2003 Conference Proceedings

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2003 Table of Contents 


Geoff Freed
Project Manager
CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media
WGBH Educational Foundation
125 Western Ave.
Boston, MA 02134
voice: 617 300-4223
Fax: 617 300-1035
Email: geoff_freed@wgbh.org

From 1999-2002, the CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) participated in a research collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) called Access to PIVoT (Physics Interactive Video Tutor). Funding for this collaboration was provided by the National Science Foundation's Program for Persons with Disabilities and the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF).

PIVoT is a comprehensive on-line supplemental learning environment that augments MIT's introductory Newtonian physics class, one of the institute's most challenging freshman course offerings, even for students of MIT caliber. Using a sophisticated Web site and streaming digital video, PIVoT provides a unique 24-hour-a-day opportunity for students to conduct "virtual office hours" with the course's renowned physics professor, Walter Lewin. Students using PIVoT have access to a large amount of material ranging from a complete on-line textbook to a multimedia library containing a year's worth of lectures as well as dozens of tutorials centered around specific problems in the course. The PIVoT Web site is available at http://curricula2.mit.edu. You must request a guest user account to enter the site.

NCAM began the project by evaluating the PIVoT Web site for accessibility problems relating to multimedia, navigation, and the presentation of text, illustrations, graphs and tables. Project staff then worked with MIT to improve the accessibility of the Web site through the use of accepted practices such as those detailed in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 1.0, (WCAG; http://www.w3.org/tr/web-content) from the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C/WAI; http://www.w3.org/wai). These include the use of accessible forms and tables, and properly described graphs, charts and images. Image descriptions, written in MathSpeak, were also added to two chapters (2 and 17) of the on-line textbook.

Additionally, the PIVoT multimedia library was enhanced through the use of closed captions and audio descriptions. MIT students were trained in the use of MAGpie, NCAM's free digital captioning and audio description application (http://ncam.wgbh.org/webaccess/magpie), then given basic instruction in captioning and description techniques. The captioned and described multimedia are identified on the Web site by the letters "CC" and "AD", and may be viewed directly from the Web site using the RealPlayer. The captions and descriptions are toggled on and off via a preference setting in each user's profile. All of the described movie clips make use of extended audio descriptions, where the main video and audio tracks are automatically paused while a long description (one which does not fit into the natural pauses of the video) plays. Upon completion of the description, the video and audio tracks resume playing until they are paused by the next long description.

The deliverables of the Access to PIVoT Project were two-fold. First, the PIVoT Web site itself, which incorporates many accessibility features, including the library of accessible multimedia. Second, a set of guidelines describing the principles of universal design to meet the needs of as many users as possible. These guidelines, "Making Educational Software and Web Sites Accessible: Design Guidelines Including Math and Science Solutions," are available in hard copy and on the Web at http://ncam.wgbh.org.

Using detailed examples and illustrations, the guidelines convey the following information:

  1. a basic understanding of the needs of users with different disabilities.
  2. a summary of various approaches to serve users with different disabilities.
  3. specific solutions for designing more accessible software.
  4. guidelines with specific checkpoints and detailed techniques for implementation.
  5. extensive information on making multimedia presentations accessible to deaf or blind students.
  6. examples of writing image descriptions for blind students.
  7. solutions for making forms and data tables accessible.
  8. information on making electronic and on-line textbooks accessible.

Properly designed educational software and Web sites can and must be accessible to students with disabilities. Developers who incorporate access solutions may find that these modifications bring benefits to the wider student population, as studies of multimodal learning have shown. The principles of universal design, designing to meet the needs of as many users as possible, provide a new dimension for improving the usability of educational software for all students.

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2003 Table of Contents 
Return to Table of Proceedings

Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.