ITForum Discussion on Accessibility

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi

Editor, Accessibility Issues

The URL for the video below is possibility to automatically caption YouTube videos in English was announced by Google on Nov. 11, 2009: a huge step forward for deaf people that benefits all users. And this is typical of most accessibility measures.

About the discussion

Photo of Roberto ElleroFrom November 29 to December 2, 2009, Roberto Ellero and I animated a discussion about Web accessibility on the Instructional Technology Forum mailing-list.

This mailing list is private (if you wish to join, apply at, but our initial notes for the discussions are in a public wiki,, where the e-mail discussion has been copied to the page.

The participants in the accessibility discussion were instructional design professionals, teachers and students. Therefore they were already well aware of the need for accessibility in teaching and of the existence of requirements for its enacting.

For instance they all knew that non-text objects – pictures, videos, audio files – conveying info but not accessible to all can be used, but that an alternative must be provided for people with disabilities preventing access to such objects. Nevertheless. as shows, some interesting questions and issues emerged in the discussion:

General themes

Among the general, conceptual themes of the discussion:

Universal design and redundancy

Universal design, i.e., planning something that everybody can use (whether in real life or on the Web), may not be fully reachable, but it is a goal that must be kept in mind from the start of the designing process.

Redundancy – i.e., offering the same info/knowledge in different forms – is a means towards that goal. Alternative formats can be linked to in order to avoid cluttering a given web page.

Accessibility tools

The phrase “accessibility tools” is used to describe different things:

  • Assistive technology for people with disabilities: e.g., screen readers – like JAWS – for blind people.
  • Emulators of assistive technology used by designers to check how a page will be perceived by people who have to use an assistive technology: e.g., screen reader emulators – like the Fangs addon for Firefox.
  • Automated accessibility checkers used by designers, but only indicatively – just as automated spell checkers are only indicative.

Specific issues

Among the more specific and concrete issues discussed:


In the context of online learning materials, if web sites must be accessible to all, including people with language disabilities/problems, won’t that entail a stylistic flattening? Or, as Robert Becker put it, in connection with the Universal Design theme:

. . . So, to make a point, I could say that assigning Chaucer’s Middle English or Shakespeare’s Elizabethan text is to erect a barrier to learners. That may be, but to do otherwise is to erect an even greater barrier to Learning.

I recall a personal experience teaching English to inner city adult students trying to earn associate degrees. I dumped the prescribed reading list full of “accessible” texts and replaced it with real literature. The memory of watching most of my students successfully engage with Jane Austin will never fade.

In Learning generally there is no greater barrier than the absence of challenge and aspiration.


Tables can be a barrier for blind people, because reading with your ears with a screen-reader means reading linearly. This issue  was first raised – in connection with the Universal Design theme, again – by Beverley Ferrell,  moderator  of the ITForum list:

If blind people read in a completely different manner ( and we may not be aware of this) and screen readers read like this: tables2.htm then layout tables and data tables have to be designed differently.

Jim Thatcher has a fairly basic tutorial that explains it webcourse9.htm

I have not had time to read and comprehend all of this vs design for data etc such as Tufte recommends, so is it really the best way to display the data for those who are not sight disabled or must we always design two versions? and what about adding mobile issues to this? There are those who disagree with Tufte’s ideas also. Tables might not be useful, so data in graphs etc would be a real challenge for the new person designing accessible information.


I have only highlighted some of the points raised in that discussion about accessibility on the Instructional Technology Forum mailing-list. You can find several other themes  in The mailing-list discussion is now closed, but it  can  continue either in the comments to this post or on the wiki [1], which is a more democratic platform than a blog ;-). As the video at the beginning shows, the means to enact Web accessibility are progressing fast, for the benefit of all, not only of people with disabilities.

[1] You can join the wiki at: