ACCESS DENIED: Why Courseware Accessibility Remains a Challenge

by: Shashank Iyer | Tools and Infographics |Jan 24th, 2018

THE BOTTOM LINE

Remember when UC Berkeley began pulling down public access to more than 20,000 videos, podcasts and other instructional materials from YouTube, iTunes and the university’s website? It has been almost a year since the university, in response to a DOJ order, began removing all content that is inaccessible to people with disabilities. What has changed since this story broke? Not much it seems, as people with disabilities continue to face significant hurdles in accessing education content online.

Vendors themselves admit that relatively few products offer basic accessibility features. According to the Courseware-in-Context Framework feature analysis of 145 products self-reported by 50 courseware vendors, products on average only meet about 20% of the Framework’s accessibility capabilities. Indeed, as market demand for quality digital learning content has directed vendors to improve on other capabilities such as adaptivity, usability and collaboration, courseware vendors continue to lag behind in making their products more accessible. Digital learning can provide tremendous opportunities, but by overlooking accessibility considerations, it continues to exclude significant portions of the population.

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Can standardization around WCAG 2.0 AA be the answer?

In our conversations with instructional designers, directors of eLearning, and accessibility specialists, we found three major challenges to increased accessibility to digital educational content. One, accessibility standards are incorporated in a piecemeal fashion and are built without a framework to support content accessibility throughout a student’s lifecycle. Two, there is inconsistency in the demand for accessibility standards across institutions, and what accessibility means varies greatly from one institution to the other. Three, these varied needs make it difficult and expensive to deliver accessible content at scale.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 offers the potential to systematize courseware accessibility standards, offering three levels of accessibility: A (meets minimum conformance), AA (more accessible) and AAA (highly accessible). The US Access Board formally changed requirements of Section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, more closely aligning federal requirements with WCAG 2.0.

Although compliance with the WCAG 2.0 AA standards is gaining traction from both the demand and the supply side, the path to alignment between institutions and providers is uncertain.

Come see us at the ELI Annual Meeting to learn more

As the leading investment banking and strategy consulting firm to the education market, Tyton Partners helps our clients navigate the evolution and changing dynamics of the field. We advise institutions on strategic planning, teaching and learning innovation, and student success, and partner with companies working to provide innovative and impactful support to higher education institutions. Click here to connect with our team to learn more about our work around courseware accessibility, strategic initiatives, digital learning and more.

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