Week 9: OERs – Accessibility

This blog post relates to my study of Open Educational Resources as part of my Emerging Technologies for Learning Program of study at the University of Manitoba. Our instructor has asked us:

An interesting perspective to accesibility is the US’s America with disability Act Section 508. Is there as similar act in Canada? Do we need a similar act or are existing laws sufficient to address the disabled? What would these laws be? How does this apply to your own context? Blog on!

Instead of responding from the Canadian perspective, I’ll instead respond as an Australian.  Australia does have a provisions in law commensurate with the USA accessibility disability act.  It is known as the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.   So that Australian Government agencies adhere to the DDA, all Australian Government websites must adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guideslines (WCAG) version 2.  This is inline with the USA’s Section 508 which too “… requires that Federal agencies’ electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities.”

However, unless I have misinterpreted both the Australian DDA and US Section 508, interestingly, in both cases the requirement is only for Government websites, not corporate or hobbyist sites.  This seems rather peculiar to me.

Recently my employer has renewed it’s commitment to accessibility guidelines with a push to improve the publishing of Moodle course websites.  Although the Moodle course websites are not published publicly, they still provide a service to enrolled students and need to be inclusive of all learners including those with disabilities.  Being a government owned university, I believe it is bound to the same rules as described above as part of the DDA.  The interesting challenge in my context is that our academic staff are not web publishing experts – they are discipline experts teaching Engineering, Business, Science and so on. Having to grapple with the WCAG standard and ensure compliance is going to be a difficult challenge for some staff who are not tech-savvy.

There are a wealth of tools available online and commercially to assist with ensuring adherence to accessibility guidelines, such as the WCAG.  I’m not sure whether they are targeted at web publishers or whether there are options for those less tech-savvy such as the example given above.  While it does take extra effort and time on the part of the author, I can imagine the appreciation felt by those who can then access your material using their screen-readers for instance with greater ease, than is otherwise possible.

In terms of how they laws could be improved or extended, I wonder whether Section 508 or the DDA could be mandated across all corporate websites for instance?  If the government is able to ensure accessibility, then with the appropriate education, and supporting technology, why not the rest of the community?

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