The March meeting of the SLATE Group was held this past week (March 20, 2013) at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove IL. The topic, Issues and Concerns of Accessibility to Technology in Teaching and Learning, was described by Ken Sadowski (Founder of the SLATE Group) as a constantly moving curve of importance that seems to once again be on the rise. I was invited to join this meeting to speak about Blackboard’s commitment to accessibility and the improvements made with in Blackboard Learn over the last twelve months.
As a Blackboard designer, I know how important accessibility is to the experience of using any product; we incorporate it in everything we design. The recent issuance of a conformance statement for Blackboard Learn SP11 against the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA by a third-party, is an exciting accomplishment and something I was very pleased to talk about with the SLATE Group. But the real take away from the meeting for me was the true passion and commitment shown by members of the SLATE group to ensure equal access to technology in education for users with any type of disability – declared or not.
Accessibility isn’t a new topic for most software companies or academic institutions, and it certainly isn’t new for Blackboard. The software and education industries have been talking about it for some time, but in many segments of the population it is still an emerging topic. Most organizations have only a small number of people who pay particular attention to the accessibility of the products they build and use. And the general population is sometimes unaware of the challenges facing users with disabilities and the technology we use every day. At Blackboard, we’ve joined the community to help change that. From being the first LMS to achieve certification from the National Federation of the Blind
to providing grants for research in accessibility for students
, we are part of the change, and we’re seeing the conversation grow rapidly.
Lately we’ve seen a significant increase in the number and types of conversations and activity happening around accessibility.
- Clients are asking for more detailed information about the accessibility of all Blackboard products and services.
- Assistive technology vendors are reaching out to us looking to help ensure their tools work well with Blackboard products and to jointly offer some information about how our tools work together.
- Colleagues and partners who are developing tools to extend Blackboard products are seeking to learn more about designing and testing for accessibility and activities that they need to be doing to help ensure positive experiences for users with disabilities.
- External training organizations are looking for information about Learning Management System accessibility and specifically about how to provide accessible education experiences for students and teachers alike.
So why now, what’s changing? My theory is that accessibility is moving into the forefront of the conversation, especially in education. As we continue to help bring awareness to the challenges faced by users with disabilities, not just with LMS tools but also with the content that is created and delivered within them, we’re seeing more people beginning to understand and ask questions. More people are getting engaged in ensuring delightful experiences with educational technology for users of all abilities and they want to know more about what that really means. I for one am very excited to see the increase in buzz around accessibility and the continued attention that we can help bring to this important topic.
If you want to know more about how Blackboard is designing accessible experiences and what you can do to ensure content within your courses is meeting expectations check out the two-part Accessible Blackboard Webinar
starting this March.
Check the Blackboard Website
regularly for resources and updated information about the accessibility of each release including details about what’s changed and what’s still challenging for users with disabilities.
A little over a week ago Rob Fay and I had the opportunity to speak about the work we’ve been doing around “Design Principles
” at a conference in Denver CO called the IA (Information Architecture) Summit
. This was an industry conference focused on things like user experience, design, content strategy and, of course, information architecture. At this conference I sat in on a session called “The Stories we Construct
” given by a man named Stephen Anderson
. Stephen talked about how the stories we know or tell about the things we encounter and interact with impact the value we place on the object, the experiences we associate with them and the memories we shape around those experiences.
Over the past two years Blackboard has been working closely with partners like the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and Deque Systems to achieve significant improvements in the accessibility of our products. We pledged to achieve the NFB’s certification for Non-Visual Access and in March of 2010 we were presented with their Gold Level Certification and became the only learning management system certified by the NFB.
In July I had the opportunity to attend the NFB’s annual meeting with our VP of Corporate Strategy, Lara Oerter. Lara was speaking to the attendees about Blackboard and our partnership with NFB representatives like Anne Taylor and Clara Van Gerven. One of the themes of this year’s meeting was the power of education and equal access to information. The announcement of the certification of Blackboard Learn was met with much excitement.
In a previous post we talked about personalization and user preferences
and how they can help improve the user experience. Well, what about how
teachers create and present content within their course? The presentation &
structure of content has just as much impact on the experience of users with
disabilities as the learning management tool does. Blackboard Learn provides
teachers with a variety of ways to structure the content they create to best
meet the needs of their students. There are different layout options and even
different content types that give the teacher all of the flexibility they need.
But the key is to keep it simple.