Thursday, 10 March 2016

Web Accessibility #4 - Universal Design

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an attempt to reduce barriers in the learning environment; it goes beyond access. It was inspired by the idea of universal design that applies to physical spaces and products. For example, look at the following two images of two different types of door handles we see everyday: knobs and lever handles. Initially the lever handle had been designed for the people with physical disabilities who had limited ability to grasp a door knob. But today it is widely used because it is also useful for others - for example if you were carrying a large box and could not spare one hand to open the door. So this lever door handle is a product that provides maximum benefit to all types of users.

CC Image: Handle by MoneyBlogNewz
CC Image: THIS CAUGHT by Hernan Pinera
Another such example is this brilliant design of stairs and ramps to provide access to buildings.
CC Image: ramp stairs by Simon Claessen
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach is more proactive than providing accommodations. If we correctly follow UDL principles we design learning for all learners; so we may not have to provide individual accommodations as the learning content is accessible by all learners.

Principles of Universal Design

  1. Equitable Use
  2. Flexibility in Use
  3. Simple and Intuitive Use
  4. Perceptible Information
  5. Tolerance for Error
  6. Low Physical Effort
  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use

Universal Design Networks 

Universal Design Networks encourage multiple means of representation, engagement and action and expression.  

Affective Network

This is the motivation for learning and it plays a big role in learner's engagement with the learning. Why? what is in it for me? are some of the questions that affective network needs to answer to keep the students engaged. Strategies can be recruiting interest (information that do not get learners attention is inaccessible - can try allowing choice or by personalisation, help make connections to prior knowledge); self-regulation (if learners do not see their progress they will not keep at it - self assess checklists, clear evaluation criteria, feedback); sustaining effort and persistence (short and long term goals, varying challenge levels). 

Strategic Networks

How learners demonstrate mastery or competency of what they have learned is shown in strategic networks. It is the 'how' of learning; how can you express your mastery of learning. Providing them with multiple means of action and expression is a way to support this. Provide choice (allow learners to show what they know in different forms/ways) and support (allow small group discussions, detailed directions, rubric, check list, feedback).

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.                                                                                   -Albert Einstein-

Recognition Networks

This is about how learners understand information. It relates to presenting information in the course - providing multiple representations of information: auditory, text, visual, demonstrations etc. It is the 'what' of learning. A great example used in #AccessMOOC was giving directions to a driver. If someone told me take north exit I may not get very far. If they related it to a landmark or draw a map it may be easier for me. It would be very good if I had Google maps (voice and map) with me to find my way. It shows that for various learners, in this case person finding their way, different ways of representing information is useful. Supporting means could be provide options for perception (text, audio, visual - ways to customise say change font size, colour); provide options for language mathematical expressions and symbols (glossary, key notations); provide options for comprehension (chunk content with key learning points, ask for previous knowledge and relate).


This blog post is based on what I learnt in #AccessMOOC week 3

Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice by Anne Meyer, David H. Rose, and David Gordon is a good read (after creating an account the book is available online for free)


Thursday, 3 March 2016

Web Accessibility #3 - Accessibility and Accommodation

I am working through the MOOC "Accessibility: Designing and Teaching Courses for All Learners" offered by Buffalo State University on the Canvas platform and this is how they have defined "accessibility" and "accommodations" in the course. It took some time for me to understand the difference between these two and hence I am writing this blog with some examples to clarify it. This is the #3 of my accessibility blog posts. Other blog posts so far can be found here.

Some of the examples and quote are from the course "Accessibility: Designing and Teaching Courses for All Learners" I am following at the moment.

Accessibility

"In education, accessibility is a proactive approach to ensuring that learning experiences are as free from barriers for students as we can make them. Accessibility is giving forethought to how you design your courses. It is applying pedagogical approaches such as universal design for learning principles and technical standards such as section 508 and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. It helps us meet the requirement that our courses are accessible “out of the box” and reduces the time students may have to wait on us to provide accommodations. Accessibility helps the students achieve independence and provide as equal of an experience as possible for them."
From the material presented in the "Accessibility: Designing and Teaching Courses for All Learners" 

Accommodations


"Accommodations are things we do during instruction to meet a specific and unique need of a student that we can’t do ahead of time. For example, if the learning objective of an online music course requires a student to listen to a classical piece and identify by ear key aspects of that piece, then an accommodation for a student with a hearing impairment would be more appropriate than altering the assignment as it is being designed. However, if an objective required students to visually identify written lyrics, then during design we may ensure that the blind student can access the content by using a screen reader and no accommodations would be needed."
From the material presented in the "Accessibility: Designing and Teaching Courses for All Learners"

accommodations to a course should be reasonable. That is they do not reduce the course standards, do not fundamentally change the nature of the course, or do not pose an undue burden.

Accessibility Tips by Brian Suda available from https://www.flickr.com/photos/suda/8078201695 


Examples


For example, in an online course a student with disabilities including learning difficulties and or mental disorders may request a periodic phone call with the instructor. This does not mean that the instructor need to call/meet with the student daily or weekly as it an undue burden. What is reasonable is biweekly or monthly meeting when this accommodation is approved.

Another example can be approving extended time for quizzes for students with learning difficulties.

What happens if a student requests to do an oral presentation instead of a written report that the course work is asking for? Then the disability services office will have to work with the faculty member to determine whether demonstrating the mastery of course content using the conventions academic writing (referencing, the way of presenting, building up an argument etc) is a learning objective in the course. If so, an oral presentation would not be reasonable hence a different way to accommodate the student's needs would have to be searched for.

In my view, an accommodation is how a course can be adapted or (individualise) to meet a student's disabilities. While accessibility deals with making courses accessible to most students. Something important to note is accommodations are only for the purpose of allowing the student access to the course and not in any form to give the student undue advantage of success in the course.

So why thrive for accessibility why not accommodations as and when required?
Not all of our learners disclose their disabilities. If the student is on an online class for example, you may not know about their disability that becomes a barrier to accessing the course. On the other hand, fixing something that is already created to accommodate accessibility is much harder than designing for it up front. So my advise will be to thrive for accessibility and be prepared for reasonable accommodations to provide individualise support.

Watch this space for my next blog on Accessibility.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Web Accessibility #2 - Assistive Technologies

This is the second post of my web accessibility series of blogs and it is written for a peer review assignment for the "Accessibility: Designing and Teaching Courses for All Learners" MOOC offered by Buffalo State University and Suny Empire State College on Canvas platform.

Assignment required us to  explain why accessibility is important; provide examples of ways in which disability may impact students and their learning; and provide examples of assistive technology and technological barriers.

Why Accessibility?

I have discussed this in my previous blog Web Accessibility #1 that it is the right thing to do.
It is important that we treat everybody equally, differently-abled too are human beings worthy of respect and opportunities just like you and me. If a building does not have a ramp access, this prohibits a wheelchair user accessing that premises. Suppose this was a hospital or a bank it would mean that the wheelchair users will not be able to access these services.
In order to make sure that they are treated equally, governments around the world have enacted laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination due to disability. Should an organization or an individual found to be violating these, (that is - they discriminate against disabled) they will be punished according to the law.

Disability and Access

Visual

Disability can be either invisible or visible. Invisible disabilities are mostly due to mental health issues, dyslexia, dyspraxia and others. There are permanent disabilities (lose of a limb) as well as temporary disabilities (due to accident hand in a plaster caste).

Visually impaired or blind learners can have lot of difficulties in accessing visual materials. If for example, the learning materials are not made with accessibility in mind, even the assistive technologies may not be able to support them. For example, if the college VLE does not support tabbing through to the menu, the visually impaired learners will not be able to 'see' the content in the VLE.

Colour blind learners may find it difficult if for example red text is presented in a green background. For example, if the feedback for a quiz is provided as a green star for correct answers and red star for incorrect the feedback will be not meaningful to a colour blind user.

If the font sizes are small or contrast between foreground (text) and background is not sufficiently distinguishable learners who are visually impaired will not be able to use these materials.
So there are different visual impairments that can affect the learner's access to materials.

Audio/video

If closed captions are not provided for podcast or video deaf learners will not be able to access this content. If there are background music playing while the narrator speaks such content will be difficult to be accessed by people hard of hearing. If the videos provided audio descriptions and close captions these will be accessible to blind learners (audio) and deaf learners (captions).

Physical

 If for example, there are drag and drop material in the learning content that can only be operated by the use of mouse, blind learners or learners with physical disability will not be able to access these materials.

Textual

If the textual content used is of very complex sentence construction, this may not be accessible to learners with dyslexia. 

Therefore there are various disabilities to consider when learning content is produced.

Assistive Technologies

Assistive technologies to me is a term used to refer to technologies that help people with various disabilities to support, improve or maintain their functional capabilities. These can include assistive, adaptive and rehabilitative devices, software or products.

Some examples of assistive technologies are:

Screen Reader 

Screen reader is a software that reads out the information on the screen. Screen reader narrates the menu options reading them out aloud to the user. Screen readers are useful to the blind as they can hear the menus being read out aloud to them which helps them navigate. There are many screen reader softwares available. Some of them are proprietary while some others are open source and free to use. The video below from YouTube shows a screen reader being used. I tried ChromeVox and to be frank I found it very frustrating. But for the blind users screen readers provide a valuable service. However, for the screen readers to be useful we have to use accessibility supporting features such as heading styles (rather than bold, large font text), correct tab order, alt text for images etc.

Magnification Software and Equipment

Magnification software and equipment provide visually impaired users access to reading materials and computer screen etc.

Dictation Software

These software converts speech to text (for example Siri on iPhones and iPads). This may be a tool that can be helpful to both people with and without disabilities. If you cannot use a keyboard due to a disability or need faster typing dictation software can be a solution.

Reading Programs

These programs read out aloud documents or text. These can be useful to learners with dyslexia or even students with attention deficit disorders. 

Technological Barriers

Some software programs are easier to use than other but they may work well with some programs but not with others. For example, in the course one interviewee said that her Windows 8.1 built in text to speech program works well with Microsoft Word documents but not with other formats. So she has to copy and paste emails into Microsoft Word for her to be able to 'read' them.

Many screen reader software take a snapshot of the screen and reads it to the user. But now a days we see websites with lot of dynamic content. For example Twitter feeds and Facebook feeds. However, the screen reader user will not see these unless the web programmer had correctly used WAI-ARIA live region to set up the dynamic content.

When using screen reader software one has to tab through the items. However, some materials produced with various softwares may not allow tabbing and in some instances the cursor gets stuck. If the site is not designed with accessibility in mind, there can be items that are not tab accessible. Thus not accessible to the screen readers.

Another issue is with images. Screen reader only reads the alt text that is allocated to that image. But if the web developer (or document creator) has not populated this with a meaningful caption, the screen reader will read the image file's name (for example img_1007_23_1.jpg), which is not useful and can be quite frustrating if all images are read out that way.

Thus it is important to take accessibility into account when creating materials and adhere to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (currently in WCAG 2.0 version) outlined by the W3C.

Watch this space for my next blog on Accessibility.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Web Accessibility #1 - Starting point

Having been the lead facilitator of Begin Programming:Build your first mobile game MOOC we heard from learners that had various difficulties accessing content. Some were due to infrastructural issues (eg. slow internet connectivity) while some others faced physical disabilities (eg. hard of hearing, colour blindness).

In my new role as the Chair of the Online Learning Research Center at the University College of Estate Management I am looking into making our online content more accessible. I am working in a small team looking at guidelines, best practices and adapting our learning content to be more accessible.

At the moment I am doing a course on Canvas Network offered by The Chang School of Continuing Education in Ryerson University. The course is called "Professional Web Accessibility Auditing Made Easy". It is a 4 week intensive course (5-8 hours of commitment per week) from 25th January to 22nd February. I started late as always and was following this along with two parallel classes "Blended Learning - Embedding Practice" and "Teaching with Moodle". 

I have learnt lot of things about accessibility from the "Professional Web Accessibility Auditing Made Easy" course. I am going to do a few posts on Accessibility and I will be using my blog as a reflective tool to reflect on my learning in this course.

The first thing you need to ask is why do you need accessibility?

It will be clear if you watch these videos why we need to provide web accessibility.



Apart from it is the right thing there are many other reasons why organizations should make their web sites accessible. For example, if one is physically challenged in getting to shops, they are more likely to rely on the internet to do their shopping. So if an organization's website is not accessible they are losing customers who are differently-abled. There are laws preventing discrimination on the grounds of disability and not giving access to your services provide via the internet is a form of discrimination! So organizations could be sued under the equality laws.

There are laws in North America that enforce the organizations to comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Level A or better. In Canada there is Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act - the course is offered by a Canadian University in Ontario so they draw examples from this. There is Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act governing the law in the United States.  

In Europe, there are various accessibility laws implemented in different countries. However, the EU parliament had passed a law in 2014 that requires all public service websites and private sector providers offering public services to confirm with WCAG 2.0 Level AA. 

In the UK, currently there is no specific act governing the web accessibility but The Equality Act's section 29(1) requires those who provide services to the public must not discriminate against any person. So effectively if a non accessible website prevents a person from accessing a service on the web it could be counted as discrimination. Section 20 and 29(7) of the Act too makes it an ongoing duty of service providers to make "reasonable adjustments" to accommodate people with disabilities.
So accessibility is important from this point of view too. 

Watch this space for my next blog on Accessibility.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Microsoft Word Comments and Right to left Language Settings

I am collaborating with a researcher from Egypt (yes Omar its you!) and I have noticed that the documents he sends me have a strange language setting - right to left language setting only in the comments. I've tried with Google to find an answer to set it back to the original setting that I normally use (that is left to right) but I couldn't get it working.

With the help from my Microsoft Expert friend Graham, now my document settings are updated to accept both left to right and right to left. I am sharing it here so that it may help someone who is frustrated and searching to solve the mystery of why the comments are working right to left when everything else works left to right.


I am on a Windows 7 and MS Word 2010

Control panel > Region and Language > Change keyboards ...
General tab > Add the keyboard (I added Arabic Egypt Keyboards United Kingdom, US English Table for IBM Arabic 238_L)

Now I can see a tool bar button to have left to right languages and right to left languages.


MS Word tool bar
Now when I see a comment as shown below only allowing me to type right to left 
Right to left language setting in MS Word Comments
I click on the comment and simply go to the tool bar and select the left to right button
Left-to Right setting
Now I can edit the comment with the comfort of left to right language setting.


Left to right setting in MS Word Comments

MOOCs on Estate Management

Now that I have started working for the University College of Estate Management's online learning team I wanted to see how many free online courses were available on the subject "Estate Management". So I went into some of my favourite MOOC platform (Coursera, FutureLearn, edX, Canvas and OpenupEd) and searched for the subject.

CC Image by Heribert Pohl
from  https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3839/15133830361_73ee79a036_d.jpg 
However, what I got was a whole bunch of general management topics and other topics relating to finance discipline. So I thought to go in and check on MOOC-List and Class-Central as well. I managed to find 15 highly relevant (at least that is what I thought) courses on offer.


Course Title
Institution
Platform
1
TechniCity
University of Ohio
Coursera
2
Management of Urban Infrastructures – Part 1
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Coursera
3
Planning and Design of Sanitation Systems and Technologies
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Coursera
4
Municipal Solid Waste Management in Developing countries
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Coursera
5
Wheels of Metals: Urban Mining for a Circular Economy
Universiteit Leiden
Coursera
6
Alternative Approaches to valuation and investment
The University of Melbourne
Coursera
7
Give Yourself the Location Advantage by
ESRI
8
Geodesign: Change Your World
Pennstate University
Coursera
9
Financing and Investing in Infrastructure
Universita Bocconi
Coursera
10
Maps and the Geospatial Revolution
The Pennsylvania State University
Coursera
11
Designing Cities
University of Pennsylvania
Coursera
12
Smart Cities
The Open University
FutureLearn
13
Housing Design: from concept to Fabrication
OIKONET Education
Canvas
14
Applied Real Estate
Florida International University
CourseSites
15
Computer-Aided Design (CAD)  (self-paced course)
Saylor

Lot of interesting courses for free.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

#FLMobiGame - Finding Screen Resolution

Android Studio has an advanced set of requirements to be met by systems. One of them is the screen resolution. In this blog I am showing how to find screen resolution in various systems.

Window 8.1

Right-click on the Desktop
Select Screen Resolution

Screen Resolution
In this dialog Resolution gives the screen resolution of your system.

Windows 7

Click Start button
Select Control Panel
Under  Display (Microsoft refers to as  'Appearance and Personalization')
Click Adjust resolution

Windows XP

Click Start
Click Control Panel
Click Appearance and Themes
Click Display
On the Settings tab under Screen resolution you will find the screen resolution

Mac OSX

Select System Preferences from Apple menu
Click on Displays
A window will appear with your current resolution highlighted, along with other available resolutions.

Ubuntu

Open a terminal window (Ctrl + Alt + T)
Type command xdpyinfo | grep dimensions

Alternatively you can
Click on Dash Home
Type resolution
Select Displays
A window will open, there you can see Resolution (have a look at this video).