tens of keyboard commands at their disposal. Even though there are similarities, the differences are enough to make the learning curve more significant.
That said, it's not uncommon for people to use a backup screen reader for those times when their primary Windows screen reader fails. That doesn't mean people switch between one and the other completely, more that they're familiar enough with their backup screen reader to be able to use it to get themselves out of difficulties with their primary screen reader.
The last nuance to all this is that most people use different screen readers on different devices. The most recent WebAIM screen reader user survey informs us that most screen reader users use Windows on laptop/desktop and iOS on mobile, and so must use different screen readers.
9. Is there an alternative to e-learning activities when they can't connect with screen readers?
Give people a choice about how they complete the exercise. People may prefer the alternative for many reasons, so offering it as an available choice (not an accessibility-specific choice) is a good approach.
As for the alternative, it depends on the nature of the drag and drop, but possible options include a set of multiple-choice questions using radio buttons or a set of choices to be made by selecting from a dropdown.
In both cases, use standard HTML rather than custom elements because they already have all the accessibility built-in.
10. What are the accessibility issues with carousels?
Carousels are there to solve problems for the organisation that owns the website, not to improve the experience for the people who visit it.
Carousels solve two design problems:
- How do we fit more content into the available space?
- How do we surface the content that we think is most important?
Carousels are complex components, and making complex components accessible adds more complexity. So organisations think they are solving problems when creating them – only this time with a direct and negative impact on users.
Suppose the carousel rotates automatically and cannot be stopped. In that case, it can distract people with cognitive disabilities like Autistic Spectrum Disorder to the extent that they cannot complete the task they came to do.
If the carousel rotates automatically, it can cause a loss of focus for all keyboard users. Suppose a keyboard user is focused on a visible panel of a carousel, perhaps because they are reading the content using a screen reader. In that case, focus is lost as the panel disappears to be replaced by another. In such cases, keyboard focus is often returned to the top of the page, forcing the user to navigate their way back to where they were.
There are no HTML elements for carousels, so there is no good way to inform screen reader users that they're dealing with a composite of panels, buttons, and other elements. If you cannot see the carousel as a whole, then understanding the relationship between the buttons and panels is hard – especially if the content in the panels keeps appearing and disappearing.
11. Do embedded links opening in new tabs disrupt course learning flow?
Yes, every time. If someone wants to open a link in a new tab or window, they can choose to do so. Forcing that decision upon them takes control away from the user, and that's rarely a good thing – even if you warn them, it's going to happen.
12. Is scrolling or clicking to next more accessible?
As we showed within our webinar, a course can be accessible with either.
13. What ALT text should decorative images carry?
We tend to add a description to all our images to try ensure that a screen reader user has a similar experience to someone who can see the material. Does that, however, improve the experience for a screen reader user or not?
Léonie Watson, our guest speaker, has written at length about this topic in her blog about text on decorative images.
14. Why does Access to Work only recommend JAW?
Ordinarily, ATW should be recommending NVDA because it's capable and costs nothing. There may be situations where the employer cannot make NVDA available on its systems because it does not come with a support package and/or flouts internal policies. In that case, Jaws may be the best option – but this should be the exception, not the rule.
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