Thursday, 11 February 2016

Web Accessibility #1 - Starting point

Having been the lead facilitator of Begin Programming:Build your first mobile game MOOC we heard from learners that had various difficulties accessing content. Some were due to infrastructural issues (eg. slow internet connectivity) while some others faced physical disabilities (eg. hard of hearing, colour blindness).

In my new role as the Chair of the Online Learning Research Center at the University College of Estate Management I am looking into making our online content more accessible. I am working in a small team looking at guidelines, best practices and adapting our learning content to be more accessible.

At the moment I am doing a course on Canvas Network offered by The Chang School of Continuing Education in Ryerson University. The course is called "Professional Web Accessibility Auditing Made Easy". It is a 4 week intensive course (5-8 hours of commitment per week) from 25th January to 22nd February. I started late as always and was following this along with two parallel classes "Blended Learning - Embedding Practice" and "Teaching with Moodle". 

I have learnt lot of things about accessibility from the "Professional Web Accessibility Auditing Made Easy" course. I am going to do a few posts on Accessibility and I will be using my blog as a reflective tool to reflect on my learning in this course.

The first thing you need to ask is why do you need accessibility?

It will be clear if you watch these videos why we need to provide web accessibility.

Apart from it is the right thing there are many other reasons why organizations should make their web sites accessible. For example, if one is physically challenged in getting to shops, they are more likely to rely on the internet to do their shopping. So if an organization's website is not accessible they are losing customers who are differently-abled. There are laws preventing discrimination on the grounds of disability and not giving access to your services provide via the internet is a form of discrimination! So organizations could be sued under the equality laws.

There are laws in North America that enforce the organizations to comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Level A or better. In Canada there is Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act - the course is offered by a Canadian University in Ontario so they draw examples from this. There is Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act governing the law in the United States.  

In Europe, there are various accessibility laws implemented in different countries. However, the EU parliament had passed a law in 2014 that requires all public service websites and private sector providers offering public services to confirm with WCAG 2.0 Level AA. 

In the UK, currently there is no specific act governing the web accessibility but The Equality Act's section 29(1) requires those who provide services to the public must not discriminate against any person. So effectively if a non accessible website prevents a person from accessing a service on the web it could be counted as discrimination. Section 20 and 29(7) of the Act too makes it an ongoing duty of service providers to make "reasonable adjustments" to accommodate people with disabilities.
So accessibility is important from this point of view too. 

Watch this space for my next blog on Accessibility.

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