BUILDING ACCESSIBILITY CONSORTIUMS: WEBCT CASE STUDY
Champaign IL 61820
Day Phone: 217 244-0518
Fax: 217 333-0248
Six Kimball Lane
Lynnfield MA 01940
Day Phone: 781-309-1000
Computer Accommodations Program
Day Phone: 612-626-0365
Day Phone: 765-494-4387
Accessibility of third-party information technology resources at universities and other organizations is ongoing problem for students, staff, and faculty. Typically people with disabilities or support staff who are experiencing accessibility problems feel isolated and do not know who to contact with their accessibility issues. This panel session discusses the development of a consortium model used to create a community of users and service providers to organize and discuss accessibility issues of the WebCT learning management tool. The panel will discuss their perspectives on the effectiveness of the model to improve the accessibility of the WebCT and how this model maybe used to improve the accessibility of other information technologies.
One of the biggest problems facing universities, colleges and other organizations interested in accessibility is third party applications. Most of these applications have multiple accessibility problems, but usually the companies have no organized means to collect and fix the accessibility problems. Technical support and sales staff usually have little or no knowledge of accessibility or who in the company (if anyone) is responsible for accessibility. Users and disability support staff are often frustrated by their inability to find the right person with in companies and to know what will happen with their accessibility problem if it is recorded as a technical support issue. Some companies do test their products for accessibility. They often use accessibility consultants rather than actual users of their products with disabilities to verify the accessibility features. The use of consultants may provide information on major accessibility problems, but often the detailed accessibility issues are overlooked and these details are often critical for making the product usable by people with disabilities.
This panel discussion brings together the members of the original group that developed a consortium to provide feedback to WebCT on the accessibility of their course management system. WebCT is used widely in higher education to provide a way for instructors to manage course materials like lectures, assignments, discussions, project management, quizzing and grading. The participants will provide their perspectives on how this consortium is improving the accessibility of WebCT and how this model might be effective in improving the accessibility of other information technology resources.
The consortium started with three Big-Ten schools:
The first step the group did was to develop a white paper that consisted of user scenarios of WebCT for various disabilities and detailed accessibility issues that are organized into functional accessibility groupings:
1. Initialization of Browser
2. Navigation and Orientation
3. Styling and Preferences
5. Editing features
6. Discussion Tool and WhiteBoard
The purpose of the
whitepaper was to provide information on specific accessibility problems found
while using WebCT with actual course materials. The problems were then
replicated by WebCT for identification of the technical issues for repair. The
whitepaper also became the agenda for teleconference discussions on helping
WebCT understand the problems and brainstorming on accessibility solutions.
One of the results of the discussions is that WebCT setup a test server so that accessibility problems could be verified and that as accessibility fixes became available people within the group could test them. This is one of the critical issues for the group to continue work is to identify accessibility problems, track the resolution of the problems and determine if the problems have been resolved.
Goals of the Group
The goals of the group are greater than just reporting accessibility problems to WebCT. WebCT is continually improving their products and the current process of waiting for the production version of the product to be deployed and then tested will result in people with disabilities always being behind other users in their ability to use this product. The group therefore has asked that they be involved with beta testing the product, in which the test server could be used. This will provide WebCT with information about accessibility during the development stage. It is hoped with further collaboration that we can go beyond beta testing and integrate accessibility requirements into their internal design and quality assurance documents, to improve the accessibility of the products before they even become part of beta testing.
The group has grown to over 40 members as more people using WebCT or interested in its accessibility features have joined the discussion.
 WebCT Accessibility Whitepaper, http://cita.rehab.uiuc.edu/projects/compass/