Five years ago, I asked multiple educators at a conference, “What are accessibility requirements?” I heard many puzzling things, such as “You mean like text versions?”, “Alt tags,” and “You don’t need to worry about it as long as you have a text version for the whole page of content.” At the time, as someone who focused on this technical need, I was quite disturbed. However, as time went on I kept asking the question, and when I kept receiving the same answers, I had a revelation. They were not people who had worked with students who had these needs before. They were following development guidelines, and they were not coders. Of course, this is what they knew about 508.
I then did some research. From its beginnings in a classroom, accessibility accommodations were presented by trained teachers directly to students. These teachers were not only trained to facilitate these needs but chose to work in this environment. This choice, as with all teaching, came from their heart. Their love for students and their dedication to their learning made this experience personalized for the student’s needs. With the introduction of digital documents into mainstream education and the growing presence of computers in homes, all learning did not necessarily happen in the classroom anymore. Hence, Section 508 came to be.
After realizing that this was the reason I was not getting the answers which I sought, I started researching the web content accessibility guidelines. Through this literature, I realized that the conversation needed to change. Instead of focusing on the word “accessible” with those around me I started to focus on the word “useable.” When you ask this question, people do not revert to the standards which they must adhere to in their position; they ask questions about your meaning. This is when I felt the heart come back into the conversation. As I discussed use cases with industry peers, they started to make connections between standard/guideline requirements and the student who needs them. The passion ignited in the conversation. Suddenly, accessibility was no longer a checklist, it was the only way to educate a large population of our students.
Next time you discuss accessibility with your staff, train staff, or have a concern to address with an individual try these phrases:
How will a student who cannot use their hands use this content? How will their learning be different? Must it be different?
How will a student who cannot see use this content? How will their learning be different? Must it be different?
How will a student who cannot hear experience this content? How will their learning be different? Must it be different?
How will a student with a cognitive challenge experience this content? How will their learning be different? Must it be different? (this question may require an overview of cognitive challenges)
By: Crystal Guiler
Managing Partner, GW Implementation Solutions