We’ve written before on this blog about the promise of digital textbooks to improve the learning experience for students with special needs. Today, I’d like to take a closer look at the accessibility ecosystem that supports students on campus, and how we can help that community.
This post appeared in its entirety in eCampus News.
The accessibility of learning content is undergoing a dramatic change right now. This change is being built upon existing standards that key parts of the industry are implementing, as well as new standards. All the changes that are happening are, for the first time, enabling the ability for institutions, instructors and learners to adopt and access accessible content, that is the exact same content, at the same time, on the same platforms as any other user.
Vendors must ensure that the content they provide is available where and when users need it, and that the platform and the content are created in a way that they will work together to ensure accessibility.
Mention the word “accessibility” and it can mean different things to different people.
In the context of delivering learning content, one application of accessibility is ensuring the same content is equally available across different platforms and channels to students of all abilities.
There is a minimum anyone in the ed-tech space must do around accessibility to even be considered relevant. Adding to this minimum, there is an increased expectation of what every ed-tech company should do. And then, of course, there is the hope all ed-tech vendors will do the right thing. Let’s examine each of these:
The Minimum: Do the fundamentals and be held accountable
Any reading system that delivers content into a learning environment must respect the markup that is within the files they are delivering and expose that markup to assistive technology. The use of web technologies is pervasive today and you would never consider building an app that did not work or somehow leverage the internet. It is unthinkable (and dare I say irresponsible!) to have a reading system in today’s ed-tech marketplace that is not accessible. WCAG 2.0 is a fundamental assumption now, and provides clear direction on what every vendor must do. You have to support the content markup, as well as be completely transparent in sharing just how well you do that. Publishing your VPAT may be the current minimum legal requirement, but your transparency must extend beyond this as well.
When you have a platform that delivers content to several million users each year, it is critically important that every user can get access when they need it. Whether it is VitalSource® Access powering their course content with day-one availability, supporting partners like Follett, Barnes & Noble and many others, or simply powering the publisher or storefront that directly sells to the learner, we work hard to ensure content is available where and when users need it (this is one of the reasons we deliver native applications for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, and Chromebooks that all allow you to download and use your content offline). The need for access at the same time as everyone else is especially true for users with a disability.