Accessibility Matters Part One

image showing a drawing of a bar of soap and a box representing a digital soapbox

I’d heard negative reports about Sharepoint. Which goes to show you shouldn’t judge a tool by its reputation. Using it had two advantages – a selection of useful editing tools and when the text size is increased (unlike MS Windows and Office) the text box ribbon and menus enlarge too.

Both of these matter.

First the tools.

Many user generated content boxes only offer plain text which isn’t enough. I want to edit and format, emphasise, bullet a list, switch to html.

image showing comment box in Speedgrader on Canvas

Hull has Canvas as a VLE and most of its comment boxes are plain text. The minimalist style is particularly frustrating in Speedgrader (yes, you can attach a Word document but in the Grade Studio you can bold, italicise, underline and add a URL which is great for directing students towards additional guidance and support)

Giving feedback and feeding forward for future assignments is a key part of the educational relationship. It’s a skill and an art to critique constructively. Whether feed-back or feed-forward, the process needs to sound as though the student matters and the tutor cares. This can be a challenge to achieve online, where digital text often appears cold, devoid of human touch with an increased risk of misinterpretation. Being able to edit the appearance of text can help this lack of emotion but – other than a : -) face (which doesn’t even convert to a real smile like MS does) plain text has no affordance for personalisation.

smiley from MS Word

It’s not just Canvas which sticks to plain text. The message tools on Twitter and Facebook lack editing features but their function is more ‘of the moment’ like a text equivalent of a quick message whereas meaningful feedback should be personal and contextual – if ever a place was needed for editing tools it’s the online marking of assignments.

Guidance on writing feedback e.g. REAP’s Seven principles of good feedback practice or the Seven Steps Giving Effective Feedback from Plymouth University, is all about what feedback should do. The choice of  media rarely gets a mention, other than as a beneficial alternative to text.

Video and audio offer opportunities for a more personal touch but are still best used in combination with written text rather than as an alternative.  The interpersonal effect of digital writing – i.e. being able to ‘talk’ online as you do face-to-face – is hardly addressed any more. Yet the truth is – compared to (legible) handwriting – Times New Roman is impersonal. Where are the workshops on How to reduce the neutrality of Helvetica or Ways to make TNR emotionally supportive. Choice of media matters. Digital feedback is one of those fuzzy places where the affordances of communicating online meet the limitations of digital text but too few people are discussing it.

So the first surprise with Sharepoint was the text editor toolbar.

Second was the enlarging tool bar.

One of the advantages of dodgy vision (and truth be told, there’s not many) is how it highlights the inaccessibility of digital practice, both from the software giants and from individuals uploading content.

I don’t image of tv on a wall use screen margination software for a number of reasons – one of them being you need a large screen. Suggestions like plug your laptop into your TV assume you have a TV in the first place and  besides, have you ever tried it? If you could put the TV on your desk it might work but most TVs sit in the corner of the room or are fixed to a wall.  Not everyone has wireless connectivity, cables are trip hazards while sitting comfortably with a keyboard, books, coffee cup etc on the floor is not always easy.

I get by with Ctrl+ and Ctrl – although some recent websites designs prevent this. Instead of enlarging content I find myself scrolling down the screen instead. Latest versions of Windows have a slider bar controlling magnification but my Surface and laptop only have a limited choice of magnification options. Choosing the higher ones creates anomalies e.g. items you’re used to seeing on the taskbar get hidden like in the before and after images below (the upward arrow is the hidden icons tray). This might seem trivial but it isn’t. Also note how the text in the footer bar remains the same size!

Image showing the taskbar at default size

Image showing the task bar enlarged with missing icons

I don’t always want everything enlarging so I prefer Ctrl+ and Ctrl- to manage my onscreen view on a page by page, file by file basis.  The problem with programmes like Word is you can only increases the working area.

image showing enlarged text in Word while menu bars remain small

Sharepoint shows enlarging the toolbars and menu items as well is possible but you can see in the image below how the browser tabs remain resolutely tiny.

images howing enlarged text in Sharepoint also enlarges the edit toolbars while browser tabs remain small

It’s worth mentioning how exploring and utilising the Windows accessibility options involves working with menus displaying a default text size – which is too small to read – which is why I need to enlarge it in the first place!   This is a typical accessibility loop – like opening an online document to find a message on page iv saying if you need an alternative format please contact …… Um….. shouldn’t this information be provided somewhere other than within the online document itself?

I don’t want the size fixing – I want the flexibility to increase and decrease online content depending on the context, device, location, light, time of day etc. If MS SharePoint can take the step towards getting it right,  why doesn’t the Office suite give me the same accessible working environment?

Who else cares about these issues? Some answers can be found in Accessibility Matters; Part Two

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What’s your excuse?

pencil sketch of a bar of soap and a box

I’m in that cleft stick again. The one called accessibility. That’s my stick in the corner. On its own. Because most of the time we don’t think about it – don’t talk about it – and with exception of a small band of colleagues from across the sector – we don’t much care about it either 😦

I’m drafting a policy document for the use of Panopto. I can’t say the words (Shhhhh lecture capture) because that colours how people see the software. It influences usage. In the way VLE’s get used as digital depository dumps, recording 50 minute lectures is making minimal use of the affordances as well as being poor pedagogical practice. Try it yourself and see. Choose an online lecture. Unplug your speakers, turn off your sound and be sure to concentrate…

For the last decade multimedia has been challenging the supremacy of text. Yet for all the speed and variety of digital content, there isn’t a one size fits all method for getting messages across. This is the century of communication. Toffler called it the Third Wave. An information age following an agrarian and industrial/technological age.

blue information symbol

The 20th century has bought an obsession with the collection, curation and communication of information. Now in the 21st we have big data and learning analytics. It can only get better (or worse depending on your ontology). I’m unconvinced by this new data revolution. Its rhetorical promise is like the hyperbole heralding the arrival of the VLE and look where that got us.

The grating sound is the soap box being dragged out.  Early this year I presented the keynote at a Making Research Count Conference at UCL. The theme was living and working in digital times and included barriers to digital access. Feedback included this – which says it all…

Digital inclusion/exclusion was a huge topic about 5 years ago, but seems to have been forgotten somewhat now and, yes, it’s still so important.

Digital exclusion is invisible. With digital platforms of the public sphere those denied equality of access are neither seen nor heard. People agree social exclusion is a big issue (which it is) and digital divides are important (which they are) but when it comes to doing something then the whole shebang is seen as being outside of their remit. Let’s bring it closer to home.

drawing of a digital divide between ipad and paper

How are you getting on with the recorded lecture with no sound?

It’s a new academic year. The DSA has changed. Institutions have to consider the principles of reasonable adjustments. Software like Panopto is being hailed as a convenient answer but unless textual equivalents are provided how can it be?

I wave the digital inclusion flag with regard to online learning and teaching content but it’s lonely out here. Sort of invisible. It would be so much easier if we were all in this together but other people don’t seem interested. There’s always an excuse or it’s the responsibility of someone else. They talk the talk but don’t do anything about it.

Accessibility isn’t to be put aside until there is more time. The future will never have enough time. It will be exactly the same as it is today. It’s 2016. Equality has been a legal requirement since 1995. Part of the problem – I think – is how digital inclusion gets side-lined into being a disability issue rather than a fundamental digital capability leading to best practice and experiences for all.

We need to talk!

Why we should

  • It’s a legal requirement (Single Equality Act 2011)
  • The law takes a proactive approach – content in alternative formats should be provided not requested  Universities have to make reasonable adjustments
  • Inclusivity improves access for everyone (not just people with disabilities, international students, etc etc)
  • Multimedia is a valuable learning tooI
  • access is explicit in the sconul 7 pilliars of information literacy through a digital lens
  • It will enhance learning

Why we don’t

  • We don’t realise any of the reasons why we should
  • TechDis has been disbanded
  • It isn’t an explicit element of the Jisc digital capabilities framework
  • We’d know its important and would love to but…  we haven’t got the time, resource, money, skills, capacity, interest – fill in the blanks.

So what’s your excuse? What are your thoughts? Do you agree? Disagree? Lets get a conversation going and make 2016 the year for virtual inclusion.

Tweet @suewatling and #digitalinclusion

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digital divide image from http://www.idgconnect.com/IMG/082/17082/digital-divide-india1157-620×354.jpg?1412145199 
information symbol https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/47/Simple_Information.svg 

Tweet-tips on #lthechat digital inclusion and accessibility

This post follows Wednesday’s #LTHEchat on digital inclusion and accessibility. The tweetchat rationale is here http://lthechat.com/2016/02/15/lthechat-no-46-sue-sue-watling-digital-inclusion-and-accessibility/ and there’s a list of the shared resources at the bottom of this post for those in a hurry.

If you have a little more time, then freed from the limitations of 140 characters or less, I thought it might be useful to give some background.

It was around 2010 when I first experienced vision impairment. I thought it’ll be fine. I work with technology. I know the theory. The internet is fully accessible – right? I could enlarge text, change contrasts, use text to speech and train my Dragon. It was the beginning of a new journey which included volunteering with a local organisation for people with sight loss and seeing first hand the frustrations of digital exclusion. I worked with VLE but had no real practical application of the principles of accessibility. Now it all changed. I began to write about the risks of what Ellen Helsper at the LSE had called a Digital underclass. I knew how the social impact of the internet was as potentially exclusive as inclusive. It all depended on how you used a computer and accessed the internet. I devised the MEE Model of digital exclusion. This reflected common usage. I  refers to using a Mouse for navigation, Eyes to see and Ears to listen. When all around you follow the MEE Model it becomes easy to assume everyone else does too. The MEE Model has sequential layers of barriers.

  • The high cost and narrow market of alternative navigation devices or adaptations to make the best use of existing physical, sensory and cognitive abilities. You can’t buy assistive technology (AT) at Tesco.
  • The need for specialist training and support. AT can involve a steep and unique learning curve and it can be challenging to keep AT aligned with sequential developments in operating systems and browser controls.
  • Even with the AT plus training and support in place, if online content has not been designed and delivered with inclusive access in mind, you will remain excluded. Try using iTunes with a screen reader. Try any online shopping site with text to speech. You may be able to browse, select and move to the payment section then find it’s an add-on where text fields are not labelled and drop down menus don’t work. Turn off the volume and use YouTube with automatically generated captions, or any subtitled video where the titles cover the picture rather than sitting in a separate footer. Try zooming in (Ctrl+) and watch frames overlap , fail to resize or left to right scroll bars disappear. The list goes on.

In an increasingly digital society, where public information, health, welfare, retail and leisure are moving online, to be digitally excluded is to be marginalised and disempowered. The vision of the web pioneer for a digital democracy has simply not happened.

 ‘… it is critical that the web be usable by anyone regardless of individual capabilities and disabilities.’  (Berners Lee, 1997)

‘…if we succeed making web accessibility the norm rather than the exception, this will benefit not only the disability community but the entire population.’  (Dardailler, 1997)

So when asked to facilitate an #LTHEchat it seemed natural to bring out the digital inclusion soapbox in relation to learning and teaching.

image of a bar of soap and an empty box representing a digital soapbox

Over the past year or so, I’d been feeling a bit disillusioned. I’d already shifted focus from trying to change the world to making smaller changes such as building accessibility outcomes into my online TELEDA courses e.g. Reflect upon, and demonstrate a critical awareness of inclusive practice in relation to online teaching and learning resources, communication and collaborative working with and between students.  I still accepted any opportunity to raise awareness and did visitor slots for staff and students on a range of courses. Maybe I was imagining it but it seemed audiences a little bit more disinterested every year. Last month I gave a keynote on the social impact of the internet looking through a number of critical lenses, making sure these included digital divides; the hidden millions who had never been online in the UK and those with access but not the means to make essential use of it. One of the follow-up emails said it all.

Digital inclusion/exclusion was a huge topic about 5 years ago, but seems to have been forgotten somewhat now and, yes, it’s still so important.

A consequence of legislation (Single Equality Act) is tokenism as displayed in this photograph. It shows a perfect example of the law being followed but with no apparent awareness of the impossible situation created.

disabled parking road sign next to a postbox

Digital accessibility in learning and teaching is not always the most popular of topics. The response is often raised eyebrows, dismissive comments and barely concealed sighs.  So I wasn’t sure what to expect Wednesday at 8.00 pm but the fantastic #lthechat community come through in great style and by the end of the hour I felt reinvigorated again. This is the power of social media, adding Connect to the BBC mission to Educate, Inform and Entertain.

There are only a few months until the government’s proposed changes to the DSA come into place. This will remove a layer of digital support for new students and shift the responsibility for making reasonable adjustments back onto institutions. The topic of ensuring equal access to online learning resources should be at the forefront but in a way, the DSA itself has contributed to the notion that accessibility issues belong to someone else, somewhere over there, wherever student support is managed  We’re further away than ever to the idea of individual responsibility for ensuring accessible design of digital documents.

But there is hope. At a time when low levels of digital capability among staff who teach and support learning is coming to the forefront, accessibility can be built into new digital baselines and frameworks but the first step is raising awareness of why this matters in the first place.

LTHEchat offered lots of useful reminders and advice for moving forward as captured in this Storify https://storify.com/LTHEchat/lthechat-45-with

#LTHEchat questions:

  1. Why does digital inclusion matter?
  2. Who is responsible for accessible L&T content in your institution?
  3. Audio and video need transcripts. Discuss.
  4. Where to go for help? Share an online source of advice.
  5. Share a tip for creating accessible digital documents.
  6. What does accessibility mean to you?

Shared #LTHEchat resources list 

Lastly, a timely reminder of how a simple zoom can go wrong. Trying to get to the image only succeed in making it appear further away!

black screen with large text and tiny image

Thanks to everyone who makes #LTHEchat happen. Although this week’s session is over, I hope the conversations and sparks of interest and enthusiasm will be lighting bigger fires 🙂

 

Berners Lee, T (1997)World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Launches Web Accessibility Initiative. WAI press release 7 April 1997. www.w3.org/Press/WAI-Launch.html

(Dardailler, D 1997 Telematics Applications Programme TIDE Proposal. Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) http://www.w3.org

digital exclusion as linguistic lockout

image of a locked gate
image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/knowprose/44510297/in/photostream/

The blog post Why digital capabilities matter attracted a number of retweets. It was short and to the point. Since them my 500 word limit has been breached. I need to try harder. Blogging should be an exercise in brevity as much as pertinent points.

The post made the digital-assumption everyone had access in the first place when this is not true. Last week I wrote about the Visitors and Residents typology and suggested a third visitors and residents column for the NAYs (Not arrived Yets) This was primarily about digital resistance or reluctance in higher education- those I call the digitally shy – but I included a wider reference to digital exclusion.

While applying V&R to learning and teaching, it must be remembered how beyond the educational sector, there are an estimated 17 million people in the UK who have no internet connection or are unable to make relevant use of it. Here neither residency nor visitation is a possibility.

David White (co-author of the V&A paper) tweeted Do we need to include those that are not online in our thinking? A timely question.  My answer to the question is unequivocally yes. Digital exclusion is a social responsibility, fundamental to all, in particular for education developers with critical approaches to social change.

Yesterday, a conversation about computerised Health Centre appointments, included the notion digital exclusion would not be an issue with high-speed broadband. Was the digital content designed for users of Assistive Technology within that area? Oh yes, I’m sure someone will have tested that. I’m not so sure. Instead I suspect this is the ‘digital assumption’ in action. It’s easy to do and we are all guilty but need be more provocative and ask the questions.

Digital inclusion does not stop at internet connections or home pages. Sites can be inclusively designed but use bolt-on transaction systems which are not. I supported someone with VI doing online shopping using the market leader in screen readers. All went well until the payment where the pages lost their labels and alt-text rendering the process impossible. I rang the shop. They offered to take the order over the phone. Which missed the point. Digital exclusion prevents independent living as much as access to resources.

A local visual impairment organisation tendered for a new website. None of the design companies knew about screen reading software. We chose the one which said they would like to learn.

A computer science course taught the theory of accessible design is a year 3 module. Which seemed a little late in the course. I asked how the designs were tested. Did they have access to a screen reader or alternative navigation aids? The reply was no; students just needed to know the theory.

David White tweeted ‘there are more fundamental inclusion issues than the digital such as English as a second language.’  I would suggest to be digitally excluded is a form of linguistic lockout. If all around you people are communicating and collaborating online but you don’t have the means of equitable access, they might as well be speaking in a different language.

Digital exclusion is to be rendered invisible. If you’re shut out from the digital platforms of the public sphere you have no voice and digital capital involves negotiating complex structural barriers of cost, support and inaccessible design. Those with digital privilege should be raising awareness of what it takes to ensure a digitally inclusive society. We need to remember how digital exclusion could happen to anyone of us at anytime.

I hope this answers David White’s question Do we need to include those that are not online in our thinking?  Digital inclusion matters. It really does.