Creating accessible e-learning resources for disabled students.

2. Acting on the findings

For resources developed in-house, or resources where full editorial control is possible, address existing barriers according to their priority as defined in the evaluation stage described above. Take advantage of authoring tools, checking tools and existing guidelines to follow best practice in accessible design.

Remember that accessibility and usability are equally important. It is possible
to create a resource that appears to meet accessibility standards, yet remains effectively unusable by specific groups.

By following principles of inclusive design, through involving end users with specific access needs as much as possible during the design of the resource, the chances that the resource will be usable by as many of the target audience as possible are increased.

Asking disabled students to evaluate a resource during development can provide valuable information and feedback, and help address potential problems long before the resource is completed and introduced into the curriculum.

For off-the-shelf software and e-learning resources, there may be limited - if any - scope for adjustment to overcome accessibility barriers. It may be possible to make limited adjustments to display characteristics or functionality, but in other cases, all that can be done – and should be done - is to make a note of the inherent accessibility barriers, and whom they may affect, and plan for how the needs of such students may be accommodated.

At the same time, the need to consider these accessibility barriers in future e-learning procurement is vital. Will these barriers exist in future versions of the resource in question? Is there a demonstrable commitment by the resource supplier to address accessibility concerns? Institutions should consider their purchasing power, and their obligations with regards to provision of accessible e-learning, when contracting third-party development, to record formally their requirements for delivery of optimally accessible resources.

While pedagogic aims may influence a decision to take no action over a specific barrier, this should only be done where justification of such a barrier can be made with confidence.

It is dangerous practice to plead a lack of knowledge of accessible design techniques, or claim technical limitations as a reason for a disabled student being excluded from using an e-learning resource successfully.

It is obviously essential that students with specific impairments be provided with the assistive technology required for them to access e-learning content. From a developer’s point of view, thankfully, it does not require out-of-the ordinary techniques to make e-learning resources as accessible as possible to as many people as possible.

In fact, following general principles of good design goes a long way to achieving accessibility. Only in rare occasions is it necessary to think about alternative ways of providing information to suit students with specific impairments, as normally the assistive technology used by these students will do much of the hard work in making e-learning content accessible.

What is essential, though, is that key design principles are followed to make sure that disabled students do not encounter accessibility barriers. These are not principles that should be glanced at and filed away in preparation for a disabled student needing to use a resource in two years time – they are principles that can and should be followed now by all developers of e-learning.

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