Industry Insights

Making standards and standards-based learning accessible for all…Part I

Accessibility is a term often heard and read, but what does it truly entail in reference to digital content?  Many think that it refers strictly to facilitating access to content for consumers who require assistance  whether it be caused by a hearing deficit, visual impairment, or other contributing factors. But  accessibility as it relates to content sharing and distribution, is a much broader topic. Consider, for  example, that accessibility could simply mean enabling content access to consumers, all consumers. It  can be related directly to regulatory standards, corporate standards, or international guidelines. The  purpose of this article is to ignite thoughts and ideas regarding how SDO’s are managing such an  important element of their content deployment strategy.  

When we talk about creating accessible content, we generally think about Section 508 compliance and  the need to use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that is accessible to people with  disabilities. These are important elements to a strong accessibility strategy and, by leveraging WCAG  (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), organizations are well on their way to overall content access  compliance. Sounds easy? Well, it takes direction and effort to achieve these goals. Is your organization  taking the necessary steps? As mentioned, this article is designed to provoke thought. The SDO sector  has had rather static content deployment models in place for some time both in terms of learning  programs and published standards. At one point in history the simple step of converting content to  locked PDF files for distribution was a fine approach but times have changed. In addition, as SDO’s focus  more and more on protecting their intellectual property they can inadvertently step backwards in terms  of accessibility. Case in point – for locked PDF files to meet accessibility guidelines consumers are often  required to upgrade / purchase specialized software to realize the accessibility functions. Not only is this  restrictive in terms of additional cost but many consumers work for public departments or private  institutions with restrictions on the ability to download software to their work desktops. This alone  creates an environment where accessibility is restricted. These individuals and organizations simply  cannot access your digital content and, considering the importance of standards, this needs to change.  

The adoption of stronger and more relevant accessibility features has been driven predominantly by  industry sectors such as professional learning and higher education. Many of these features are directly  inline with 508 compliance and achieving the highest WCAG rankings but others are more targeted at  simply making content more effective. For example, the addition of Alt Text alone expands content usability well beyond the most common descriptive features. In fact, much of the accessibility features  developed and deployed by professional learning and higher education firms has been designed around  access via smart phone. This effort doesn’t align with regulated accessibility rules and guidelines; it’s  taken because it a logical step along the path toward making content accessible by everyone and in  ways that matter to consumers.  

There are two sides to ensure accessibility for all. First, standards developers need to apply accessibility  features at the creation level (more on that topic in Part II) and SDO’s need to ensure that they  distribute learning and standards content in a format that supports both regulatory compliance and  consumer expectations. After all, if it can’t be conveniently and securely consumed then all the  collaboration, development, committee review, proofing efforts, etc. are wasted.  

In my next article I’ll be asking industry experts about technical specifications surrounding WCAG,  Section 508 as well ADA as it applies to digital content. We’ll also dive a bit deeper into the list of  accessibility features that are becoming part of what today’s consumers expect and deserve and more  specifically how SDO’s can apply those features at the development stage. In the meantime, ask yourself  one question; “Is our content truly accessible or are we just meeting the minimum requirements?” 

Michael Dunnigan  
Vice President, Gilmore Global
[email protected]  

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