Lessons learned in accessibility through the BC Open Textbook Project 

BCcampus is excited to share with you the amazing work that has been happening in the area of accessibility and open textbooks. Back in 2014, Amanda Coolidge, Senior Manager, Open Education, BCcampus, Sue Doner, Faculty, Instructional Designer, eLearning, Centre for Excellence in Teaching and LearningCamosun College and Tara Robertson, Accessibility Librarian and Coordinator, Centre for Accessible Post-secondary Education Resources BC (CAPER_BC), created the BC Open Textbook Accessibility Toolkit. The purpose of the toolkit is to help instructional designers and faculty have a better understanding of how to make educational materials accessible.

Early in 2015, we conducted user testing with students who have a range of visual disabilities, from that testing we identified how to make changes to ensure all of our open textbooks are accessible. We were able to work on a few of the books, but because of our small team, we had to put that project on hold until this fall when we hired Josie Gray, a History Major from the University of Victoria. Josie has been instrumental in researching best practices in accessibility and in implementing many changes throughout the open textbooks to comply with accessibility standards. In this post, we will outline the lessons learned with regards to accessibility and guide you through changes you can make to your own educational materials.The practices described will help improve accessibility for people who access BCcampus’ textbooks in all types of formats, including on the web, PDF, Mobi, epub, and word files.The gold standard for accessibility are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a set of guidelines which describe the minimum standards a web page must adhere to for it to be considered accessible. The WCAG site is a useful starting point for anyone who wants to start learning how to make their digital content more accessible. There are three levels, which range from “A” as the lowest standard to “AAA” being the highest. For BCcampus’ textbooks, we decided that the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines level “AA” would be the standard we would conform to.

The four principles of web accessibility:

  1. Content must be Perceivable – That is, information and user interface components must be presented to users in ways they can perceive. This involves things like text size, colour contrast, and text alternatives for images.
  2. User interface components and navigation must be Operable. Users must be able to navigate around the page and access all information.
  3. Content must be Understandable – This principle expands on Principle 1 and 2. Just because a user can perceive and use the content on a webpage, does not guarantee they can understand it.
  4. Robust – Content can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. Content is displayed and functions as it supposed to and the markup has little to no errors

5 key takeaways:

  • Becoming familiar with how a screen reader works and ensuring that all of the important information can be accessed when using a screen reader proved to be absolutely vital to the accessibility editing process. The way screen readers present information can be quite different from how visual users are used to accessing information.
  • While bold and enlarged text conveys the purpose of text to a visual user, a screen reader will treat it as regular text. For this reason, aspects of the document should be identified through markup so a screen reader can process them. This applies to things like table captions and column headers, headings, and subheadings. This can be done by changing the HTML markup or by selecting options in whatever word processing tool you use.
  • Links are fairly straightforward. The two main requirements are that they are descriptive and that they don’t open any new windows or tabs. If they must open in a new window or if link opens a different document type, that should be clear: Google [New Window] or Course Outline [PDF]
  • Providing an alternate text description (alt tag) for images will ensure screen reader users, or those whose computers will not load the images can still access all of the important information in an image.
  • Textbooks in our collection that meet the accessibility criteria are marked with an “Accessible” flag. There are currently 39 accessible textbooks in the collection; a list of these books is available by clicking on any “Accessible” flag in the collection or by going here:

Notable quote:

“Open education is about making resources available to everyone, including students with visual and other disabilities. Ensuring that our textbooks are accessible and encouraging faculty who write open textbooks to do the same is our goal.” – Lauri Aesoph, Manager, Open Education

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