Global Accessibility Awareness Day is a community-driven effort whose goal is to dedicate one day to raising the profile of and introducing the topic of digital (web, software, mobile app/device etc.) accessibility and people with different disabilities to the broadest audience possible.
Are you a Moodler? Concerned about Moodle accessibility? Register for an upcoming FREE webinar presentation from the Neil Squire Society on the accessibility of the Moodle online learning management system. It’s happening May 9 at 10 am PDT. Sign up for it here
As a bit of a preview for the event, we chatted with Neil Squire Society Director of Development & Moodle Evangelist Chad Leaman about how Moodle is already geared up for online accessibility and how we can build on that. His web accessibility tips are below:
Lambda. What are you trying to accomplish with this webinar on Moodle and online accessibility?
Chad. We want to shine a bit of light on the barriers people face, but also provide some suggestions about low-cost or no-cost solutions to improve online accessibility. It’s like curb cuts for sidewalks in the online space. The presentation won’t be all doom and gloom, but rather, presenting positive solutions you can start building today.
Lambda. Can you give me some examples of the kinds of web accessibility challenges we’re talking about when it comes to the digital world?
Chad. In some ways, online learning is already a solution in and of itself. For those with mobility issues, for instance, logging onto a website is obviously easier than getting into a car and going to a class somewhere. Online education allows a lot of people with disabilities more access.
But there are other disabilities that make online education at least as challenging to deliver as classroom education. For those with visual impairment, even those using screen readers to locate text can have issues, since every website is designed differently, with no standard commands.
If you’ve got a hearing impairment, you might have no problems reading the website, but when you start trying to use multimedia content and it’s not captioned, that’s a problem.
Some people have more serious physical mobility issues where they have limited hand movement. Even moving a mouse or typing can be difficult or impossible. Speech recognition software or a different kind of keyboard or mouse might resolve that issue.
We also have people with learning disabilities, or low computer literacy. This can happen with older students or those who simply haven’t been exposed to an online environment.
Lambda. So, how can a Learning Management System like Moodle compensate for that?
Chad. Sometimes you can solve issues just by how you design the learning path, even before you get into adapting technology. In terms of dealing with a learning disability or computer literacy, you might want to have a practice Moodle portal or create a video for basic things like how to access a forum, for instance.
I have to say that compared with some other LMS’, Moodle is fairly accessible right out of the box. For instance, other LMS’ sometimes build their lessons in Flash environments. If you’re using a screen reader that essentially reads where information is stored, in Flash the reader doesn’t know where the information is. Flash can be designed with accessibility in mind, but it rarely is. You hover your mouse over it and you just get a message, “Flash app is here” or something like that – not very helpful.
In contrast, by default, the backend of Moodle's code is designed with HTML standards in place. A screen reader user can jump to specific headlines and specific content to navigate around easier. It shows every place you can click on easily. Moodle’s online accessibility has that head start.
Lambda. Technology is supposed to make things easier for everyone. Why haven’t we figured out these website accessibility standards and issues already?
Chad. The problem with accessibility in education technology is that we’re kind of running in circles. It seems like just as we put web accessibility standards in place, technology changes and we’re back to square one. For instance, you can try to make older applications backwards compatible, but with the rapid speed of deployment of software we’re seeing now, by the time you fix something, it’s already three modules behind.
Lambda. That said, you think Moodle has some built-in advantages when it comes to web accessibility.
Chad. To start with, the scheduled updates that Moodle does now is a very nice thing, so we can sort of plan ahead. You’re also building on core modules that have already been designed with accessibility in mind.