Does an increase flexibility of our courses result in reduced accessibility?
In the last 20 years there has been a nearly six fold increase with students in higher education declaring disabilities, equating to over 14000 students in 2019. It is also worth noting that this number is just the students that declare a disability, I am confident that there are many more throughout the sector. For every “visible” disability e.g. someone in a wheelchair or a blind student there are many “invisible” disabilities such as dyslexia, autism and ADHD. Therefore as lecturers we will never know if we have students with disabilities in our class making the adoption of a “Universal Design for Learning” (UDL) approach more vital than ever. While we encourage lecturers to expand access and increase flexibility by moving towards a more blended provision of their courses – are they adhering to the principles of Universal Design. They are specialists in their respective disciplines and not necessarily web developers or accessibility experts. This post outlines how we assessed the accessibility of the course pages on our VLE (Moodle).
Figure 1: Number of students with disabilities in higher education
Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at the ALT (Association for Learning Technology) annual conference. I co-presented Gavin Henrick from Brickfield Education Labs describing the research conducted to evaluate the accessibility of course pages within our virtual learning environment. This presentation described how, using existing open source libraries, we built a reporting tool to define which checks were carried out, how they were carried out, how this data was stored and reported on at module, programme, and faculty level. As the report is available at these various levels, a lecturer can self evaluate their own course pages and staff developers can identify the training and support that may be needed across an entire faculty.
A subset of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines was chosen for this study. These guidelines created by the World Wide Web consortium are a series of guidelines for improving web accessibility. Twelve separate modules within a programme were analysed for such checks as: are web links and images used on the courses accessible? Are headings within long passages of text used appropriately? The results while promising did highlight there is still room for improvement.
Figure 2 – Course checks per page
Figure 2 illustrates the results from one course in particular, illustrating that 5% of the images on this course have no alt text, 10% have issues with poor layout and 8% have poorly displayed links to other webpages. Figure 3 provides an alternative breakdown of the results illustrating what feature of the VLE is throwing up the most issues. For example we can clearly see on this particular course that the majority of the issues on this course are related to the Moodle “book”
Figure 3 – analysis of checks per moodle feature
These are just two of the reports that are available with several more available both at a course and a programme level. We look forward to providing an update on the next stage of this research at the World Conference for Online Learning in Dublin later this year.
World wide web consortium web accessibility initiative. 2008. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). [Online]. [2 April 2019]. Available from: https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/
Data on students in Irish Higher Education with Disabilities, 2018: Available from: https://www.ahead.ie/datacentre18-yearonyear