IMS Guidelines for Developing
Accessible Learning Applications

version 1.0 white paper

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

6. Guidelines for Developing Accessible Asynchronous Communication and Collaboration Tools

This section covers the development of asynchronous communication and collaboration tools including:

Asynchronous communication and collaboration tools such as threaded message boards, e-mail messaging, listservs, document repositories, calendar systems and presentation tools must be rendered in formats that facilitate the full participation of learners with disabilities in online interactions. The navigation system for these utilities should allow users of assistive technologies (AT) to operate without encountering barriers to any aspect of the functionality. Specifically, the software should all them to:

Users must have flexibility in their choice of browser, input and output modalities, and be able to use assistive technologies. All web-based components of asynchronous communication and collaboration tools should be compliant with the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0.

6.1 Threaded Message Boards

For discussion forums, bulletin boards, and other utilities that allow posting of text messages, content providers should render both the navigation system and the content of the messages in standard XHTML. Requiring use of proprietary client software or non-standard file formats may create barriers by preventing users from establishing individual preferences, as described in the introduction.

Common threaded message board accessibility problems include:
Learning system developers may enhance the accessibility of threaded message board applications for all users by following these practices:
Content creators or educators may enhance the accessibility of threaded message board applications for all users by following these practices:
Resource:

6.2 E-Mail Messaging

E-mail systems may be used either for one-to-one exchanges, or used to distribute and receive messages to a larger user group via a listserv. To use an e-mail system, the user selects proprietary client software according to their individual needs and according to the compatibility needs of their preferred AT hardware and software. To ensure accessibility, developers should make the interface of their e-mail clients compliant with the latest W3C Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines.

To further ensure that e-mail messages are accessible, users must always have the option to send plain ASCII text.

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

6.3 Document Repositories

Designers of document repositories must ensure that the indexing system is accessible to all users and that it follows logical document structure. Where possible, store documents in standard XHTML format. Using proprietary or non-standard file formats may create barriers. Other formats are less accessible and might limit the user's ability to access information according to individual needs or preferences. Search functions and display options must be accessible to users of ATs.

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

6.4 Organizers, Schedulers, and Calendars

Some applications, such as organizers, schedulers, and calendars allow users to post shared information. To make these utilities accessible, developers and content providers should seek to structure posted information in a logical manner, encoded using standard XHTML. Non-visual users are at a disadvantage when confronting complex tables or scripting languages. For these and other users, information must linearize correctly in order to be translated accurately into other forms, such as audio output. When providers fail to properly format structured data, dates and events can become improperly juxtaposed. Traditional calendar layouts are particularly susceptible to this sort of error, so content providers ought to include alternative linear output whenever possible.

Common organizer, schedule and calendar accessibility problems include:
Learning system developers may enhance the accessibility of organizers, schedules and calendars for all users by following these practices:
Content creators or educators may enhance the accessibility of organizers, schedules and calendars for all users by following these practices:
Resource:

The Wave is an accessibility evaluation tool that analyzes the linearized reading order.

6.5 Presentation Tools

6.5.1 Microsoft PowerPoint

Microsoft PowerPoint has been widely adopted because it is easy to use. With a little practice, most authors can easily create presentations that look "professional". One of its strengths is the fact that Microsoft PowerPoint allows users to mix and match, to drag and drop all sorts of objects into their presentations. The resulting collection of elements often contain no reference to their origins, how they came to be included, what relationship they have to each other and so on. That is a problem for those who require accessibility. It is certainly possible that a presentation slide contains only a set of text outline statements that are easily accessed by a person with vision impairments. But in fact it's all too likely that a given slide will include many inaccessible objects.

This same problem makes converting Microsoft PowerPoint slides to web pages difficult. If the screen presentation of the Microsoft PowerPoint display is simply converted into a single graphic image and is then connected by links from one screen to another, all embedded information is lost. Often it is just this information that those with disabilities depend on.

For these reasons, the gains made by presenters using Microsoft PowerPoint that allow them to present their material visually often come at a cost to those with special needs or who rely on alternative access technologies.

Below are three possible alternative approaches. Accessibility Wizard, which provides a way to convert Microsoft PowerPoint slides into accessible HTML. The second, W3C Slidemaker, which converts HTML into slides and finally WimpyPoint, a tool that replaces Microsoft PowerPoint.

6.5.2 Alternatives to Microsoft PowerPoint for Accessibility

6.5.2.1 Accessibility Wizard (for Microsoft PowerPoint)

Accessibility Wizard software was created at the University of Illinois. It provides an alternative to Microsoft PowerPoint's built-in Web Publishing feature.

Using Microsoft PowerPoint's web-publishing feature creates content that can only be viewed using Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Even if non-XML options are selected, users cannot easily add information that is required for accessibility. Accessibility Wizard simplifies the task of converting Microsoft PowerPoint presentations into text pure HTML.

6.5.2.2 W3C Slidemaker

W3C Slidemaker converts a single long HTML or XHTML page into a set of slides. It makes it easy for the author to separate text from presentation, which it handles using stylesheets. Slidemaker's ease of use also encourages good use of Meta-data and helps presenters ensure that their presentation will be accessible to alternative devices.

6.5.2.3 WimpyPoint

ArsDigita has created an open source alternative to Microsoft PowerPoint called WimpyPoint (this prdocut was recently purchased by another company and may no longer be supported).

WimpyPoint replaces Microsoft PowerPoint and allows users to build a slide presentation using their preferred browser. Presentations are stored remotely and can be accessed from anywhere. WimpyPoint allows multiple users, even when separated geographically, to share presentations and to collaborate in their creation.

WimpyPoint is ideal for creating accessible presentations since it is based on HTML and supports cascading stylesheets.