1. The Issue
Accessibility is an important issue to consider when producing online learning resources. The aim of web accessibility is to make online resources accessible to all, regardless of physical or cognitive disabilities or software or hardware choices. As well as being best practice, this is also a legal requirement. The UK's Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), makes it illegal for you to include information on your site which is inaccessible to certain users. There are also legal regulations for web accessibility in other jurisdictions e.g. European Union, US and Australia set out requirements for accessible design.
Making your online resources accessible can often seem a daunting task, however if certain principles are followed, accessibility requirements can be met and your resources will also be richer and more robust.
One key idea to keep in mind is that when producing online resources, we are communicating and interacting with unknown people with computers acting as middlemen. This being the case, you need to do two things.
Firstly, make no assumptions about your audience; do not assume that they can see, that they are able to use a mouse, that they are using a particular browser, etc.
Secondly, explain your content in terms that the end-user's software (whether that is a browser, screenreader, handheld device, etc.) can understand, in order that the software can then successfully communicate this information to the person accessing the page.
3. Putting Theory into Practice
There are two main ways in which the above methodology can be put into practice: by adhering to standards and by encoding as much metadata into our resources as possible. In the case of web pages, this means producing valid pages, and using HTML in a descriptive manner. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) provides a Markup Validation Service that can assist you in producing valid HTML. Descriptive markup on the other hand is something that only intelligent human input can provide. Descriptive practices in HTML include using header tags to embody the structure of a page, providing alternative text descriptions for images, ensuring that the text within links are descriptive of their destination, etc. In this way your content becomes intelligible to the software that is to interpret it.
Many other formats such as pdf and Flash now have the ability to encode metadata to improve accessibility. Where this is available, this should be used. Guidance on producing accessible Word documents, PDFs and Powerpoint presentations is provided by the TechDis Accessibility Essentials Series.
4. Help is at Hand
The WDC has a wealth of experience in producing accessible online resources. If you are involved in producing online resources or teaching online and would like advice on Web accessibility, please get in touch with the: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may also find the following resources useful: