Universal Learning Design Conference 2013 was held in Brno last week and because I was there, here is a brief summary of what I did there. Conference provided an opportunity for a practical presentation of the universal design in tertiary education and a possibility to share experience with professionals who take care of the practical matters and thus technologically, organizationally, legally, linguistically, psychologically or pedagogically provide for the accessibility of the tertiary education.
I had two presentantions at the conference - the first one was a short talk on our proposals how to ensure accessibility of study materials, published at Masaryk University, the second one was a workshop on benefits of using HTML5 and WAI-ARIA to improve the accessibility of webpages.
How To Ensure Accessibility Of Documents, Published At Masaryk University
Although the vast majority of university students with special needs in the Czech Republic are students of Masaryk University, it is true that study materials are almost exclusively created and published with respect to the needs and preferences of students without special needs and without universal learning design principles. Changes, leading to the document accessibility, are often made only with an intuition and empathy and reflect only needs of particular student. Although this approach is quite common and authors consider it to be sufficient (and for the one particular moment of course it is), inclusion of accessibility principles in authoring process could bring much more benefits to all readers.
Our mission is to change this state and prepare a conception of complex universal learning design environment, in which following goals are reached according to the general standards and regardless this or that specific kind of accessibility is currently required.
Resources, in which study materials are published, and ways, how they are created, are very heterogeneous. Files are published in different formats (docs, xls, ppt, html, audio/video recordings), their technical quality varies and quite often they are full of (inaccessible) graphic objects.
The Support Centre for Students with Special Needs (Teiresias Centre) provides services for all students of Masaryk University with sensory and other disabilities. Its mission is to guarantee accessibility of all study programmes at Masaryk University.
Nowadays we quite often face issues connected with documents inaccessibility and although employees of Teiresias Centre very often moderate its impacts and we are able to prepare materials, meeting the accessibility requirements, there is still a lot what should be done to ensure better accessibility of study materials in general and make the preparation easier.
Current state is strongly influenced by a lot of factors – we focused mainly on human, legal and technical - you can see them on the slides.
Even though topic of accessibility of study materials is extremely wide, permanently influenced by a lot of factors and very often it´s not possible to find a simple way, how to ensure accessibility of study materials in general, some ways are quite easy to implement. And because they are already tested and used abroad (e.g. university web portal, concerning accessibility), there is no reason to start right with them.
How HTML5 and WAI-ARIA Can Improve Virtual Space of Universities
HTML5 and WAI-ARIA guidelines bring a lot of new ways and means how to create websites more accessible also to users with special needs. Although both of them are work in progress, it´s already possible to use some new functionalities which they bring to improve accessibility of websites.
In this workshop, by way of practical examples, I presented some new features which these standards have and how they can help to increase the accessibility of universities websites. For example defining regions of the HTML document by WAI-ARIA landmarks allows defining not only the particular spots on the webpage, but the whole areas. Big advantage of this approach is that user knows, where is the beginning and where the end of the concrete region.
Although HTML5 is not yet an official standard and no browsers have full HTML5 support, all major browsers (Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Internet Explorer) are still adding support of new HTML5 features to their latest versions. The same – or maybe even better – situation is with a support of WAI-ARIA. This standard is widely supported in all major browsers and can be now easily used to improve quality of published content. So, there is absolutely no reason not to do it and you can only profit from using WAI-ARIA on your website.
I also took some snapshots at the conference. If you want, you can see them on my Flickr Account.