Enhancing Accessibility through IMS Global Standards
IMS Global Learning Consortium’s (IMS Global) mission is to foster collaboration between educators, learners, and education technology providers by removing barriers to learning and promoting common, interoperable architectures. IMS Global has an extensive history of enabling accessibility in learning technology. This paper provides curated information on accessible online learning as it pertains to IMS Global interoperability standards.
Areas of focus include the personalization of resources, interfaces, and content to meet the needs of all individuals. IMS Global believes that the best way to make a system or resource accessible to an individual is by meeting that individual’s particular needs at that time in that context. Doing so not only decreases exclusion but also increases usability for everyone. Creating an inclusive experience is a potentially effective way to meet legal accessibility requirements in many jurisdictions and expands the market of potential customers and users.
Who is This Document For?
Enhancing Accessibility through IMS Global Standards is a primer for anyone in the higher education and K–12 communities interested in connecting accessible learning within their system of educational platforms and applications. Software developers and solution providers can utilize IMS Global standards for faster implementation and to meet integration requirements. IMS Global provides open architecture standards allowing full collaboration across institutions and third-party providers. Each of the standards supports many accessibility features within those delivery systems.
Digital Ecosystem that Informs Accessibility
Authors and web developers need to be aware of a myriad of parts when it comes to accessibility. This simple graphic shows a construct from content creation to the laws that govern accessibility standards.
- Legal requirements and International standards
Accessibility legislation seeks to remove barriers to the online learning experience. The legislation is based on the W3C WCAG 2.0 guidelines and informed by independent international standards experts.
- Accessibility Settings and Assistive Technologies
Accessibility settings ensure access through native internal browser settings and external access through a user's assistive technology device (e.g., screen readers).
- Platforms, Third Party Software and Digital Products
Websites can be designed to be more accessible by their conformance to standards and best-practice design principles. This may include accessibility features such as tabbing, navigation and alternative text for images.
- Interoperability and Personal Needs and Preference
Interoperability is the ability of a system or a product to interconnect with other systems and products. IMS Global’s AccessForAll® (AfA) Personal Needs & Preferences specification gives each user the ability to select personal accessibility needs and preferences and to control the release and presentation of that information within those systems.
- Inclusive Design and Assessment
Products and services that have inclusive design are accessible and usable by all without special modification or design. The assessment process also includes determining specific learning needs and defining the end goal of instruction in order to create assessments that assist in the student’s success.
- Content Creation
Content authors choosing accessibility-enhanced authoring tools and learning strategies can support accessible content creation and a student’s ability to learn without barriers.
To learn more about accessibility assistive technologies, visit: https://www.microsoft.com/enable/at/types.aspx
Accessibility and the Law
The laws, policies, and practices governing equal rights, access to education, and accessibility as it relates to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) are varied and complex. Although some international groups have attempted to create common policies, such as the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, most nations have laws that influence the everyday practices of individuals, companies, and institutions.
That being said, many nations are aligning their legislation regarding fair and inclusive access to ICT with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) published by the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative. This movement towards shared ICT standards is critical for ensuring universal, interoperable solutions as well as an economic, political, and social commitment to inclusive experiences at a global scale.
WCAG 2.0 is guided by four principles, often referred to as the POUR principles. Web content should be:
- Perceivable (easy to comprehend)
- Operable (easy to access and interact with regardless of device or software)
- Understandable (easy to navigate in a predictable way)
- Robust (easy to maintain and enhance)
These principles have also been widely applied to other environments, including education. The IMS Global guidelines are connected to the W3C’s ICT policies as global learning opportunities rely heavily on ICT access and innovation.
To learn more about accessibility laws and policies and practices, visit:
- Introduction to [Accessibility] Laws Throughout the World http://webaim.org/articles/laws/world/
- Policies Relating to Web Accessibility http://www.w3.org/WAI/Policy/
- Quick Start to Accessibility https://www.bisg.org/publications/bisg-quick-start-guide-accessible-publishing
How Do IMS Global Standards Enhance Accessibility for Students?
Creating standards for specific learner needs and preferences provides an inclusive educational experience. The IMS Global Accessibility workgroup focuses on adaptation or personalization of resources, interfaces, and content to meet the needs of individual learners. The group believes the best way to make a system or resource accessible to an individual is by meeting an individual’s particular needs immediately within the learning context. Doing so decreases exclusion, and increases usability for everyone. IMS Global has many ongoing initiatives involving the integration of accessibility requirements within interoperability standards across enterprise systems and applications.
IMS Global has five main areas of focus supporting accessibility:
- Personal Needs & Preferences
- Question & Test Interoperability® (QTI®) and Accessible Portable Item Protocol® (APIP®)
- Caliper Analytics®
- EPUB for Education (formerly known as EDUPUB)
In parallel to the IMS Global workgroups, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation enlisted EDUCAUSE in 2014 to explore gaps in the current learning management tools in order to move to a new learning-centered model. This initiative is called the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE). Its five domains of core functionality are:
- Interoperability and Integration
- Analytics, Advising, and Learning
- Accessibility and Universality
For more information on the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE), A Report on Research, visit: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eli3035.pdf
AccessForAll is an IMS Global workgroup focused on matching resource characteristics (metadata) to individual user needs. In circumstances where resources might not be suitable for all users, it enables the discovery of other appropriate resources.
AccessForAll's approach emphasizes personalization by providing support for transformable, flexible systems that meet different needs. AccessForAll accessibility is often just-in-time accessibility and, significantly, supports cumulative accessibility of resources as third parties create and associate alternatives to original resources. Together, the many resources in a system contain the features or educational materials that every student needs, but no single resource has to be 100% accessible to all learners.
Most resources will likely be accessible to most students. By creating AccessForAll metadata about each resource, it is easier to determine which resources might need to be adapted to meet particular students' needs.
The following link provides an in-depth look at the IMS Global AccessForAll Primer: http://www.imsglobal.org/accessibility/afav3p0pd/AfAv3p0_SpecPrimer_v1p0pd.html
2. Personal Needs and Preferences (PNP)
AccessForAll includes a standard way or common language to describe a user's needs and preferences, the Personal Needs & Preferences standard (PNP). These preferences are not meant to convey private information such as medical history. Instead, they include information about how the user can interact best with a computer. The user's need for specific kinds of content, display features, or control mechanisms are recorded. This information can then be used to select or request appropriate adapted content, configure a visual display for easy reading, or locate resources that match the user's control requirements.
The PNP specification provides a means to describe how a user prefers to access online learning content and related applications. Metadata is used to enable the delivery of resources in the user’s preferred manner. This information model that describes learning resources can be matched with the appropriate user interfaces, tools, and learning resources within an online learning environment.
The following link provides an in-depth look at the IMS Global AccessForAll (AfA) Personal Needs & Preferences (PNP) Specification Information Model: http://www.imsglobal.org/accessibility/afav3p0pd/AfA3p0_PNPinfoModel_v1p0pd.html
3. QTI and APIP
IMS Global has two tightly connected assessment standards, QTI (Question and Test Interoperability) and APIP (Accessible Portable Item Protocol) with the next version of QTI offering more accessibility improvements.
The QTI specification and APIP (see next section) touch a variety of systems in a typical assessment ecosystem and enable the exchange of question items, tests, and results data between authoring tools, item banks, test construction tools, learning systems, and assessment delivery systems, and scoring administrative systems.
Over the last three years, the QTI project has been focused on content portability. The current QTI 2.2 specification, with its many HTML5 elements and some Aria attributes, has enabled significant improvements over QTI 2.1 for semantic and perceptual visibility for assistive technology.
The following link provides an in-depth look at the QTI profile https://www.imsglobal.org/question/qtiv2p2/imsqti_v2p2_oview.html
The APIP standard provides developers with a data model for standardizing the interchange file format for accessible digital tests. “Item” in the title of the specification refers to question types (such as multiple choice, fill in the blank, essay, etc.). APIP adds accessibility constructs such as Spoken (or Read Aloud) and Braille information to QTI elements to enable delivery of a variety of accessible assessment content.
APIP specifies data formats for accessible test content and uses the PNP to represent students’ accessibility needs. APIP solves the need for a common way of coding online items so assessment questions and tests can be viewed, repurposed, and transferred between test delivery systems and item banks (test banks). APIP is based on three existing IMS Global interoperability standards:
- AccessForAll PNP
- Content Packaging
The APIP interoperability standard can reduce integration costs for assessment suppliers and enhance collaboration among assessment agencies. APIP addresses two long-standing needs in online assessments. It is a transfer format that allows assessment content (items [e.g., questions] and tests) to flow between vendors using standardized XML. It also supplies the necessary accessibility information in that content to support the needs of diverse students. PNP information is used so that the assessment content can be tailored to meet each student’s needs. There are three parts that work together:
- The accessible content (includes information for different kinds of accessibility needs)
- PNP profile (represents accessibility preferences of students taking the test)
- Delivery system (combining PNP and accessible content to the student)
Caption: The assessment author delivers content working within four key areas: the test bank, curriculum studies, the PNP tool and the authoring system. The content is loaded to the core network (the Internet, the cloud, or a private network) and is processed through the APIP-compliant Item Bank to the delivery assessment system. The delivery assessment system then processes the content in the PNP server reconciling administration needs. Assessment results, analytics, and outcomes are produced for the end user, the test candidate.
The following link provides an in-depth look at the APIP profile: https://www.imsglobal.org/apip/index.html
QTI v3.0: The Next Standard for Accessible Assessment
Question and Test Interoperability v3.0 will bring QTI and APIP together in a new standard. The QTI workgroup is currently working on capturing requirements, developing use cases, and building proof of concepts across the following focus areas: architecture, HTML5/rendering, accessibility, personal needs and preferences, portable custom interactions, and conformance. Below is a description of the main accessibility directives:
- Merge the concepts of APIP/QTI into a single specification
- Achieve interoperability by harmonizing it with the W3C accessibility and Web standards, accessibility best practices, and assistive technology ecosystem
- Provide a solution that supports end-to-end accessibility, from assessment authoring to delivery on the user’s device, supporting the preferred assistive technology, and the associated reporting of associated outcomes and collected data
- Improve interoperability by extending synergies with existing IMS Global specifications such as Learning Tools Interoperability® (LTI®), Caliper Analytics, and AccessForAll PNP.
The following link provides an in-depth look at the QTI profile: https://www.imsglobal.org/question/index.html
4. Caliper Analytics and Accessibility Standards
Currently learning analytics that can innovate and shape education are found in proprietary standards that reinforce the silos often found in education. Since many curricula ask students to work in multiple learning environments, there is a need for data that can be consolidated for a single view or cross-provider analysis.
IMS Global released Caliper Analytics 1.0 in 2016 and is working on the release of Caliper 1.1. The purpose of the Caliper Analytics is to define a standard for enabling the collection of rich contextual data about learning interactions and a Sensor API™ for capturing and reporting this data. This work will enable learning environments to capture data from learning interactions and share it with other learning environments and consumers of learning analytics.
Caliper’s Metric Profiles will establish a common format and labels for presenting learning activity data. While Metric Profiles provide a standard, they do not in and of themselves provide a product or specify how to provide a product. The IMS Global Learning Sensor API was created by Caliper to define basic learning events and to standardize and simplify the gathering of learning metrics. Caliper leverages and extends the existing LTI, Learning Information Services (LIS), and QTI standards thus integrating granular, standardized learning measurement with tools’ interoperability and the underlying learning information models.
The following link provides an in-depth look at the Caliper profile: https://www.imsglobal.org/activity/caliperram
5. EPUB for Education
The EPUB for Education profile represents the adaption of the functionality of the EPUB 3 format to the unique structural, semantic, and behavioral requirements of educational publishing. EPUB for education was developed specifically for the education community. The main development has taken place over the last two years. EPUB for Education is currently in a public draft stage based on initial submissions by educational solution providers Pearson and O’Reilly.
The EPUB for Education addresses gaps in EPUB3 such as navigating among multiple documents, skip ability, page numbers/pagination, semantic list-heads, to name a few. The profile also allows interoperability by using HTML5 to deliver IMS Global standards through its LTI, Caliper, and QTI services.
The EPUB for Education Alliance is a confederation of standards bodies and organizations. Alliance organizations include BISG, DAISY, IDPF, IMS Global, and W3C. IDPF, as the governing body of the EPUB standard, advances ePub as the universal accessible interchange and format for digital publications. Its mission is to collaboratively develop and support the adoption and implementation of the EPUB for Education profile of EPUB 3.
Five Main Features of the EPUB for Education Profile
1. Ability to Remix
EPUB for Education allows the remix ability of content, an important feature when users want to customize the content structure. For reflowable content, the enforcement of well-structured content (section, heading elements) and structural semantics (footnotes, bibliography, etc.) is critical. It creates a predictability that improves efficiency for users of assistive technologies. This enables remixing and the ability to repurpose content. The EPUB for Education Distributable Objects specification defines how a publisher can identify reusable objects in the EPUB.
The EPUB for Education metadata is based on schema.org educational properties such as audienceType, learningResourceType, and typicalAgeRange. It also has embedded accessibility properties such as accessibilityFeature: altText, printPageNumbers, and accessibilityControl such as fullKeyboardControl, and fullVoiceControl. Other accessibility features include content structuring such as logical reading order, use of WAI-ARIA markup and rich semantics.
3. Components are Scriptable
It defines a method for the creation and inclusion of dynamic and interactive components and allows the secure integration of shared educational scriptable components into XHTML Content Documents.
4. Open Annotations
Creating associations between distinct pieces of information currently lack a structured format for interchange between devices and people. User-created annotations cannot be shared or reused due to a deliberate "lock-in" strategy within the environments where they were created. The EPUB adaption allows bundling of collections of annotations and specifying target audience (teacher, age range, etc.). Annotations can be provided separately or bundled in the EPUB. Open annotations may replace embedding a long description in the HTML as the “description/annotation” could reside elsewhere, resulting in a decoupling of the long description from the HTML code.
5. LMS Integration
EPUB for Education currently defines content and Reading System Conformance requirements for LTI.
The following link provides an in-depth look at the EPUB for Education profile: http://www.idpf.org/epub/profiles/edu/spec/edupub-20150115.html
All IMS Global standards are free to download and free to use. To claim conformance to an IMS Global standard, an implementing organization must complete the conformance certification process (which requires IMS Global membership).
To find out how to use IMS Global specification documents, please click on the following link: https://www.imsglobal.org/usingimsdocuments.html
All products that have achieved IMS Global conformance certification of any kind are listed and updated here: https://www.imsglobal.org/cc/statuschart.cfm
This Enhancing Accessibility through IMS Global Standards paper contains trademarks of the IMS Global Learning Consortium, including the IMS Logos, Learning Tools Interoperability® (LTI®), Accessible Portable Item Protocol® (APIP®), Question and Test Interoperability® (QTI®), Common Cartridge® (CC®), AccessForAll®, OneRoster®, Caliper Analytics®, and SensorAPI™. For more information on the IMS Global trademark usage policy see http://www.imsglobal.org/trademarks.
[Published April 2016, updated March 2017]