How Accessible is the Digital Learning Today?

Tarveen Kaur August 7, 2019
Consider visiting a website just to realize it is off limits to you because you have a physical or intellectual disability. Online content is crucial for delivering information; with today’s technological advances, there is no reason anyone should be excluded. Government lawsuits  have made it clear with fines and allowing major lawsuits to proceed that all users have a right to access, experience, and navigate online content ensuring inclusion for all. Digital accessibility involves planning and creating digital content that is accessible to everyone—no physical or intellectual disability will be a barrier to anyone. Content doesn’t have to be rebuilt to make it accessible; rather, adding simple inclusive design or delivering the content in a different way can make the content accessible to everyone. Developers of online content need to plan for the same positive and complete user experience for everyone, regardless of the user’s physical or cognitive abilities. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) include all of these modifications to existing content: Governmental standards are also enforcing digital accessibility. 
  • Section 508 requires that access to all communications, particularly websites and digital media, be accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Over 20 years ago, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses and state and local governments to allow disabled persons the same access as people who are not disabled.
  • Released in 2008, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 is the gold standard. Each area has criteria that is testable, with ratings from A to AAA.  WCAG 2.1, the updated guidelines released in June of 2019, includes the set of standards in 2.0, adding guidelines for mobile technology, low vision, and cognitive disabilities. WCAG 2.1 also asks for content to not only be testable, but also implementable today.Developers can ensure web accessibility and communicate that to their customers by publishing a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT).VPAT statements demonstrate a commitment to accessibility. 
Of course, it’s difficult to create 100% digital accessibility with current solutions. There is much more that can be done. Newly sophisticated machine learning options can do much more:
  • help users hear and interact with content
  • anticipate or assist with user responses
  • filter content so it is delivered appropriately
  • make content intuitive 
There are several advancements in accessibility that can be made so that everyone’s user experience is positive. Below are some examples. Video The ubiquity of video in social media and most web sites adds another option for accessibility. Closed captioning and transcription with audio and script adaptability (how slowly or quickly audio plays; the size and spacing of fonts; the color scheme) is another chance to deliver content for everyone. Companies are also exploring AI and how it can open up content to people with disabilities through automated user experiences that also include varying pathways to the content. Companies are also working on physical controls that go beyond the keyboard, allowing those with limited mobility the chance to navigate content on their own. Input Designing user input fields so that they are clear and consistent can help those with cognitive impairments have a successful user experience. Designers are developing personalized symbols that have meaning to the user and can be uploaded and applied to websites. User Interface Online developers are also more aware of the need for a clean design that doesn’t distract. People with vision or cognitive disabilities can close or “dismiss” features such as hovering content when they are done with it. Alternatively, users can keep pop ups and hoverable content onscreen and determine when it should go away; the mouse is not deciding this for them.  Keyboard Customization Users are able to customize keyboards to eliminate shortcuts that impeded the online experience, or to add shortcuts that add to the experience. For people with limited use of their hands, or for people with visual disabilities, speech-to-text advances enable them to customize commands and tools so they can communicate and interact with the content as they need to. All types of digital content, from educational apps to social media platforms to games, requires thinking and planning to advocate for the best user experience for every user. Standards and guidelines set forth by government actions and by those committed to web accessibility, such as the ADA and WCAG, help push the importance forward, However, with all of the guidelines and tools to test and ensure web accessibility, product developers must commit fully to planning products with web accessibility. Companies stand to gain customers and the goodwill of committing to putting all users first. That is the reason to produce products in the first place–to ensure a positive encounter for all users. That is something everyone can get behind.  

Tarveen Kaur

Accessibility Practice Lead at Magic EdTech, Tarveen is actively engaged in building new class digital accessibility solutions for education.