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NCDAE: The National Center on Disability and Access to Education

Increasing universal access by
developing educational resources

NCDAE Accessibility Newsletter - April 2008

In This Edition:

What's New at NCDAE

GOALS Project at the NCDAE Will Help Create Institutional Self Study on Accessibility

NCDAE is the lead member of a national consortium to help postsecondary institutions engage in a self-study process on the accessibility of online content. The project will also seek interest from accreditors who might find the project materials and processes useful in their efforts. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), the GOALS project (Gaining Online Accessible Learning through Self-Study) centers on the development, evaluation, and dissemination of materials and processes that will focus on institutional assessment of web accessibility policies and practices. The self-study will naturally lead to opportunities for continuous improvement.

The 5 project partners will capitalize on the types of products and processes typically used by institutions and accreditation entities during periods of self-study. Those in education and accreditation alike can use these resources in their efforts to ensure that all web-based content is accessible.

Participate/ Test GOALS Materials

We are actively soliciting institutions and individuals to field test project materials. While feedback for single materials is appreciated, we have a critical need for institutions to test the entire process and set of materials. Any institution acting as a field-test site will receive a complementary set of materials at the conclusion of the project. To participate, contact Project GOALS Coordinator, Heather Mariger.

Project Steppingstones looks at Web Accessibility and Cognitive Disabilities in Education

The National Center on Disability and Access to Education, through its partnership with WebAIM, has received funding to help web developers consider issues of cognitive disability in their designs. The Phase I Steppingstones of Technology Innovation grant, awarded by the US Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), is a two-year development grant with a focus on producing a tool intended to help web developers create web content that can more readily be used by those with cognitive and learning disabilities. Project staff are currently working on developing a set of evaluation rules and algorithms to be added to the popular WAVE evaluation tool. The new functionality should provide developers with feedback on how their web page designs might impact users with cognitive or learning disabilities.

A Steppingstones Phase II proposal to test the broad impact of the tool use will be submitted at the end of this development phase. The project includes a partner, Adobe, and an active Advisory Board comprised of individuals with expertise in web accessibility, cognitive and learning disabilities, education technology, K-12 systems, and individuals and parents who have children with cognitive and learning disabilities.

Participate in a Survey

As part of the Steppingstones of Technology project, we have performed an extensive literature review to identify elements that are often cited as having an impact on users with cognitive and learning disabilities when accessing web content. To further inform us, we invite you to complete a short survey. The survey is available online and takes approximately 10 minutes to complete. By completing this survey you will greatly inform our process and support the creation of better tools for increasing accessibility of web content to this important audience.

Webcast - Designing Web Content that is Accessible To Users With Cognitive Disabilities

May 7, 2008

This webcast will provide information on cognitive accessibility research conducted by NCDAE and others, will overview the most common web accessibility issues for users with cognitive and learning disabilities, and will provide strategies for designing to this audience.

The webcast will feature Clayton Lewis from the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities at the University of Colorado, Gregg C. Vanderheiden from the Trace R&D Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Jared Smith from WebAIM. The webcast will be moderated by Cyndi Rowland.

The webcast will be held Wednesday May 7, 2008 from 3:00 - 4:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time (12:00PM Pacific; 1:00PM Mountain; 2:00PM Central). The audio broadcast will last approximately one hour. It is free of charge and will be captioned simultaneously for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Project GOALS Evaluates 100 Pages in Higher Education for Accessibility against Section 508 Standard

Staff members from Project GOALS (Gaining Online Accessible Learning through Self Study) sought to gain insight into the current state of web accessibility in higher education. To do this, they collected a sample of web pages and then evaluated the sample against the technical standards of Section 508. The sample was obtained through the random selection of 2 institutions across each of the 50 states and, for each institution, a random selection of a single page one click off the institutional homepage.

Each page was evaluated (manually, and with the help of WAVE) for conformance to all 16 technical standards found in Section 508. Staff identified when a page failed to conform to any of the standards. Staff did not track actual numbers of accessibility violations within a single page. For example, when viewing the 508 standard regarding alternative text to all nontext items, staff looked at all nontext elements on a page to see if any of them failed to contain alternative text. If missing, that element was considered to fail the 508 standard of providing alternative text for that page. This method is in contrast to counting all instances of nontext elements and then calculating a percentage of those with errors. The process was repeated for all 16 web standards found within Section 508. For pages that failed any of the 16 possible standards, that page was considered to "fail."

Data were analyzed and summarized in 2 ways. First was the broad view of the data where staff determined the total percentage of the 100-page sample that conformed to Section 508 standards. Second was the descriptive view of the data where staff determined the percentage of failures by each of the 16 technical standards. It should be noted that during this evaluation staff counted only those pages that actually used the element under analysis (e.g., if a page did not contain a form element, it was excluded from the analysis on form elements). Inter-rater reliability was performed on 10% of the sample. There was a 95% agreement on items considered to "fail" the 508 standard (calculated on a point-by-point basis).

The results were surprising. Of the 100-page sample, 97% contained accessibility errors. If this sample is indicative of web content broadly found in higher education, it may signal a decrease in accessibility over previous reports. Data were also analyzed for types of accessibility problems. Here are a few highlights.

Beyond conformance to one standard of accessibility (i.e., Section 508), GOALS staff also searched the institutional website for expressions of commitment to web accessibility in the same sample of 100 institutional websites. A structured protocol of search terms was used with follow up from information returned in the search results. From this process institutional results were coded into 4 categories:

  1. Could not locate statements on Web accessibility;
  2. Encourages but does not require accessibility;
  3. Informal policies at a unit, rather than institutional, level;
  4. Formal, institutional policy that governs web accessibility.

GOALS staff were unable to locate any expression of commitment to web accessibility in almost half of the sample (n=47) of institutional websites. It should be noted that there may be institutional policies that are not placed on an institution's website, so it is possible that this result is more conservative. However, for those sites that did mention web accessibility, most encouraged, but did not require that their web content be accessible (n=23). Results from this sample also indicated that only 17 institutions in the sample had a formal policy that covers the accessibility of web content for individuals with disabilities. Given this information GOALS staff searched for trends in the accessibility of an institutional sample page and the presence or absence of policy. No powerful trends were uncovered.

Taken together, these 2 studies do not paint a very good picture of the status of web accessibility in higher education. As stated earlier, if this sample is representative of the larger population, we may be losing ground in creating and maintaining an accessible web. Moreover, the fact that accessibility problems were just as likely to exist at institutions with or without a policy suggests that successful accessibility of a site requires much more than a public declaration of commitment to accessibility.


The need for good online health information is critical, especially for those who may need it most, such as users with disabilities or chronic disease. A survey conducted by PEW Internet and American Life Project in October 2007 found that adults with chronic disabilities or diseases are less likely to go online than their healthy counterparts. However, those that do use the internet are more likely to research and use health information they find online:

Half of those living with a disability or chronic disease go online, compared to 74% of those who report no chronic conditions. Fully 86% of internet users living with disability or chronic illness have looked online for information about at least one of 17 health topics, compared with 79% of internet users with no chronic conditions.

...Those with chronic conditions are more likely than other e-patients to report that their online searches affected treatment decisions, their interactions with their doctors, their ability to cope with their condition, and their dieting and fitness regimen.

What's New in Accessibility Policy?

NCDAE and NIMAS in Utah

Utah was one of 15 states funded to participate in the national Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) Consortium. AIM is a national model network working toward full implementation of NIMAS policies and procedures. Marty Blair from the NCDAE staff was asked to serve on Utah's AIM advisory board. In addition to developing the Utah-focused AIM initiative, the advisory board's primary function during the first several months was to secure state funding for implementation of the AIM initiative. With NCDAE's help, the Utah State Instructional Materials Center (USIMAC) received a one year appropriation of just over $500,000 with the promise of more to come in future years. These funds will enable USIMAC to develop comprehensive policies and procedures, provide statewide training to local education agency staff, and provide timely delivery of NIMAS file sets to schools and the students who need them.

Higher Education Act

It looks like the Higher Education Act may be one of the few legislative initiatives to pass the U.S. Congress this year. In terms of disability issues, the House version is more liberal. However, it looks like the Senate version will likely prevail; the President is favorable of this version. Since both versions address accessible instructional materials, it is hoped that the Act will include provisions to improve access to digital materials. Whether this is through a NIMAS-type provision (highly unlikely), through a study or commission to research how best to improve access to digital media, or by inviting accessibility through the program/institutional accreditation process, improved access by students with disabilities to higher education instructional materials, and academic programs and services will be addressed in the law.

In the News. . .Virtual Education

Online and video games are being hailed as the latest thing in educational technology. Video games such as SimCity and RollerCoaster Tycoon are being used to teach analytical thinking, team building and problem solving skills. Virtual worlds such as Second Life are being accessed as classrooms, libraries, simulations and practice arenas as well as opportunities to socialize and discuss ideas with people from around the world. Second Life even offers an educator's co-op where educators from around the world can meet to discuss education theory and strategies and a growing number of both real and virtual conferences and workshops are being devoted to Second Life and video game based learning.

Unfortunately, many students with disabilities are unable to participate in the gaming revolution because the games and virtual worlds are inaccessible. Being unable to participate in virtual discussion groups and receive the same opportunities to practice their skills robs them of vital aspects of their education. However, a small group of developers and advocates have recognized that there is a problem and are begun to develop accessible games and find ways to make virtual worlds accessible to all, but they have barely scratched the surface and there is still a long way to go.

The following are some articles about accessible gaming that have been featured on the NCDAE RSS feed: