2004 Conference Proceedings

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A REFORM MODEL AND CURRICULUM FOR WEB ACCESSIBILITY IN K-12 EDUCATION

Presenter(s)
Michael Lyman
WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind)
6800 Old Main Hill
Utah State University Logan, UT 84322-6800
United States
Phone: 435-797-8284
Email: mblyman@cpd2.usu.edu

Shane Anderson
WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind)
6800 Old Main Hill
Utah State University Logan, UT 84322-6800
United States
Phone: 435-797-0974
Email: shane@cpd2.usu.edu

Introduction

Web Accessibility In Mind (WebAIM) is administered in K-12 settings through a grant provided by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSERS) of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS). Our goal is to improve accessibility to online learning opportunities for all people; in particular to improve accessibility for students with disabilities who currently may have a difficult time getting access to the web-based components of the general curriculum in K-12 educational settings.

Although accessibility to the general curriculum is guaranteed through the 1997 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), WebAIM has found that less than 6% of American K-12 education Web pages meet the very minimal accessibility requirement specified in Section 508 of the Reauthorized Rehabilitation Act of 1998. We also found that in-service teachers (i.e., regular and special educators) and educational support personnel (e.g., instructional technology specialists, curriculum developers, media specialists, district technology coordinators) post much of their content to the Web. Through development of a Web accessibility reform model for the K-12 system and inclusion of Web accessibility techniques and strategies into pre-service teacher training courses the access gap to the general curriculum in K-12 education will close and there will be an increased level of accessibility for all students.

The Problem

Internet use in K-12 education has been experiencing phenomenal growth rates in the last few years. It is profoundly changing instructional and learning environments within K-12 education with Internet connectivity becoming a reality for nearly every school in the US. With half of students with disabilities in our K-12 system spending 80% or more of the day in the regular classroom (Condition of Education 2002, NCES) a gap begins to emerge between students with disabilities and the general student population. If efforts are not taken to develop a process by which K-12 educational entities can successfully reform their inaccessible Web practices this gap will only continue to expand.

Most U.S. states require some form of technology training prior to K-12 teacher certification. Though most of these courses teach the pre-service teachers how to design and develop Web content, very few teach strategies for making this Web content accessible to students with disabilities. WebAIM conducted a study in which only 6% of K-12 online content was found to meet minimal accessibility guidelines. We also found that only 17% of pre-service teacher training courses covered accessibility. Thus, less than one in five programs prepare these educators to create materials that can be accessed by all students. Certainly, pre-service educators must leave these classes with some mastery of the content if they are to use it in a way that guarantees "No Child is Left Behind". Of course it is possible that the instructors of those required technology courses do not have the specific subset of Web design skills (i.e., accessibility skills) to teach this content to others. If this sm! all sample is representative of what is happing across the country, then it is true that the vast majority (83%) of required technology courses for educators do not include information on making Web pages accessible. This is a personnel reparation problem of great significance.

Proposed Solutions

WebAIM has created a reform model for K-12 Web accessibility system change. The model includes a list of processes that will lead to systematic change and a sustainable environment that supports Web accessibility. The basic model includes:

  1. Gathering Baseline Information
  2. Gaining top-level support
  3. Organizing a Web accessibility committee
  4. Defining a standard
  5. Creating an implementation plan
  6. Providing training and technical support
  7. Monitoring conformance
  8. Remaining flexible through the changes.

The main ideology of the model will apply across all levels of the K-12 system with each educational entity adapting this basic model to fit their unique circumstances.

WebAIM has developed an accessibility curriculum to be used in required technology courses in teacher training programs. This flexible and modular curriculum can be implemented into any pre-service technology course with ease. We have identified 4 key content areas that will aid instructors in teaching Web accessibility in their courses:

  1. Understanding the user's perspective and assistive technologies - This area provides instructors with modules that introduce students to Web accessibility, the assistive technologies used to access the Web, and the challenges and frustrations that persons with disabilities are confronted with when accessing the Web.

  2. Evaluating and testing the accessibility of online content - This area includes modules for instructors that focus students on the process of evaluating online content for accessibility, using validators, and using assistive technologies to test online content.

  3. Creating and using accessible content and multimedia - This area supplies instructors with modules and tutorials that teach students the technical aspects of HTML, Web authoring tools, standard office programs, and multimedia tools as they pertain to Web accessibility.

  4. The law and reform - This area provides instructors with modules that introduces students to Web accessibility law, how it pertains to K-12 institutions, and how to help schools and districts become more accessible using reform and change models.

The curriculum is designed around a Web-based tool called the "Web Accessibility Resource Organizer" (WARO). Instructors can browse through the entire curriculum and select the various modules that fit their needs and circumstances. The WARO then allows the instructor to publish a Web page on WebAIM's server that includes all the Web Accessibility modules selected in a specified order with the option to add annotations, detailed instructions, and links to outside URL's. The published Web page can then be used by students in a manner determined by the instructor of the class.

Resources

The curriculum is very flexible in nature and is designed to allow the instructor of the pre-service technology course to implement as little content as five minutes of presentation material on the topic of Web accessibility or include entire lessons and extended units. A sampling of resources that have and will continue to be developed include:

Conclusion

Web accessibility is a serious problem in K-12 education that is being compounded because efforts are not being initiated to reform the current inaccessible Web practices in the K-12 system and teachers and educational support personnel do not have the understanding, knowledge, and skills to make Web content accessible. Making Web content accessible is not difficult, yet it requires a certain set of skills at an individual level and system reform on a broader level. Teaching these skills to pre-service teachers in existing technology courses and adopting Web accessibility reform is certain to increase the accessibility of K-12 online resources, protect schools from discrimination suits, and provide a better education to all students, especially those with disabilities.

Acknowledgements

Web Accessibility In Mind (WebAIM) is administered in K-12 settings through a grant provided by the Office of Special

Education Programs (OSEP) of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS).


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