Skip to content

Evaluating Accessibility

Recently we have been involved in a number of conversations about accessibility as it relates to universal design for learning or universal design in education. Specifically, how does one measure the accessibility of curriculum, instruction, devices, and environments? How accessible does something have to be to be considered universal?

A number of researchers are working on this question. Some argue that any improvement over the status quo is an application of universal design. Others argue that there should be a very high standard (i.e., 99% accessible).

We recently came across a dissertation from Spain that addressed the issue of accessibility measurement. The context of the study by Markel Vigo, Ph.D. was to automate the measurement of web page accessibility as Google and Yahoo crawlers crawl the web and archive web pages. His work resulted in the development and evaluation of the Web Accessibility Quantitative Metric (WAQM). He specifically studied web accessibility for blind users.

The system automatically creates a report for each web page. Then, the WAQM system makes an algorithm with this data about the web page in order to calculate its level of accessibility. In this way, when a blind person carries out a search on the Internet, criteria related to their disability are taken into consideration, along with the usual search criteria. Beside each link there appears the scoring corresponding to the level of accessibility. A user’s profile is created on the basis of their special needs and then used to personalize the report that the evaluation tools automatically create for the web page.

Interested readers are directed to the following web page where they can read the abstract of the study and download a PDF version of the dissertation:

Automatic Assessment of Contextual Web Accessibility from an Evaluation, Measurement and Adaptation Perspective

or for those who prefer a research brief:

System to Facilitate Internet Use by Disabled is Evaluated

Hopefully this work will inspire other researchers, developers, and practioners to think about accessible design and accessibility measurement.

Campus Conversations About Accessible Design

This week we are pleased to highlight a conversation unfolding through the Chronicle of Higher Education and writers at ProfHacker.

ProfHacker features three articles each week concerning productivity tactics for faculty, staff, and administrators in higher education. Their collaboration with the Chronicle of Higher Education provides excellent exposure for their insight and creativity. Naturally, a common theme in the posts involves exploiting the power of technology.

What is exciting about one of the posts this week is the conversation about how to use Microsoft Office to create accessible files.

Read More

How to Create Accessible Microsoft Office Files

One of the great things we learned from reading this article is that Microsoft Office 2010 for Windows includes a new feature called the Accessibility Checker. This tool will scan your Office documents for inaccessible items. (However, this feature was not released in Office 2011 for Mac.) The article gives step by step guidance on how to access and use this tool.

Perhaps most interesting are the links to other resources and the dialogue in the comments. As we reflect on this article, it strikes us that it is an excellent model to replicate in campus newsletters, teaching and learning center web sites, etc. Engaging our colleagues in conversations about accessible design seems to be an excellent strategy for advancing a universal design in education agenda on campuses.

Academic Failure: Does Academic Performance Data Illustrate the Need for Universal Design in Education?

Do you periodically read an article that stays with you for quite some time? Here’s one that caught our attention recently:

The 4-Stage Response to Low Student Achievement
By John Lemuel
Available online at:

The author reflects on the workload requirements in his class in light of the recently published book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. In essence, the workload in his course is near the recommended amount for college students but far more than students bargained for. Pondering the situation, he describes a four stage model that seems to represent students’ response to low academic achievement: Shock, dismay, guilt, and acceptance.

Lemuel raises some important questions that are seldom discussed in academe. That is, what are the indicators of poor performance? What responsibilities do students have for recognizing and responding to poor performance? What responsibilities do instructors have for recognizing and responding to poor performance?

He reports, “In a recent class of 20 students, the first exam resulted in two A’s, two B’s, four C’s, three D’s, and nine F’s.” While the author fails to mention universal design in education (UDE), we are left wondering isn’t this a data-based argument about the need for UDE? Is the problem that the students can’t access the curriculum? Or, is it an engagement problem? Or, is it simply an intrinsic motivation problem that cannot be addressed by UDE?