WCAG is not just for the Web… Content for all Learners

If you don’t design websites, then there’s no need to pay attention to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), right? It says Web in the title, and I’m not a web designer, so how do they apply if I am not?

Let’s take “Web” out of the title and just talk about Content Accessibility. Better yet, change Accessibility to Design.  For everyone.  Instead of just focusing on the Web, the discussion gets broadened to include course content, documents, and electronic media that is in use.  And instead of focusing solely on learners that have known disabilities and specific access needs, every type of learner is included.  No one has to make a request to use the content.   Universal design is transparent.

In his article “Beyond Average”, Todd Rose, Director of the Mind, Brain, and Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, suggests that “rather than forcing students to fit to the environment, we need to have the environment fit each student. Rather than getting mad at a student with poor working memory who constantly forgets to write down homework assignments, a teacher could easily help that kid by verbalizing assignments and writing them down on the white board. Rather than making all students in a grade fill out the same worksheets, assignments could be customized.”

The same analogy can be made regarding the need to retrofit document formats to address the needs of all learners.

If the basis of the WCAG guidelines are used when creating learning environments and content, David Berman, international presenter and consultant on attitude change and inclusive design, offers that this approach assists in creating things once, and then using them with many students in many different ways.   WCAG is also device independent, so by following the guidelines it outlines, there is no constraint on the end user as to how they access the materials. Access could be via computer, tablet or smartphone.

When designing for everyone is in place from the very beginning, content becomes Born Accessible (accessible from the ground up). It extends beyond the WCAG guidelines, to give publishers and content creators a new digital imperative.  When looking at instructional materials for use with students, regardless of the author, the same items listed within the WCAG standards are applicable for e-books and text materials.

Under the TBR Accessibility Initiative, two file formats are recommended for textbooks and additional materials that accompany them. The accessible EPUB 3 format follows on the heels of WCAG and additional Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA), but it is its own unique format.

The Quick Start Guide to Accessible Publishing (EPUB version)  outlines many reasons for using this format.

EPUB 3 is flexible. Publishers can create each title as one well-styled and accessible EPUB 3 file that can be delivered to all distribution channels. The resulting cost savings will make more resources available for innovation.

Most educational content today is not accessible upon publication, requiring that publishers either create a separate product with some degree of accessibility or that must be retrofitted.

Using the EPUB for Education profile of EPUB 3 builds educational content that is “born accessible”. Importantly, well-designed, flexible content allowing multimodal learning offers users with different learning styles a variety of effective ways to engage with content.

Many publishers may not have fully migrated to an accessible EPUB 3 format, and may offer the known and familiar PDF option. Accessible PDF is the second format that is recommended.  The guidelines for creating accessible PDF options also follow the WCAG guidelines.

And if the materials have been Born Accessibly, navigation through materials is also transparent and works for everyone, regardless of platform used.

The EPUB Validator can validate files that are 10MB or less.  Epubcheck can validate larger commercial files that publishers can offer during the procurement process.  PDF files can be tested for accessibility using the built in check tool in Adobe Acrobat. If the document used to create the PDF is initially created as an accessible Word document, then checking the Word file for accessibility first will give a greater chance that the PDF will be accessible. The PDF will still need to be tested using Acrobat, to ensure that standards are met.  And finally, testing files with epub reading text to speech or screen reading software will be the final test to be certain that the files are truly accessible.



About Alice Wershing

I joined the Disability Services office at the Hardin Valley Campus as the Technology Specialist in November, 2013. I have an Assistive Technology Practitioner (ATP) credential from the Rehabilitation Engineering Society of North America, a Master’s degree in Severe Disabilities, and a license to teach grades K-8 and Special Education. I worked for the East Tennessee Technology Access Center (ETTAC) for 19 years as the Educational Technology Coordinator.


Comments are closed.