IMS Guidelines for Developing
Accessible Learning Applications

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| WGBH | NCAM | SALT PROJECT | IMS GLOBAL LEARNING CONSORTIUM |

5. Guidelines for Accessible Delivery of Text, Audio, Images, and Multimedia

Every person learns differently. At its best, online learning allows each user to interact with lesson material in his or her preferred way, relying on their individual strengths while discounting as much as possible their weaknesses. The principles of excellent software design call on developers to work in full knowledge of the range of human skills and limitations. Software designers of teaching materials and activities, in particular, must strive to achieve this high standard.

When a user has a disability, access to learning software may depend entirely on how flexibly that product can deliver its content. Some users may need only to modify the parameters in which media is presented; other users may require entirely different media. Developers who achieve the kind of flexibility that diversity requires will enhance the accessibility of their product.

At a minimum, developers should provide text representations for all media types. This baseline will help address access for many users. That said, it should be noted that users with learning disabilities benefit from graphical presentations. For this reason, the practice of providing text-only content as an alternative to inaccessible multimedia content may not be an effective solution for users with cognitive disabilities.

A number of resources that address flexible media delivery are currently available. The W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative provides accessibility guidelines for W3C technologies such as HTML, XML, SMIL, CSS & SVG. It also provides more general guidelines for web content accessibility, authoring tool accessibility, and user agent accessibility. More information links are available in the Appendix. Two other comprehensive guides are referenced here.

The National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research publication, User-Friendly Materials and Alternate Formats provides information on implementing several formats and modes including:

The California Community Colleges have produced a comprehensive set of guidelines that offer alternative formats for presenting printed materials, Guidelines for Producing Instructional and Other Printed Materials in Alternate Media for Persons with Disabilities.

The California Community Colleges document provides a comprehensive resource for producing several types of alternative media including:

5.1 Common Types of Media Delivery and Associated Presentation Formats

5.1.1 Text

When text is correctly structured and formatted, it can be the most flexible way to present content. To make distributed online learning accessible, developers of learning platforms must provide a means to render digital text in alternative formats.

Specifically, it should be possible to render text as:

Common text accessibility problems include:
Learning system developers may enhance the accessibility of text for all users by following these practices:
Content creators or educators may enhance the accessibility of text for all users by following these practices:

5.1.2 Audio

Audio elements can add to the general appeal of online learning materials while making them more accessible to those who are print-impaired learners, such as those with visual impairments or dyslexia. However, developers should provide alternatives to ensure that learners who are deaf or hard-of-hearing are not disadvantaged.

Common audio accessibility problems include:
Learning system developers may enhance the accessibility of audio for all users by following these practices:
Content creators or educators may enhance the accessibility of audio for all users by following these practices:
Resources:

5.1.3 Images

Images can provide essential information. But without text support, images are not accessible for users who are blind or have low-vision. Developers must provide users with a way to access visual information. Providing text identification, or alternative text, will also benefit users of text-only browsers, such as mobile phones. In addition to providing, developers should ensure that images are scalable, so that users can enlarge them for better clarity.

Common image accessibility problems include:
Learning system developers may image enhance the accessibility of images for all users by following these practices:
Content creators or educators may enhance the accessibility of images for all users by following these practices:
Resources:

5.1.4 Multimedia

Multimedia is the combination of text, graphics, video, animation, and sound. Thus, a given piece of multimedia content combines the access needs of each media type represented. Multimedia can be useful for many groups of learners, since a multi-modal presentation of information can be easier to understand. In general, users benefit when alternatives are available for each media type.

Common multimedia accessibility problems include:
Learning system developers may enhance the accessibility of multimedia for all users by following these practices:
Content creators or educators may enhance the accessibility of multimedia for all users by following these practices:
Resources:

The WGBH National Center for Accessible Media's Rich Media Accessibility website provides information of a wide range of digital media formats, including: