In the spring of 2002, I worked, as a paid intern, with the Technology and Learning Team (now called the Center for Innovations in Teaching and Technology). The TLT created instructional web sites for a variety of clients. One of our largest contracts was developing a site for NCATE the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. The funding for this project was through the Federal Government, and so demanded specific requirements to make it accessible to all users. While designing for these requirements, Jenn Light, Travis Chillemi, and I became interested in design issues around accessibility.
Problems with accessibility, for disabled users are a recent issue for most instructional designers. There are potential legal and ethical issues around not creating accessible sites. Because the CITT creates so many sites, we decided that we should understand accessibile design.
I was given the assignment to research many of the legal, ethical, and design issues related to accessible web design so the CITT could anticipate and plan for potential problems.
The goals for this project were to
1. Research current legal cases, pending or resolved, on issues of accessible design.
2 . Research responses to this issue in academic and corporate venues
3 . Study current trends in web design technology to assemble guidelines for creating accessible web sites.
4 . Research Government standards to understand accessibility requirements.
5 . Organize and communicate the information, so that it would be useful for the CITT, and University of Colorado.
Rationale for Approach
I spent several months researching these issues, sharing and exchanging information, with Jenn Light, and Travis Chillemi at the CITT lab. While it was, and remains, unclear what our legal vulnerability is to not using W3C web accessibility guidelines, it was obvious that ignoring, or not doing simple changes to enhance accessibility, was ethically wrong. Further it is both expensive, and time consuming to retro fit or repair sites to meet standards.
The ethical issues became more poignant when we toured the Accessible Media/Computer Classrooms in the UCD library, and observed disabled students navigating through poorly designed technology and web sites. One student, who was highly tech savvy and blind, led us through a web tour of sites with a screen reader, comparing and contrasting different design structure. The understanding and empathy we developed watching him deal with The Google search engine, as opposed to Yahoo, and listening to prompts that said “click here” with no further description, was especially helpful in motivating us to communicate our new understanding to others.
We decided that the best use for this information was to
1. Organize and streamline the information to make it useful to others
2. Share it with the other CITT designers
3. Present it to interested members at CU through workshops
4. Present it at the Teaching With Technology Conference.
We prepared a presentation offering it twice in the North Classroom building at UCD. We also prepared a proposal to present at the Teaching With Technology conference held at the Boulder campus of CU. This proposal was accepted by the TWT conference. Jenn Light and I also offered this information in a ISPI meeting.
Please click on this link to see our presentation materials
Our presentations went well, though they were not as well attended as we hoped. Accessibility issues are not a burning, or particularly attractive issue for most technology workers, many of whom are mainly interested in latest tech features. In this country adaptations for the disabled usually come on the heels of lawsuits. It will take a court case, such as the ones currently being tried in California to force accessibility design changes in University of Colorado instructional web sites.
Evidence of Value
The people who came to our presentations all related that the information was helpful, well researched, and most importantly, simplified enough for them to make good use of it.
Mike Martin attended our presentation at the TWT conference, and his interest in our work helped the CITT get seed money for future projects.
Travis, Jenn and I, were able to affect some changes in the Universities understandings of accessible design through modeling good design in our work, and sharing our information with others at the University. Further, I presented this information in two classes (Advanced Web Design, and Trends and Issues) within the Instructional Learning Technologies ILT cohort, to promote this important issue.
I have stressed in all of these presentations the ethical, and possible legal consequences of not using accessible design principles. By creating an efficient and well organized instructional handout, I believe we have helped make this complex information and more useful, and accessible to future Instructional Designers.
The issues in accessibility are improving, as new advances are made in screen readers and other adaptive devices, to better overcome poor design. Already, tables are becoming less of an issue for many disabled users, and simple guidelines such as labeling graphics in alt tag boxes are becoming more mainstream. The new Dreamweaver MX has some ability to create standardized accessible templates and Cascading Style Sheets, which should help designers as well.
In my own web design work, before doing formative evaluations, I take time to consider the site for accessibility issues. My empathy for accessibility, and usability concerns has grown through this research. The rapidly aging population of Internet users will create further demand for Universal Design features to become more mainstream in living, working, and cyberspace environments. This market force will ultimately pull on designers and technology to improve web design.
Demonstration of Competency 1:
Continued improvement of professional practice that requires critical inquiry, professional development, and reflective practice.
Researching and preparing information on issues around accessibility demonstrates a leadership role in anticipating needs of technology users. The presentations at the: Teaching With Technology conference, ISPI, UCD, and ILT cohort, further met this competency by giving me an opportunity to deepen my professional development.
Demonstration of Competency 4:
Understands how to capitalize on the capacities and abilities of each learner.
Disabled and elderly internet users are an increasingly important population of potential customers, and online learners. Understanding, empathizing, and designing for their capacity and abilities is crucial to meeting their needs. I met this competency through my research, development and delivery of accessible technology design tools.