In general, making the determination of whether a text, resource, activity, or other
content is accessible does not require a great deal of expertise. We can examine the
item, ask ourselves a few questions, and often use some specific tools to evaluate
the accessibility of an item.
In general, we need to focus on the needs of three potential audiences:
- A person who can't see the item
- A person who can't hear the item
- A person who can't operate the item
Textbook accessibility is one of our most difficult challenges. In most cases we are dependent upon the publisher to make accessible options available.
Accessibility, Accommodations, and Copyright
The Chafee Amendment grants libraries and educational institutions the legal right to create alternative formats of content as part of an accommodation for a specific person with a disability. So long as the user has purchased the textbook normally (which ensures that appropriate royalties have been paid) the institution can create or distribute an alternative format version (like braille or audio format) to the user.
This amendment does not grant us permission to create those alternative formats in advance of a specific user and distribute them as an accessible version. So, when we seek an accessible textbook, we need to depend upon the publisher to provide those accessible versions.
Evaluating the Accessibility Features of a textbook.
As a first step, consider the formats that your textbook is available in for your students.
- A print textbook is not accessible to many visually impaired users, so if your textbook is only available in a print format, it is not accessible.
- An ebook version of a textbook may be accessible if the text meets some basic accessibility standards. These may be in ePub, HTML, or PDF format most commonly, and each one can be evaluated for accessibility as a document (below).
- Online resources associated with a textbook will need to be evaluated for accessibility -- unless you do not plan to use them with your class.
Talking to the Publishers and Vendors
One important step in the process of selecting a resource should be having direct conversations with the vendor or publisher about the accessibility of their resources.
- We have a Publisher Letter Template that will help you ask your publisher representatives about the accessibility of their texts.
Publisher Tools, Resources, and Online Components
Publishers frequently provide instructional resources like PowerPoint Slides, Test banks, and often have web-based tools provided to students to help with instruction -- homework tools, quiz engines, and so on.
Any of these features that you plan to use in your class -- whether they are required, optional, or offered for enrichment -- need to be evaluated for accessibility, and should only be used if they are accessible or you are able to secure an exception.
Publisher powerpoints frequently introduce accessibility problems by not having Alt text for images, etc. We recommend that you take the time to review these powerpoints with the accessibility tools available in PowerPoint as you would a file you had created yourself.
Many of the publisher add-ons leverage technology, like Flash programming, which is
notoriously inaccessible. Keep an eye out for the following features which are almost
certainly evidence of an environment that is not accessible, and should not be used
for instruction unless an equally effective alternative can be provided.
- Flash-based video. This is often seen in McGraw Hill Connect, Prezi, and IELC Lab, Brainshark.
- Interactive/Dynamic Quizzing (especially math-based). MyMathLab has this kind of quizzing.
- Flashcards. Many publishers have flashcards, so look to see if they have an audio option.
- Hotspot quizzing and assignments. Blackboard and SoftChalk both have this functionality, and it is not usable with a screen reader.
- Videos or audio files without captions or without accurate/complete captions: Many YouTube videos have poor or missing captions. Some publisher-provided videos are without captions. Prezi presentations are not captioned, and Panopto videos created before the summer 2017 upgrade are missing captions.
- Color being used to carry information. McGraw Hill Connect, Navigate Scenario, Eaglesoft, and IELC Lab all occasionally have this issue.
Possible Remediation Solutions
We have several options at our disposal when we are faced with a textbook that is not accessible:
- Select another textbook that is accessible. This is ideal, and sends the message to the publishers that accessibility is important.
- Contact the Publisher and request that they make an accessible version available. This is not likely to happen -- even if publishers have versions available as an accommodation (see the notes about the Chafee amendment above), they may not have permission from the author to sell the digital versions of the textbook.
- Use only accessible portions of the textbook. If the accessibility problems are limited to only portions of the textbook (the digital version of the textbook is accessible, but the online quiz tools are not) it's reasonable to use the text in class so long as you only use accessible portions of the text.
- Request an exception to the accessibility policy. If all else fails -- you're unable to make an accessible choice, and you aren't able to convince the publisher to make an accessible version available, you will need to request an exception.
PDF accessibility can be difficult to evaluate and remediate because so many different programs produce PDFs, and PDFs are used in so many different ways. Some PDFs are very accessible, and meet our needs nicely. Others, like optical scans of articles, are completely inaccessible and can be difficult to remediate.
All WSU Faculty and staff (including student employees) have access to Adobe Acrobat DC (Acrobat Pro) which has important accessibility tools available to users.
How to check a PDF for accessibility.
- If you have not already, turn on the Accessibility tools in the tools menu (view>tools)
- In the accessibility tools menu, click on the "Full check" option. The default is to check everything, so keep the defaults an click "start checking"
- Review the results in the Accessibility Checker.
- The accessibility checker will indicate what updates should be made to make the document accessible. Vital features are tags, header structure, and alternative text for graphic elements. For more information about PDF accessibility, check out the IDA training site on PDF accessibility.
Using Blackboard Ally to check Accessibility
If you're using this PDF in your course, you can upload the file to blackboard and allow Blackboard Ally to review the file for accessibility. Ally will also make some automatic remediation available to you, which can save time in the process of making a document accessible.
Adobe Acrobat DC, Blackboard Ally, and the other software used to create PDFs can help make accessibility improvements to a PDF.
However, we need to take into account how the students will get access to this PDF resource. If we are providing the PDF directly, we can remediate the problem ourselves. If, however, the PDF is sold to the students as a digital version of the text, then making our own improvements locally won't help students who get the PDF from the publisher (and often we will not be able to edit those PDF files). So, it may be necessary to request the accessibility improvements from the publisher.
If the publisher refuses, we need to either refrain from using that resource or request an exception.
A note about Articles
Many instructors use PDFs that are scans of articles in their classes. Because these tend to be optical scans, these are not accessible, and making them accessible is difficult.
A good solution is to work with your subject matter librarian to access the same article through the library's databases and subscriptions. In that way, the accessibility improvements made by the library are leveraged to make sure your resources are as accessible as we can make them.
ePub is one of the preferred formats for digital versions of texts, and it can be very accessible if the publisher follows accessibility guidelines. However, just like PDF, a poorly created ePub can present major accessibility problems.
There are tools to help evaluate the basics of ePub accessibility (like the ACE tool), but for our purposes, we need you to check a few key features:
- Are images/tables/charts and other visual content described, either in the body of the text content or in alternative text for those visual elements
- Is the document created with headers and proper document structure?
Since most ePub format documents will be items that have come from a publisher, if you discover problems with the document that need to be addressed, we recommend that you contact the publisher and request that they make accessibility improvements to the file.
You will need to request an exception to the accessibility policy until those improvements are made.
Microsoft office products have built in accessibility checkers that help evaluate and remediate the accessibility of documents created in those tools.
In most cases, the "Review" toolbar has an available "Check Accessibility" button.
Using Blackboard Ally to check Accessibility
If you're using this document in your course in blackboard, you can upload the document to blackboard and allow Blackboard Ally to review the file for accessibility. Ally will also make some automatic remediation available to you, which can save time in the process of making a document accessible.
This also makes a variety of alternative formats available to your users, which is an important accessibility feature.
Web accessibility is relatively easy to achieve for HTML -- so long as images have alternative text and headers are used in a logical way.
Web pages created in WSU's content management system are evaluated for accessibility when they're published. If you are working with a website that is not part of that system, we recommend WebAim's website accessibility checker tool.
Any video elements on the page are subject to the video standards, below.
If you are able to make changes to the web page, follow the instructions in the tool to correct the accessibility problems.
If you are not able to make changes to the page, contact the page owner and request that those changes be made.
If your resource cannot be made accessible and you need it in your class, you will need to request an exception to the accessibility policy. However, since web pages are relatively easy to make accessible, these exceptions need to have very strong rationale.
Because of the wide variety of software and tools that are available, this can be a very difficult thing to evaluate. You may be able to spot some problems.
- Is there functionality that depends upon being able to drag and drop? This is usually not accessible.
- Can the tool be operated without a mouse? Look for keyboard navigation tools
It's a good idea to talk to the vendor or publisher about the accessibility of their product or service. We encourage you to request the publisher provide you with the "VPAT" (VEE-pat, which stands for Voluntary Product Accessibility Template) for their product. These are standard questionnaires most vendors and publishers complete to describe their accessibility features and limitations of their products.
- Select an alternative tool that does not have these issues
- Don't use the tool, or the parts of the tool that are not accessible
- Commit to providing additional instruction to students who can't use the software -- at least as much additional instructional time as typical students spend using the software each week.
- Request an exception to the accessibility policy.
Video and audio elements are required to have captions or a transcript available.
Captions ideally should be accurate, complete, contain punctuation and identify speakers (if not by name, then at least as "speaker 1"). In most cases, automatic caption services can't provide those additional features, so some human intervention is necessary.
If you are using a video in your class that is not captioned, you will need to consider how students who can't see the video will get the content -- you will need to come up with an equally effective, alternative access version of that content -- which will often mean a transcript as a bare minimum.
In the case of video in which there is activity in the visual field that conveys important information to the viewer, we need to find an alternative way to deliver that content.
In commercial video productions, like Movies and TV shows, we are starting to see the development of alternative audio tracks that include a description of the action on the screen. However, most of the video platforms at our disposal do not make that available as a feature.
In those cases, we need to consider making sure that the audio in the video describes the important information on the screen, or a transcripts that does is provided for users who can't see it.
- If you have control over the video, use the video hosting platform's tools to add captions.
- If you do not have control, request that the owner provide captions. If they do not:
- Find an alternative that has captions (ideal)
- Provide a transcript of the video
- Request an exception to the accessibility policy.