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The Web for students and staff with disabilities: visual impairment, dyslexia and motor impairment

By Lesley Sams and Penelope Yates-Mercer, Department of Information Science, City University London. Published 10th January 2002, first published by Disability and Information Systems in Higher Education (DISinHE) 5th December 2000.


Introduction

In this study lecturers’ use of the web as a means of providing material to support their teaching in Higher Education (HE), and the extent to which this material is accessible to students with disabilities, is discussed.


Students in general are increasingly using the web as: a source of information instead of the library, as a standard interface to materials more traditionally available in paper form, e.g. journals, and to access module supporting material such as lecture notes, slides and coursework handouts. The use of the web as a means to support teaching in this way is potentially very beneficial to students with disabilities, for example by enabling visually impaired or dyslexic students to access material that might be difficult to read during lectures, such as lecture notes, slides and OHTs. To be of maximum benefit however, such material needs to be made available in both a timely and an accessible manner.


The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) as a part of its Web Access Initiative (WAI) have produced a set of comprehensive Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The Guidelines were reviewed in the Interim Report, the first part of this study (not included in this article). The Guidelines explain what needs to be done by web content developers to make web sites as accessible as possible to the widest range of people as possible, including people with disabilities. It is to be hoped that professional web content developers are becoming increasingly aware of the needs of people with disabilities and are following the W3C Guidelines. It was not clear, however, that HE lecturers creating their own web sites would even be aware of the Guidelines.


In the second part of the study an e-mail survey of lectures’ awareness of the W3C web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and web accessibility in general, was undertaken; the results are discussed in section 2.2.


In the final section of this study a sample of HE lecturers’ web sites, containing material to support lectures and teaching, are evaluated to assess how accessible they are to students with visual impairment, motor impairment and dyslexia.


By discussing the accessibility of a sample of lecturers' web based course supporting material it is hoped to give some insight into the issues that students with disabilities face when using such material and how lecturers can make such material as accessible as possible. Accessibility issues relevant to the three user groups discussed in the study are considered. However, most of the points relate to users with visual impairment. This is because the web, as a mainly graphical and visual environment, presents the most serious accessibility problems to users with visual disabilities.


This study does not cover accessible courseware design. Information on this subject can be found in the DISinHE handbook “Guidelines for accessible courseware”.


Survey of Lecturers

2.1 Methodology

The survey was conducted between June 14th – July 14th 2000. The aim was to assess the level of awareness of HE lecturers about accessible web content design, when using the web to support their lectures and teaching. The most appropriate method to gain feedback from as large a sample of lecturers as possible was to conduct an e-survey; that is, to design a questionnaire and distribute it by e-mail. The advantage of collecting data in this way is that a potentially large number of respondents can be reached quickly and the response time can be very fast too. However, this method of data collection did put constraints upon the design of the questionnaire. (A copy of the questionnaire can be found in Appendix 1)


2.1.1 Design of the Questionnaire

A questionnaire sent by e-mail is very easy for potential respondents to ignore and delete. It was decided to send the questionnaire in the body of the message as many people do not open attachments from an unfamiliar source. The variability of mail clients further suggested that formatting should be as basic as possible to ensure that most people could read and understand it without difficulty. So in compiling the questionnaire a balance had to be struck between keeping it reasonably brief, so potential respondents would not be deterred from filling it in, but still asking for enough information to gain enough meaningful feedback. As it seemed likely that potential respondents would have different levels of web authoring expertise, it was felt that to ask about the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines in detail would make the questionnaire too complex. So only one specific question about Guideline 1 (provide equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content) was included. Guideline 1 was chosen because it represents a central requirement of accessible web content design and was more straightforward to explain than some of the other, more complex, Guidelines.


Care was taken to ensure, as far as possible, that the wording of the questions did not direct the respondents towards giving answers they might think they should give, as opposed to answers that actually apply. To this end the purpose of the survey was not stated in the introduction to the questionnaire, the W3C Guidelines were not explicitly referred to and the first reference to accessible web content design and students with disabilities was not made until question 6.


2.1.2 The Sample

The questionnaire was sent to three City University mailing lists, received by academic staff in the Department of Information Science, the School of Informatics and the entire University. It was also sent to four lists on the Mailbase service, Networked-learning, Teaching-on-line, Deliberations-forum and Virtual-universities. (Mailbase is a network of e-mail discussion lists aimed at academics in the UK.) Those lists were selected as they are for people interested in using electronic communication in tertiary education and who therefore might be likely to use the web to support their teaching, compared with a more random sample of HE academics.


The lists, and the number of responses received from each, are detailed in the table below.


 Number of responses Approx.size of list % response
City University Mailing Lists
Is-academics@soi.city.ac.uk 2 11 18
School-academics@soi.city.ac.uk 8 47 17
City-academics@city.ac.uk 75
Mailbase Mailing Lists
Networked-learning 8 364 2.2
Teaching-on-line 2 508 0.3
Deliberations-forum 5 290 1.7
Virtual-universities 7 381 1.8
Unknown (from any of the Mailbase lists above) 41
Total number of replies 148

It is unclear how representative this sample is of HE lecturers in general. It seems likely that the respondents who filled in the questionnaire from the Mailbase lists already have an interest in using the web as a teaching medium. Mailing lists dealing specifically with disability were avoided, in an attempt to recruit a sample that did not necessarily have a particular interest in, or knowledge of, providing teaching material in accessible forms to students with disabilities.


2.2 Results

2.2.1 Number of lecturers who use the Web to support their teaching

The majority of respondents to the questionnaire use the web to support their teaching.


Total number of replies 148
Use the web to support their teaching 81
Do not use the web to support their teaching 67

Given the mailing lists chosen, coupled with the general tendency to ignore any surveys that one does not perceive as a directly relevant, this seems a high rate of return for non-users.


2.2.2 Level of awareness of the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

The aim of the survey was to assess the level of awareness HE lectures have of the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. So the respondents were asked if they followed any tips or guidelines when they designed their site in order to make it more usable. The WCAG were not mentioned in the question, rather it was decided to wait and see how many of the respondents referred to them.


No of responses % of responses
Had followed tips/guidelines 35 43
Had not followed tips/guidelines 33 41
Did not know 9 11
Did not answer question 4 5
Total 81 100

Of the 35 who had followed tips/guidelines the responses were:

Some of the information sources named by the respondents would potentially direct them towards designing accessible web pages and sites. (These include DISinHE, Bobby, the W3C HTML validator and Jakob Nielsen’s book “Designing web Usability” and web site useit.com). However, it is discouraging that only 1 respondent of the 77 who answered the question actually named the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. From the feedback given by this sample it would appear that the level of awareness of the Guidelines among HE lecturers is very low (approximately 1.3%).


2.2.3 Level of awareness of accessibility validation

The next question sought to discover the extent to which the respondents carry out accessibility validations of their web documents. Documents free from source code syntax errors are, to some extent, more accessible than documents that contain syntax errors. If source code is written correctly some accessibility problems are eliminated because assistive technologies, for instance screen reading software, can interpret such documents more accurately. Correct syntax does not guarantee accessibility, but does help. Software that checks the source code of web documents is readily available. The W3C offers HTML and CSS automatic validations tools (2,3) on its web site and some web authoring packages include validation tools as well.


The question, however, refers to accessibility validation. This differs from normal validation at it specifically evaluates web pages for accessibility. The most straightforward way to carry out an accessibility evaluation is to use the accessibility validation tool, Bobby (3). Unlike the W3C HTML validator Bobby does not check for HTML syntax errors. Rather it checks for the presence or absence of specific features that determine how accessible the document is. HTML syntax needs to be correct for Bobby to carry out a full evaluation so it is important to evaluate web pages both with HTML and/or CSS validation tools and also conduct an accessibility evaluation.


An accessibility evaluation can be obtained simply by submitting a URL to the Bobby web site. Bobby then analyses the document source code and generates a report detailing its accessibility based on the WCAG. In the WCAG each point is given a priority level, from 1 to 3, to enable content developers to implement the most important points first. If a document has no Priority 1 accessibility errors it contains no features that would make it impossible for some groups to use. Documents that contain no Priority 1 accessibility errors are entitled to display a “Bobby Approved” logo. While CAST, the developers of Bobby, acknowledge there are some important aspects of accessible web page design that Bobby cannot analyse1 Bobby is, nevertheless, a very useful means of highlighting accessibility problems and finding information on how to solve them. Although Bobby can sometimes be very slow, when working well it is easy to use and generates some very useful and, on the whole, clearly explained feedback.


So the respondents were asked if they validated their web site with an accessibility validation tool. Nine replied that they did, 65 that they did not. Those who did used various tools:

There appears to be a lack of understanding of validating web content for accessibility within the sample. This is not surprising among non-specialist web developers. The use of validation tools in general (and Bobby in particular) needs to be more widely promoted among lecturers as such tools can significantly improve the accessibility of web based course material.

Further information

  1. Bobby http://www.cast.org/bobby/

  2. W3C HTML Validation Service http://validator.w3.org/

  3. 3 W3C CSS Validation Service http://jigsaw.w3.org/css-validator/

2.2.4 Range of content on lecturers’ web sites

The feedback given from the 81 lecturers who make use of the web to support their teaching shows they use a wide range of web content. (In this context “content” refers to the construction of the site, i.e. the type of files, elements and scripts included on it). The various types of content and the number of respondents reporting to include each type in their web documents are listed below.


Responses % respondents
Text only (no other type of content) 10 12.3
Images 66 81.5
Frames 22 27.2
Data Tables (to display tabular information) 32 39.5
Layout Tables (to control the layout of text 39 48.1
Forms 24 29.6
Javascripts 24 29.6
Multimedia 21 25.9
PowerPoint (ppt files) 44 54.3
Adobe (pdf files) 33 40.7

These results have to be taken at face value since it has not been possible to check the accuracy of this data. Not all the respondents stated their URLs and some have sites that are available only to internal users.


Although some types of web content (e.g. frames, images and layout tables) can potentially be less accessible than other types of content (e.g. plain text) with thoughtful content design this need not be the case. So the range of web content used by the respondents to the questionnaire should not be seen as a potential problem for students with disabilities. On the contrary, it is very encouraging that lecturers are making use of the widest possible range of content when presenting their course supporting material on the web. It is not the range of different types of content that causes accessibility problems, rather they way in which such content is constructed and designed.


How lecturers in the survey have used the range of content on their web sites and how accessible to students with disabilities these sites are, will be discussed in more detail in the Site Evaluation section. For the purposes of the questionnaire it was decided to concentrate on only one important aspect of accessible web content design, the provision of text alternatives to visual content.


2.2.5 Provision of text descriptions of potentially inaccessible content: images, PowerPoint (ppt) files and Portable Document Format (pdf) files

The provision of text descriptions to visual material such as images and diagrams may seem pointless but is in fact a central aspect of accessible web design. Guideline 1 of the WCAG (provide equivalent alternatives to audio and visual content) is ranked as a Priority 1 requirement. This means that without alternative textual descriptions of images web pages and sites are impossible for some users to fully comprehend.


Alternative text descriptions are especially helpful to users of screen reading software. Screen readers read the content of web pages either with synthesised speech or Braille output. Screen readers can read text but do not read images or describe the contents of images. Alternative text descriptions are inserted into document source code with the alt attribute in HTML. (Alternative text also shows up over an image when the cursor is moved across it). For longer descriptions of more complex images the ‘‘LONGDESC’’ attribute can be used. This links to a separate file containing the description. Text descriptions provided in conjunction with images (not instead of them) are a way of describing and conveying meaning to anyone not in the position to discern images for themselves. Without text descriptions important information will be lost to some users.


2.2.6 Text alternatives to images

The respondents were asked what proportion of the images (all, most, some or none) on their sites are supported by text alternatives. The table below shows the results of this question.


All 8
Most 10
Some 17
None 26
Do not understand the question 2
Did not answer 3
Total 66

So 8 out of the 66 respondents who answered the question report that they have text alternatives to all the images on their web sites. Whereas 26 respondents report they have no text alternatives to any of the images on their sites. It is likely that those who did not answer or did not understand the question also do not provide text alternatives suggesting that nearly half (47%) of those providing images do not provide any text alternatives to images. As images are the most commonly provided format on the respondents’ web sites, this is particularly significant. If these figures are accurate they show that much of the visual content contained in lecturers’ web sites is likely to be inaccessible, in particular to blind students.


2.2.7 Text alternatives to ppt files and pdf files

The survey reveals that lecturers are also making use of file formats not native to the web: Microsoft PowerPoint presentations (ppt files) and Adobe Portable Document Format (pdf files).


The inclusion of PowerPoint presentations is potentially very useful to partially sighted and dyslexic students, giving them further opportunities to look at material that might be difficult to read during lectures. However for blind students, using screen reading software, PowerPoint presentations can be more problematic. Although screen readers can read the text contained in PowerPoint slides (or alternatively the text can be extracted and opened in Word, by saving the PowerPoint file from Internet Explorer as an Outline/RTF file), images cannot be extracted in this way and screen readers cannot interpret images. So to ensure PowerPoint presentations are as accessible as possible there needs to be HTML versions available too, preferably of all the slides or, at least, descriptions of any diagrams, graphs, maps, pictures etc they contain.


So the respondents were asked to state the proportion of images included in the PowerPoint slides on their web sites (all, most, some or none) that are supported by alternative descriptions in text. The results are as follows.


All 1
Most 2
Some 9
None 26
Don’t know 2

These figures show how PowerPoint presentations, often an important part of lecturers’ web based course material, while of use to many students are likely not to be as fully accessible to all students as they potentially can be.


Documents in Adobe pdf format on the web can also be problematic for users of screen readers. Although Adobe offer a pdf to html conversion tool (Access Adobe) that converts the text into html and removes the images from pdf documents, the results of converting pdf files in this way can be unpredictable. Much depends on how the source document was originally authored. To be absolutely sure that pdf files are accessible lecturers should ideally make html or plain text versions available of all pdf documents. (This also has the added benefit of enabling all students to skim through the contents of documents before downloading the pdf versions).


Respondents were asked if they have made available alternative textual versions (in HTML or plain text files) of the Adobe pdf files on their web sites.


Of the 33 who reported having pdf files on their site


Yes 10
No 23

These results show there is some awareness of the need to provide HTML alternatives to pdf files. However, the majority of respondents who answered this question do not have such alternatives available. It seems likely therefore that some material presented in pdf file format will be difficult or impossible for visually impaired students, and possibly some dyslexic students as well, to read.


Further Information

  1. 1 Access Adobe http://access.adobe.com

  2. 2 Are Portable Document Format Files Accessible? http://www.cast.org/bobby/docs.html

2.2.8 Lecturers’ awareness of why text alternatives promote accessibility

Having been asked specifically about the content of their own sites, the respondents were next asked to comment in general on whether the inclusion of alternative text-only descriptions of images, Adobe pdf files and diagrams in PowerPoint presentations make or would make lecturers’ web sites more usable for some students. In effect this question was testing their awareness of Guideline 1.


No.of respondents % respondents
Text alternatives would help 27 36
Text alternatives would not help 29 39
Don't know 19 25
Total 75 100

The respondents were also asked to give the reason for their answer if they answered yes or no. This was an attempt to find out how widely the link between the provision of text alternatives to visual content and accessible web design is known.


Of the 27 who answered that text alternatives would make web sites more usable for some students, 8 made some reference to students with disabilities in their answers.


So a small proportion (11%; 8 out of 75 who answered the question) know about the connection between text alternatives to images and web accessibility. This result shows that the level of awareness about an important aspect of accessible web content design is very low among the sample.


Some of the respondents who did not think text alternatives would help highlighted a central point; can complex images be adequately described by words. Examples were given of photographs taken through microscopes, images connected with geology or cartography and images used in medical courses. Undoubtedly it would be extremely difficult and time consuming to produce good text descriptions conveying the full meaning of such material. It should not be impossible however in most cases, using the ‘‘LONGDESC’’ attribute if necessary.


The provision of text descriptions is a key aspect of accessible web design and, judging from the results of this survey, needs to be more widely promoted among lecturers.


2.2.9 Lecturers’ awareness of disabled students taking their courses

The survey included a question asking the respondents if there are students with disabilities taking any of their courses. If lecturers are to be encouraged to design accessible web content it may help if they are aware of students with disabilities taking their courses and precisely why these students would benefit so much by having course material available on the web in an accessible manner.


No. of respondents % respondents
Students with disabilities taking course(s) 37 49
No students with disabilities taking course(s) 16 21
Don't know 23 30
Total 76 100

It is not surprising that the number of lectures who answered they do not know of any students with disabilities on their courses is quite high. Many lecturers probably have little or no contact with some of their students. Also, some disabilities, for example dyslexia, would not be visible to them. If lecturers are not made aware of students with disabilities on their courses they may not see the need to provide accessible course material on the web.


2.2.10 Training in web content design

One way of informing lecturers about the needs of their disabled students when using web based course material could be for Departments or Universities to offer academic staff appropriate training. To gauge the extent to which this is already happening the respondents were asked if they have ever had training in web site design and whether this training included information about making web content accessible to students with disabilities. The question caused some confusion among the respondents, as it was not clear if it referred to training courses. Respondents did not know if referring to books or web sites containing information on page authoring and site design, discussing design with colleagues or drawing on previous experience in multimedia design counted as training. On reflection it would have been better to ask specifically if respondents have ever been on formal training courses.


It should be noted when considering these results that a lack of formal training in web site design and page authoring does not necessarily imply a lack of expertise. It was clear from the questionnaires that some of the respondents, while never having had any training in web site design are, nonetheless, very experienced and knowledgeable page authors and site developers.


70 respondents answered the question.


Have not received training 50 71%
Have received training 20 29%

Of the 20 who have received training 19 answered the following question, in which they were asked if this training was provided by their current department or institution.


This training was provided by their current Department/Institution 13
Training from another source 6

The respondents were then asked to state if the training had included information about how to design web documents that are accessible to students with disabilities.


Included information about accessible design 4
Did not include information about accessible design 16

From these results it appears that many institutions and departments do not take on the responsibility of offering training to their academic staff on how to present material to support lectures and teaching on the web. It appears that, on the whole, lecturers are left to their own devices when designing their web based material. This is not surprising, due to the limited resources of departments and the workload of academic staff. However, if lecturers are going to make increased use of the web to support their teaching and if the demand by disabled students for fully accessible web pages and sites becomes greater, this will be a situation that institutions and departments will need to address. Furthermore, the provision on accessible web resources could become a legal requirement in the near future if the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) is ever extended to cover education..2 Web accessibility may well become an issue that institutions cannot ignore.


It is important, if staff training is offered, that guidance on accessible web design be included. If formal training courses are not possible, an alternative might be for institutions to provide academic staff with information about page authoring and site design, as some institutions are already doing. Again, it is important that information on accessibility be included in such a resource.


2.2.11 Lecturers’ perceptions of the ease or difficulty of designing accessible web sites

The respondents were asked to rate how difficult they think it is to design a usable and accessible web site. If lecturers perceive that designing accessible web content is difficult they may be reluctant to even try. The feedback from this question was reasonably encouraging showing that the largest proportion think designing a usable site it is reasonably easy.


Easy 5 6%
Reasonably easy 35 45%
Reasonably difficult 24 31%
Difficult 13 17%
Don’t know 0 0

In case some of the respondents to the above question did not fully appreciate the full implication of designing accessible web content, the feedback from the 8 respondents who displayed the most awareness of web accessibility issues was examined. These were the respondents who either mentioned the W3C WCAG, Bobby and cited students with disabilities in their reasons why text alternatives are useful). This was to discover if any consensus existed between them about how easy or difficult it is to design accessible sites. Again, the results are encouraging, showing that none of the respondents who appear to most fully appreciate web accessibility issues think designing a usable and accessible site is difficult.


Easy 1 13%
Reasonably easy 3 38%
Reasonably difficult 4 50%
Difficult 0 0%

2.2.12 Purpose of lecturers’ web sites and future use of the web in HE teaching

To assess the importance web based course material now has in teaching in HE, the respondents were asked what they believe putting material to support their lectures and teaching on the web provides. The following table shows the responses to this question. A series of answers were suggested with the option for respondents to add their own ideas in section f.


(a) a permanently available copy of handouts for students 63 78%
(b) additional material for students 69 85%
(c) a resource of references and links to other useful sites 67 83%
(d) a substitute for lectures/tutorials 9 11%
(e) a discussion forum between students, or staff and students 34 42%
(f) other 19 23%

The points raised in section f include:

The respondents were asked if they intend to use the web for teaching more, the same amount or less than they do at present. The results of this part of the survey were conclusive, with none of the respondents saying they will use the web less and the majority saying they will use it more.


More 62
Same amount 14
Less 0
Don’t know 4

These results illustrate the importance the web has both now and in the near future in Higher Education teaching. The web is not only a source for the provision of formerly paper based materials such as course handouts, but is enabling new ways of teaching to evolve. These results show that if lecturers’ web pages and sites are either inaccessible, or difficult to access, students with disabilities will be at a great disadvantage to their non-disabled peers.


2.3 Conclusion to survey of lecturers

Before the web much course material was either inaccessible or not fully accessible to many students with disabilities. All course material would not have been made available on tape for example. Nor was there always the opportunity for students to access material used during lectures, for example OHTs, presentations and lecture notes. Some disabled students would have been excluded altogether by inaccessible rooms and buildings. Although the results of this survey show a great deal of course supporting material on the web is not yet fully accessible, the web has not made course accessibility any worse. In fact, it has the potential to give disabled students a high level of accessibility never experienced before.


The results of the survey show that lecturers are presenting a wide range of subject matter in a variety of different ways on their web sites. It is important that lecturers become aware that designing an accessible site is not necessarily any more difficult than designing an inaccessible site. More information provided by institutions or appropriate training in web site design and page authoring are potential ways of achieving this. Another option could be for institutions to provide academic staff with information about web page authoring, site design and the provision of web based course material (as some HE institutions are already doing). It is important that information on accessible web content design is also included. This may also be an opportunity to promote the W3C WCAG among lecturers; the results of the survey show there is a clear need to do this.


The results indicate how, with the use of the web, new ways of teaching in HE are evolving. The results also illustrate how the web is playing an increasingly important role in the provision of course supporting material for students. If this material is not fully accessible to all students, those with disabilities will be placed at a huge and increasing disadvantage. It is to be hoped that, despite their high workload, limited resources and limited time, lecturers will see the importance of ensuring that all their students have an equal chance to participate fully in their courses.


It has long been argued that IT in general can empower people with disabilities, this is no less true for the web, as a means of providing course supporting material to students in Higher Education.


3. Accessibility evaluation of a sample of lecturers’ web sites

Evaluation criteria

Sites meeting the following criteria have been selected for inclusion in the evaluation:

3.2 Evaluation Methods

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) have set out a series of comprehensive evaluation methods in both the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) document and also the accompanying Techniques for WCAG document. (These documents are discussed in greater detail in the Interim Report http://www.disinhe.ac.uk/library/article.asp?id=32). The W3C recommend that a combination of evaluation methods be adopted. These include evaluating web documents with automated validation tools, viewing them with different web browsers, testing how various types of assistive technologies cope and conducting user tests.


http://www.w3.org/TR/WAI-WEBCONTENT/#validation


http://www.w3.org/TR/WAI-WEBCONTENT-TECHS/#validation


Following these methods in detail is undoubtedly the best way to ensure the contents of web sites are as accessible as possible. Whether it is practical, however, for individual lecturers, setting up their own sites, to carry out such detailed evaluations is unclear. So, only some of the evaluation methods recommended by the W3C are used in this study. These should yield enough information however to give a good indication of how accessible the sites included in the evaluation are.


3.2.1 Web browsers

It has unfortunately not been possible to view the sites discussed in this report with a variety of browsers. To conduct a truly comprehensive accessibility survey, web pages need to be viewed with not only a variety of browsers, but also older versions of browsers. All the sites in this evaluation are viewed with Internet Explorer 5.0. The text only browser Lynx is also referred to in some examples. Although it is probably reasonable to assume that the majority of disabled students do not use Lynx, viewing web pages with a text only browser can give a useful indication of how accessible they are and how efficiently assistive technologies can cope with them.


3.2.2 Automated evaluation

(a) W3C HTML and CSS validation tools


Examples of pages, that seem typical of others on the site, are first validated with the W3C HTML and, where applicable, CSS evaluation tools to check for source code syntax errors. Correct source code syntax, while not guaranteeing accessibility, does help assistive technologies such as screen readers and Braille output devices interpret web documents correctly. Any examples of inappropriate use of HTML to control design features that should correctly be controlled by Style Sheets are noted.


W3C HTML validation service


http://validator.w3.org/


W3C CSS validation Service


http://jigsaw.w3.org/css-validator/


(b) Bobby


The same pages are then tested with Bobby; a web based accessibility validation tool. The Bobby software analyses document source code and highlights any accessibility problems it finds. The Bobby analysis is based on the W3C WCAG. (Bobby is discussed in more detail in section 3.3). Any Priority 1 accessibility errors found by Bobby (those features theW3C judge to be most important) are discussed. Other Priority 2 and 3 accessibility errors are noted. Bobby generates a detailed report so it is not possible to include every point.


Bobby


http://www.cast.org/bobby


3.2.3 Manual evaluation

It is accepted that the manual evaluation outlined below is subjective. It has not been possible to carry out a more objective evaluation by conducting user tests. Nevertheless, it is hoped the following gives a comprehensive accessibility evaluation and provides an insight into some of the web accessibility issues that can be experienced by disabled students.


3.2.4 Assistive Technologies

(a) Window-Eyes 3.1 screen reader


Following on from the automated evaluation the pages are next tested with the screen reader Window-Eyes. Screen readers browse the content of web pages, either reading it aloud in synthesised speech (as Window-Eyes does) or presenting it in Braille output. Screen readers can read text but cannot read images or describe their contents. They read the content of layout and data tables, cell by cell, from left to right, working down from top to bottom. So text included in tables needs to make sense when read in this way. Quotation marks need to be marked up correctly in HTML so the screen reader can indicate to the user when any text included in quotes has been reached. It is helpful too if the text used in hypertext links makes sense to the user even when read out of context. This is so blind users, tabbing through the links in a document can understand what the links lead to without having to use the screen reader to read the surrounding text. The above is only a very brief summary of some of the access issues facing users of screen readers. Screen reading software is complicated and can be difficult to use. Expert users can use it very successfully however, providing web content developers comply with the WCAG.


(b) ZoomText Xtra 7.0 screen magnifier


Some people with low vision use screen magnifying software. The software magnifies either the whole screen or a portion of it. This means the user focuses on a portion of the screen and has to move around it (using the keyboard or the mouse) far more than a user looking at the screen without magnification needs to do. So pages with complex or inconsistent layout are potentially more difficult for screen magnification users to navigate.


In addition to reviewing the sites with Window-Eyes and ZoomText, the points listed below are commented on where relevant.


3.2.5 Readability

How easily the content of web pages can be read is clearly an important issue for all users. However, being able to read web content easily can be especially problematic for visually impaired and dyslexic users. Although both visual impairment and dyslexia take on many forms there are some links between the accessibility needs of the two groups. Background and foreground colour combinations can be important issues for people in both groups. So too can be the presence of moving or blinking words or images. The placement of text e.g. whether it is justified, presented in columns or tables etc and the type of fonts used can also be important. So these points are taken into consideration when assessing how readable the evaluated pages and sites are.


3.2.6 Images

The inclusion of text descriptions conveying equivalent information in text to that conveyed in images s is considered. (Alternative text is not the same as captions. It is added to document source code with the alt attribute. With a GUI web browser alt text only appears when the mouse pointer is passed over an image. It appears with text only browsers however, and also can be read with screen reading software, hence the importance of text equivalents to images.


The use of animated images, and whether their inclusion causes the evaluated pages to be less accessible, is also noted.


3.2.7 Layout

Web pages that have complex layouts or contain a lot of information can present accessibility problems for some dyslexic and some visually impaired users. Such pages may also be difficult for users of screen magnification software to navigate successfully.


The way in which frames and tables are marked up in HTML also influences how accessible they are. Adding the “title” attribute to each <FRAME> element gives information about the contents of frames to users of screen readers who are unable to look at the contents of multiple frames simultaneously. Specifying exact widths in pixels for tables can make tables too large to fit into the available screen space. Whereas specifying relative table widths as a percentage value allows tables to adapt to whatever screen resolution the user has set. This can be an issue for users who have lower screen resolution settings to make the contents of the screen appear larger. These issues are discussed where they appear


3.2.8 Navigation

Pages can be difficult to navigate if text, contained in hypertext links, does not clearly specify where the link leads too. This is true for all users but especially so for screen reading software users who may not easily be able to skim through any surrounding text to put links into context. Tables of Contents, distinguishing information in headings and the inclusion of site maps are other navigation mechanisms that can make web sites more accessible. Image maps that require precise mouse positioning could be difficult or impossible for users with some forms of visual or motor impairments.


3.2.9 Interaction

Where they appear, examples of lectures’ sites that invite students to interact in some way, for example by submitting questions or feedback by filling in forms, are discussed. Entering text into text fields, making selections with checkboxes, radio buttons and drop down menus etc can be problematic for anyone either unable to see what is on the screen or unable to move the mouse with enough precision to make their selections. So the accessibility of interaction features, whether they can be navigated with Window-Eyes or by only using the keyboard and not the mouse (to test for device independence) will be assessed.


3.2.10 File Formats Not Native to the web

Some lecturers are making use of PowerPoint presentations (ppt files) and Adobe (pdf files) on their web sites. PowerPoint slides are reasonably accessible. They can be viewed with screen magnification software and the text can be read with screen readers. Users also have the option of extracting the text from PowerPoint slides and opening the files in Word, where they have the flexibility to alter the type of font used and change the font size. However, diagrams included in PowerPoint slides cannot be extracted in this way and, in any case, screen readers cannot interpret diagram contents. The accessibility of Adobe pdf files is variable. Screen readers do not always work very well with them and although they can be viewed with screen magnifiers, the user does not have the option of changing the font size, background and text colours.


To ensure such material is as accessible to as many students as possible, the best solution is to offer alternative versions of ppt and pdf files in HTML or plain text. So examples of lecturers’ web sites that include ppt and pdf files, how accessible this material is and whether there are alternative, more accessible versions available, is discussed.


3.3 Discussion

Ten sites were evaluated, chosen from those available for evaluation. They include a range of different features, some subject-specific, e.g. mathematical formulae. The sites evaluated were:

The evaluation notes for each site are given in Appendix 3 and summarised in Table 1. The main points to emerge are summarised below:


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
a b a b a b/c a b/c a b a b a b/c a b/c a b
Syntax errors Some Some None Some many none some Some Some Some Some some Yes Yes Some Some Yes Yes Yes
Bobby approved (Priority 1) No No Yes No No Yes no Yes Yes No 1 error ? Yes Yes No No No No Yes No
Windows Eyes OK Good Moderate Moderate Good Good Mainly OK One problem Good Difficult OK Mainly OK Language problems OK (b) OK
(c) No
OK
Readability Good Good Good Good Good Moderate Moderate Good OK if user alters settings Good OK
Images No alt text Some lack text - No alt text Alt text No alt text - OK No alt text but OK Mainly OK No alt text but OK No alt text but OK No alt text OK
Layout Good Good OK Good Tables may cause problems Good Good OK Good Uses frames Tables with fixed width Minor problems
Navigation Good OK Difficult OK Moderate OK OK OK OK OK, incl. Search OK OK
Interaction - - - - - - - - - Good - - - - -
File formats pdf - ppt ppt - - ppt - - - - pdf -

Table 1 Summary of evaluation of web sites


3.4 Conclusion to web site evaluation

3.4.1 Automated Evaluation.

(a) HTML and CSS validation

Of the ten sites included in the evaluation, none were completely free from HTML and (where applicable) CSS syntax errors.


(b) Bobby

Priority 1

Around half the pages tested were not bobby approved at Priority 1 level.


The Priority 1 accessibility error found by Bobby in all ten sites was a lack of alternative text descriptions to images


Although Bobby raised the lack of alternative text descriptions to images issue with all ten sites, there was one site that Bobby misjudged. The Bobby validation software detected that the alt attribute had not been used to describe a series of gif images of slides, but was unable to detect that hypertext links to text only versions of the same slides were in fact included on the site. This shows that while Bobby is a very useful accessibility validation tool it does have some shortcomings and should not be relied upon totally to give a completely accurate assessment of web site accessibility.


Two sites out of the ten included in the evaluation used frames. In both instances the frames have not been given titles.


Priority 2

Of the Priority 2 accessibility issues raised by Bobby in the evaluation, four came up most often. These related to the use of depreciated language elements, the use of layout tables (and whether text included in them made sense when the table was read cell by cell), the use of movement in images and the use of absolute rather than relative sizing. Depreciated elements (HTML tags that have become obsolete) and text displayed in layout tables did not cause any accessibility difficulties when evaluating the selection of sites with recent versions of the Window-eyes screen reader and the Internet Explorer web browser. However, this may not have been the case had an older screen reader or browser been used. The use of movement in images did not adversely effect the accessibility of the evaluated sites either, since most examples of animated images were decorative illustrations, University logos or were contained in links to external sites.


Of the four Priority 2 issues raised most often by Bobby, the use of absolute rather than relative sizing appeared to be the issue that could be most problematic. Specifying exact widths in pixels for tables can make tables too large to fit into the available screen space. Specifying exact sizes for fonts can make them appear very small on some configurations. (An exception to this rule is images where absolute sizes for width and height can be used).


Priority 3

The Priority 3 accessibility error shared by all ten sites was a failure to identify the primary natural language of document text. This did not cause any additional accessibility problems with any of the sites included in the evaluation. The two other Priority 3 issues raised the most were a lack of provision of summaries and captions for tables and failure to separate adjacent links with more than white space.


The lack of “summary” attributes within <TABLE> elements, giving brief information about the structure and purpose of each table, did not seem to adversely effect the accessibility of layout tables included in the evaluation. (The “summary” attribute is similar to the alt attribute, the summary does not appear as a caption but, like alternative text, is read by screen readers and text only browsers.) It would have been helpful with the one data table included in the evaluation, but reflecting its Priority 3 status, was not essential. The failure to include “caption” attributes, which create captions displayed with tables to describe the contents, did not appear to be a problem either.


Failure to separate adjacent links (with either ordered or unordered lists or images) can mean that some screen readers cannot differentiate between them. This can happen even if the <BR> or <P> tags, placing adjacent links on new lines, are used. In the evaluation this was not a problem however, since the Window-eyes screen reader was able to read all adjacent links separately.


3.4.2 Assistive Technology

(a) Window-Eyes 3.1 Screen Reader

As would be expected, the main accessibility issue encountered when using a screen reader to read through the evaluated pages, was the lack of equivalent descriptions in text to many of the images contained on the sites.


The only example of a page Window-eyes could not read at all were pdf documents included in one of the evaluated sites.


There were several other minor problems. The screen reader was unable to read all types of punctuation and symbols used on the mathematics and economics sites. There were two examples where punctuation (equals signs and full stops) were used to divide pages and link series of numbers which did not work very well using a screen reader as it read out each single item of punctuation. There were also examples of text used in links that did not adequately describe what the links led to. Window-eyes is not multilingual so would not be expected to be able to read text written in other languages so it was predictable it could not pronounce the examples of French used in one of the evaluated sites correctly.


These problems could all be predicted. They do not come about because of any inadequacies of Window-eyes above any other screen reader. Rather they arise through an understandable lack of knowledge about accessible web design and a lack of awareness of the requirements and limitations of assistive technology.


(b) ZoomText Xtra 7.0 Screen magnifier

It would appear that most, if not all of the evaluated sites would be straightforward to view with a screen magnification package such as ZoomText. The only possible pitfall noted in the evaluation were two layout tables containing empty cells, which created blank space between sections of text. It could be possible that users of screen magnifiers might overlook some of the text, not realising it was there.


3.4.3 Readability

The readability throughout the HTML documents on all ten sites is very good. Colour contrasts and font sizes could be easily altered. The positioning of text and styles of fonts presented no accessibility problems. The clarity of language used throughout all ten sites is also very good.


3.4.4 Images

The main accessibility issue noted throughout the evaluation was a lack of alternative text equivalents to images.


The lack of equivalent descriptions to images was not always as important an issue as it may at first seem. There were some instances where the images lacking alternative text descriptions were purely decorative and access to them was not essential.


However, in many more instances, access to images would be essential. In the evaluated sites there are examples of images containing mathematical notation, economics, computing and medical diagrams all without alternative descriptions in text, rendering them potentially inaccessible to some students.


Two sites did contain images where the alt attribute has been used. Without knowledge of the two subjects concerned, geology and histology, it is difficult to judge whether the alternative text contains equivalent information to that contained in the corresponding photographs.


3.4.5 Layout

On the whole all the evaluated sites contained clear and consistent layout. One accessibility issue noted with several sites however was the use of absolute sizing in pixels rather than relative sizing of the widths of layout tables.


3.4.6 Navigation

There were some examples of link text that was not very descriptive and would not make sense if read out of context, but on the whole, however, link text, tables of contents and headings were very clear and descriptive. There was little use of other navigation features such as search facilities, site maps and image maps.


3.4.7 Interaction

One site contained an on-line questionnaire and a discussion board for students' comments. These features appeared to be accessible to non mouse users and screen reading software users. The other evaluated sites did not incorporate facilities for student interaction, which presumably reflects the difficulty of setting such features up.


3.4.8 File Formats not native to the web

(a) PowerPoint (ppt files)

From the responses given in the questionnaire it appears that lecturers are making much use of PowerPoint presentations on their web sites. 44 respondents of the 81 in the sample who have course supporting material on the web (54%) include ppt files on their sites. 3 sites included in the evaluation include PowerPoint slides. The accessibility of these was variable. 2 sites contain PowerPoint presentations that did not have alternative versions available in HTML or text, or at least equivalent text descriptions to the diagrams contained on them. It is accepted that in both cases the contents of the diagrams (computing and medical) are extremely complex and would be very difficult to describe. Whereas the third site included in the evaluation did have HTML versions of all the PowerPoint presentations included on it. These would have been potentially just as inaccessible as the slides are saved as jpeg files, had it not been for links beside each file to text only versions. In this instance the slides contained text only, so the issue of describing complex diagrams did not have to be addressed.


It is potentially very helpful, especially for visually impaired and dyslexic students who might not be able to access PowerPoint slides during lectures, to have access to them on the web. However, the accessibility of diagrams on web based PowerPoint presentations to blind students relying on screen reading software, appears to be an issue that has not been adequately addressed.


(b) Portable Document Format (pdf files)

While not as widely used by the respondents to the survey as ppt files, 33 of the 81 respondents (40%) include pdf documents on their web sites. 2 of the evaluated sites include pdf documents. These appeared to be inaccessible. The documents could not be read with the Window-eyes screen reader. Font size and text and background colours cannot be altered with pdf documents. It seems reasonable to conclude that pdf documents could be difficult or impossible to use for some visually impaired and some dyslexic students.


3.4.9 Conclusion

Automatic evaluation does not suggest major problems, although over half the samples have some errors. However, around half the pages tested were not Bobby approved at Priority 1 level.


In the manual evaluation, Windows Eyes handled most of the sites reasonably well. The readability was good in most cases, layout was reasonable, navigation provided some problems, but the main problem area was with images, which lacked text alternatives.


Although much of the visual content, PowerPoint slides and Adobe pdf documents presented on the evaluated sites would be inaccessible to some students, it is important to stress this does not mean that such content should not be included on lecturers’ web sites. Clearly this material is very useful for the majority of students, however, it needs to be made more accessible so all students can benefit from it.


Overall conclusion

The general awareness of accessibility issues among HE lecturers who use the web for teaching and learning materials is poor. This was shown in both the survey and the evaluation of teaching sites. Also, lecturers' awareness of disability among their students is better, but not as good as might be hoped - some apparent lack of awareness may be exacerbated by 'invisible' disabilities such as dyslexia.


The main problem is with images which many people use, but most do not have text alternatives. They survey indicated this observation, and it was born out by the evaluations.


The content type most frequently used by lecturers was images (by 81% of respondents), followed by Powerpoint files (54%) and layout tables (48%). Sites containing text only were the lowest (12%) used content type.


The awareness of the connection between web accessibility and text alternatives to images, Adobe pdf files and Powerpoint slides was as low as 11%. The point was made by some respondents of the difficulty of describing in words some very complex and detailed images, although using the ‘‘LONGDESC’’ attribute this should be possible.


General awareness of disability was also rather low: 49% knew they had some disabled students, 20% said they did not (although one wonders how the can be sure that none of their students have, for example, invisible disabilities) and 30% were honest enough to say that they did not know.


Generally web sites are used to provide additional materials/resources for students and the majority of respondents plan to use the web more in teaching and learning. The need for lecturers to increase their awareness of these issues is not something that should be ignored.


Professional web site developers managing large sites potentially have the expertise and ability to understand accessibility requirements (although not always the awareness or motivation to implement them). HE lecturers, who mostly are not specialist site developers or page authors, do not necessarily have the same level of expertise, let alone the interest in web authoring or the time to learn more about it. Furthermore, the provision of course material on the web is a very recent development. So can HE lecturers therefore be expected to produce accessible web based course material?


The short answer is that in the near future they might have to, if the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) is extended to cover the provision of education and/or web resources. The Human Rights Act (1998) may also have some relevance in the provision of Higher Education. 3 If this proves to be the case it is to be hoped that institutions will take on the responsibility of ensuring lecturers have the support and guidance they need to produce accessible web based material.


Another development that could help advance the cause of accessible web design might come if web authoring tools automatically incorporate accessibility requirements, prompting the user for alternative text, summaries for tables etc while pages and sites are being constructed. It is considered far easier to build in accessibility features while a site is being designed, than it is to add them later. Improvements too in user agents, that is software used to access the web, be it browsers, screen readers etc, with greater flexibility to meet the accessibility needs of individual users, should also help to promote accessibility.

In the meantime, it is to be hoped that HE lecturers will gain an increased awareness of the accessibility requirements that many students with disabilities have, including students with visual impairment, dyslexia and motor impairment. It is further to be hoped that lecturers will appreciate that such students will be at a very considerable disadvantage to their non disabled peers if they do not have equal access to web based course supporting material.


References

  1. “Welcome to Bobby 3.2” CAST http://www.cast.org/bobby/ (Aug 2000)
  2. Booth, Paul (1999) “Legal issues for Web Sites and Resources in Higher Education” DISinHE. http://www.disinhe.ac.uk/library/article.asp?id=21 (Aug 2000)
  3. Corlett, Sophie (1999) “Disability legislation and implications for technology in Higher Education” DISinHE http://www.disinhe.ac.uk/library/article.asp?id=15 (Oct 2000)


Appendix 1 The Questionnaire

To all lecturers in HE in the UK


We are conducting a short survey (as part of a wider project) of lecturers' use of the web and we would be very grateful if you would take a few minutes to reply to this message. Please reply to db522@soi.city.ac.uk


All replies will be treated in strict confidence. The closing date for replies is 16 July 2000.


Have you put any material to support your lectures/teaching on the Web? (Please mark with an X)

[If no, please return the questionnaire now and thank you for reading this far. If you are interested in our study and would like any further information, please contact us at the address below.]


If yes, please continue.


The following questions refer to the Web site(s) you have containing material to support your teaching and lectures. Do feel free to select the "don't know" options where appropriate. Please do not feel you are expected to know all the answers or wait until you have found them out before returning the questionnaire.


1. What does your site contain? (Please mark with an X all that apply)

Does the site also contain (please mark with an X)

2.a What proportion of the images on your site are supported by text alternatives (in HTML code the ALT and ‘‘LONGDESC’’ attributes) i.e. where images are duplicated with text to either describe the image or convey its meaning?

2b What proportion of the images/diagrams included in the PowerPoint presentations on your site are supported by text alternatives (i.e. where diagrams are duplicated with text descriptions of their content)

2c Do you have alternative text-only versions (in HTML or text files) of the Adobe pdf files on your site?

3.. Do you think including alternative text-only descriptions of images, Adobe pdf files and diagrams in PowerPoint presentations, make/would make lecturers’ Web sites more usable for some students?

Could you briefly give your reasons here if you answered yes or no:

4. If you designed the site (or someone else designed it for you) did you/they follow any tips/guidelines etc in order to make the site more usable?

If yes, please state the title(s) of the guidelines/tips etc you followed

(and the urls if known).


5. Did you validate your site with an accessibility validation tool?

If yes, please say which tool you used.


6. Have you had any training in Web site design?

If yes, was this training offered by your current department/institution?

Did this training include tips on how to make your site more accessible to students with disabilities?

7. Do you think that designing a usable and accessible site is

8. Do you believe that putting material on the Web to support your lectures/teaching provides (mark with an X all that apply):

9. In the future do you intend to use the web for teaching

10. Do any of the students accessing your web site(s) have disabilities?

If yes, please indicate the type(s) of disability:




11. We will be evaluating a sample of lecturers' sites containing supporting material for teaching and lectures to see how usable they are. If you have no objection to us considering your site for inclusion in this sample, please put your url here.



Thank you very much for completing the questionnaire. If you require further information about our study please contact us at the addresses below.


Dr Penny Yates-Mercer and Lesley Sams

paym@soi.city.ac.uk db522@soi.city.ac.uk

Department of Information Science

City University

Northampton Square

London EC1V 0HU

Tel: 020 7477 8382 Fax: 020 7477 8584


Appendix 2 Evaluation Plan

Layout

Comment on the accessibility of the following where they appear.

Navigation

Note whether the following navigation mechanisms enhance the accessibility of the evaluated sites.

Interaction

Where students are invited to interact in some way, e.g. submitting feedback by filling in web based forms, note how accessible such features are.


Are they marked up correctly?


Are they device independent?


Can they be used with screen reading software or a text only browser?


File formats not native to the web

Note examples of ppt files and pdf files and whether more accessible alternatives are provided.


Conclusion

Some brief concluding remarks summing up the main accessibility issues and assessing the overall accessibility of each site.


Appendix 3 Web Site Evaluations


1. Mathematical Methods (City University)

http://www.city.ac.uk/mathematics/X3MathsMethods/index.html


Site description

The default page opens with a table of contents made up of links to a series of main headings. Under the headings are a series of Mathematics exercises. The exercises consist of text, mathematical notation (saved as images in gif files) and relative links (links to pages under the same directory structure on the same site). The relative links lead to other pages, authored in a similar style, displaying solutions, further exercises, explanations of terms, diagrams (some of which are animated), layout tables (some of which contain diagrams and notation) and downloadable pdf files. Again, the notation and diagrams are saved as gif files.


The following pages are considered in detail:


(a) Default page

http://www.city.ac.uk/mathematics/X3MathsMethods/index.html


(b) Touching Circles

http://www.city.ac.uk/mathematics/X3MathsMethods/Circles.html


Automated evaluation


HTML validation

There are some syntax errors in the document source code of the default and Touching Circles pages and they do not validate to HTML 3.2.


Bobby

Neither page met Bobby approved status. The Priority 1 accessibility issue noted was the lack of alternative descriptions to images (in this case notation and diagrams) used on these pages. There were 10 instances of this on the default page alone. For this site to be fully accessible either the notation needs to be written as text or there needs be descriptions in text of all the gif images.


It is accepted that this might be time consuming to achieve and also cumbersome for users to read. In the near future however there should be a more acceptable alternative, to mark up notation as MathML. An Extensible Markup Language (XML) application, MathML can be used for describing and presenting mathematical notation and scientific data on the web. Although a W3C recommendation, MathMl is currently not widely supported by web browsers or web authoring tools. At present, writing out notation in text or providing text alternatives where notation is presented as images, are the best options.


Bobby also noted the use of animated images on the Touching Circles page. A W3C Priority 2 accessibility requirement is that, where possible, web content developers should avoid using animated images. However, this page provides an example of where the use of an animated image is essential to fully convey the meaning of the diagram. To meet the requirements of Priority 1 accessibility however, a description of the diagram in text (possibly making use of the “LONGDESC’’ attribute) should preferably have been included


Manual evaluation


Assistive technology


Window-Eyes

Window-Eyes read the text, including that displayed in the Layout tables, correctly. Screen readers cannot read images so it skipped over the diagrams and notation contained in gif files. These are clearly integral parts of the site and contain information that students would need to be able to access.


When notation appeared as text Windows-Eyes could read letters, carets, percentage signs and greater and less than symbols correctly. However it could not differentiate superscript and subscript from normal text (even though these have been marked up correctly in the document source code) and was unable to read all the types of brackets included in the notation.


Some of the links did not make sense when read out of context.


Readability

The text and notation used on the site are in default black fonts on either white or mid pink backgrounds. The diagrams are large and clear, drawn with brightly coloured lines on black backgrounds. So the colour contrasts used throughout the site are good, making it very readable.


Images

As previously noted the images used in this site would be inaccessible to students relying on screen readers. .


.


Layout

The layout of the evaluated pages would seem to present no accessibility problems. The text is clearly divided into sections under descriptive headings.


Navigation

There are examples on these pages of link text that does not make sense when read out of context. Apart from this navigation the site seems to be very straightforward. The Table of Contents and headings are descriptive and clear.


File formats not native to the web


Portable Document Format

There are two examples (under the “Branch Cuts and Riemann Surfaces” heading on the default page) of links leading to pdf file downloads. There are no HTML alternatives to these files. Neither file could be opened when the site was evaluated so it is not possible to comment on the accessibility of their contents.


Conclusion

The main issue with this site is the inaccessibility of diagrams and notation.


2. Computing (City University)

http://www.soi.city.ac.uk/~sa326/teaching/notes.html


Site Description

This is a large site containing teaching materials for Computer Graphics, Programming and Systems Architecture courses. It contains layout and data tables, jpeg images, PowerPoint presentations and links to external sources of other related material.


The following pages are considered in detail:


(a) Lighting

http://www.soi.city.ac.uk/~sa326/teaching/P216/vrml216/node7.html


(b) A704: Systems Architecture 1 – 1999 Assignment A

http://www.soi.city.ac.uk/~sa326/teaching/A704/assigna.html.


Automated Evaluation


HTML/CSS Validation

No HTML or CSS syntax errors found on the “Lighting” page.


The “Systems Architecture” page did not pass the HTML validation test. The errors noted were missing alt attributes (which provide alternative text descriptions to images) and a missing DOCTYPE declaration. (A document type declaration can be placed at the beginning of an HTML document to tell a validator which version of HTML to use when checking the document syntax.)


Bobby

Bobby detected no Priority 1 accessibility errors on the Lighting page so the page meets Bobby approved status. The only potential accessibility 1 error flagged to be checked manually is a small navigation bar at the top and foot of the page that contains links to previous and next pages in the VRML2 course module. However, in this instance, the same information appears directly beneath the navigation bar in text and hypertext so this issue has been addressed.


The Priority 1 errors found by Bobby on the “Systems Architecture” page reflect the findings of the HTML validation, in noting a lack of alternative descriptions of the jpeg images included on the page, a photo and two diagrams of circuits and truth tables.


Manual evaluation


Assistive Technology


Window-Eyes

Window-Eyes read the “Lighting” page with only some minor difficulties. It read all the text including some preformatted text of VRML code contained within <PRE> </PRE> tags without problems but did not read hash # symbols or curly {} and square [] brackets. On the whole, however, it performed very well with this page, reflecting its good accessibility highlighted by the HTML validation and Bobby. Window-Eyes read the text on the “Systems Architecture” page correctly but was obviously unable to read the images. It read the contents of the layout and data tables used on the site correctly.


Readability

The readability of this site is very good. Default fonts and backgrounds give good colour contrasts and the possibility for users to easily alter them if necessary.


Images

To be fully accessible the diagrams used on this site need to be described in text. This would no doubt be difficult as some images are of fairly complex diagrams. However, in such instances the “LONGDESC’’ attribute can be used.


Layout

The site makes use of layout tables. The width of some tables is specified in the document source code as 100%, while others have a width set at 640 pixels. Tables with a relative width of 100%, no matter what browser is being used and what screen resolution the user has set, will be displayed over all the available screen space. Some visually impaired users may have their screen resolutions at a lower than normal resolution setting, 640 x 480 pixels. This makes the content of the screen appear larger but, if a table width is not either given a percentage value or is set higher than 585 pixels, tables can be too large to fit into the available screen space. This causes horizontal scroll bars to appear and forces the user to scroll around the table, making tables more difficult to navigate. None of the layout tables used in this site exceed a width of 640 pixels. Using Internet Explorer 5 and a 17” monitor they can all be displayed on a screen resolution setting of 640 x 480 without the user being forced to use a horizontal scroll bar to navigate them. However, this may not be the case with other browsers or smaller monitors.


The layout of pages, where either plain text or layout tables are used, is consistent throughout the site. .


Navigation

Some of the link text may not make sense to screen reading software users if read alone and out of context with surrounding text.


File formats not native to the web


PowerPoint

In the “Visual Basic” course section heavy use is made of PowerPoint presentations. The slides include diagrams, which could be inaccessible to some screen reading software users since there are no alternative descriptions to them in text. It is accepted that this would be very difficult to achieve since some of the presentations are designed to accompany lectures in Visual Basic programming.


Conclusion

On the whole this is a very accessible site. The main accessibility issue is the lack of equivalent descriptions to images.


3. Module Information and On-line Course Materials – Geology (Oxford Brookes University)

http://www.brookes.ac.uk/geology/modules.html


Description of the site

This site contains Geology teaching materials. The default page consists of a series of layout tables containing a list of course modules and links. Other pages contain photos (saved as jpeg files) of geological material.


The following pages are considered in detail:


(a) Default page

http://www.brookes.ac.uk/geology/modules.html


(b) 8320 Petrology

http://www.brookes.ac.uk/geology/8320/8320welc.html


Another page, containing ppt files is referred to.


(c) On-line learning here and now

http://www.brookes.ac.uk/geology/brookes_virtual/rjs-12-july.html


Automated evaluation


HTML validation

The HTML validation results uncovered a list of source code syntax errors in the default page. These included undefined elements and misplaced tags.


The Petrology page contained no HTML syntax errors.


Bobby

The Priority 1 error found by Bobby on the default page is an absence of alternative text descriptions to images. (Most of the images consist of @ symbols, rather than diagrams or photos, and are saved as gifs which are discussed in the following section.)


The Petrology page achieved far better results with Bobby. There were no Priority 1 accessibility errors so the page meets Bobby approved status. The photos used on the page have been assigned alternative text which briefly describes what is shown in them. This is an interesting example of pages on the same site with greatly varying levels of accessibility.


Manual Evaluation


Assistive Technology


Window-Eyes

Windows-Eyes read the contents of the layout tables on the default page in the correct order. However, the way the list of course modules is organised did cause some problems. Each item in the list is made up of two links. One consists of an @ symbol saved as a gif image with an anchor tag linking to the official module description and syllabus stored on the University’s Intranet. The other is the actual title of the module, which provides a link to course materials associated with it. There is no alternative text associated with each @ symbol so Window-Eyes skipped over them but did read the link associated with the @ symbols to the University’s intranet and then read the other link to the course material. This made the list of modules somewhat heavy-going and potentially confusing for users relying totally on screen reading software. It was not clear from the feedback given by Window-Eyes, why two links were read for each item on the modules list and what the link to the University’s Intranet actually led to.


Readability

The colour contrasts and font style used throughout the site are good making it very readable.


Images

Although not every page was checked, all the photos on the site that were looked at during the evaluation do have alternative descriptions in text. The photos are large and clear.


Layout

The layout of the evaluated pages would seem to present no accessibility problems. The various sections are clearly divided by the use of horizontal lines which help to break up the text. The width of the layout tables is set at 100% so even on a low resolution screen setting the tables will adapt to the reduced screen space.


Navigation

The evaluated pages were very straightforward to navigate, with the exception of the problems with the list of modules in the default page described above.


File formats not native to the web


PowerPoint

The on-line learning pages provide an excellent example of how web content developers can ensure PowerPoint presentations are accessible. Two versions of the PowerPoint slides are available, one in ppt file format and one in HTML format. The slides in the HTML version are saved as jpeg images but there is an option too to view the slides as text. The user selects the text button from a row of buttons displayed to the right of each slide. (The buttons can be activated by using the keyboard too so are accessible to non mouse users). The whole presentation can then be viewed in text making the slides fully accessible to users of screen reading software.


Conclusion

Material on this site is very accessible, in particular the HTML version of PowerPoint slides with the option to view the slides as text. The main accessibility issue highlighted in this evaluation was the navigation problems with the list of modules on the default page but, apart from that, this is a very accessible site.


4. Sociology/Social Sciences (Arasite)

http://www.arasite.org/


Site description

The site contains a selection of Sociology/Social Sciences course materials and various external links.


The following pages are evaluated:


(a) Default page

http://www.arasite.org/


(b) Althusser on Ideology

http://www.arasite.org/nalt2.htm


The site map is also referred to.


(c) Site map

http://www.arasite.org/smap.html are evaluated.


Automated evaluation


HTML Validation

The default page and “A Reading Guide – Althusser on Ideology” did not pass the HTML validation. Various problems were highlighted including undefined elements and unopened or unclosed tags.


Bobby

The default page proved difficult to fully evaluate with Bobby as the layout table, which makes up much of the page, did not load in time to be included in the evaluation. The Priority 1 accessibility issue noted by Bobby was a lack of text alternatives to images included on the default page. In this instance the images are not related to the page content and, apart from an image at the foot of the page linking to an on-line bookstore, are there for decoration purposes. So an understanding of what the images contain in this instance is not essential for a full understanding of the page contents. One image is animated but its inclusion does not make the page any less accessible.


The “Althusser on Ideology” page consists of text only and had no Priority 1 accessibility problems, therefore meeting Bobby approved status.


Some Priority 2 issues were noted by Bobby with both pages, the main one being the use of depreciated HTML elements, for example <FONT>, that have now been removed from HTML 4 (the most recent version of HTML). web browsers still support such elements but they may not in the future, which is why the W3C WCAG recommend that depreciated elements be avoided.


Manual evaluation


Assistive Technology


Window-Eyes

As there is no alternative text to the decorative images on the default page Window-Eyes skipped them. More importantly it did read all the text, including that contained in the layout table, in the correct order. The “Althusser on Ideology” page presented no problems except for one minor point; that as the quotation marks are not marked up correctly in HTML, the screen reader could not differentiate quotations or the titles of books from ordinary text. Some of the link text on the site map was not very clear when using Window-Eyes, for example the sociology of education link written as “soc.of ed.” was pronounced by the screen reader as “soc point of edition”.


ZoomText

The default page and site map were not very straightforward to navigate with the screen magnifier ZoomText. The text and links on both pages is spread out with a lot of blank space in between. This has been created by leaving some table cells empty. Using ZoomText involved a lot of scrolling and moving around the pages. It is therefore possible that screen magnification software users could miss some of the information on these pages.


Readability

The colour contrasts and good and default fonts are used throughout so the pages are very readable.


Images

Although images do not have alternative text descriptions this does not detract greatly from the accessibility of the site as they are decorative. The site map would be confusing for anyone using a text only browser however. It contains a series of blue dots (saved as dot.gif) each of which, in a text only environment, shows up as “[INLINE]” as no alternative text is specified. In this instance, as the dots are there for decoration only, the best option is to insert the alt attribute but to not give it a value, e.g. alt=””. This allows text only browsers to completely ignore the images.


Layout

As previously noted it is possible that users viewing a small area of the screen at any one time might miss some of the information presented on the layout tables. The layout tables are given relative widths however, which means they will be displayed correctly even at low resolution screen settings.


Navigation

Navigation could be made more straightforward. An important link, that leading to the list of course files, is placed towards the end of the opening paragraph on the default page. This link could easily be missed. The text of the link, “here,” does not indicate what the link leads to, in the event of a user tabbing through the links with a screen reader and not reading the surrounding text. There is no link to the site map from the default page.


Conclusion

The pages containing teaching materials on this site are very accessible. The default page and site map are less accessible, but could be still be used fairly easily by disabled students.


5 Nerves, neuromuscular junction and muscle (University of Bristol)

Element 3. Nerves, the neuromuscular junction and muscle

http://www.bris.ac.uk/Depts/Physiology/ugteach/ugindex/m1_index/med1_nmj/med1_nmj.htm


Membrane Practicals

http://www.pys.bris.ac.uk/electrophysiology/membranes/membranes.htm


Site Description

These sites contain a large amount of material supporting lectures, tutorials and histology and physiology practicals. Javascripts, layout tables, images and PowerPoint presentations are used.


The following pages are considered in detail:

  1. Cardiac Muscle

http://www.bris.ac.uk/Depts/Physiology/ugteach/ugindex/m1_index/histprac/page4.htm


(b) Questionnaire

http://www.pys.bris.ac.uk/asp/questionnaire/membrane_quest.html


Two other pages are referred to:


(c) What do I need to know?

http://www.pys.bris.ac.uk/electrophysiology/membranes/page3.htm


(d) Discussion Board

http://pdl5.pys.bris.ac.uk:8080/Membranes/index_html


Automated evaluation


HTML Validation

The Cardiac Muscle page and the On-line Questionnaire did not validate to HTML 4, errors in attribute values being the main issue noted.


Bobby

Bobby found no Priority 1 accessibility errors with the Cardiac Muscle Page so the page meets Bobby approved status. All the images used on this page are accompanied by alternative text (that contains the same text also included in the captions displayed underneath the images). Whether this is sufficient to convey exactly the same information as would be gleaned by actually looking at the images is impossible to judge without specialist knowledge of the subject matter. These are very complex images, presumably illustrating material viewed through microscopes, and it would be very difficult, or perhaps impossible, to fully describe them in text.


The only Priority 1 error identified by Bobby with the On-line Questionnaire, no alternative text to the University crest at the top of the page, does not detract from the accessibility of the Questionnaire. The Questionnaire appears to be accessible. (A quick and easy way to get a good indication of the accessibility of web pages is to view them with the text only browser Lynx. The Questionnaire was fully accessible when used with Lynx.)


Manual evaluation


Assistive Technology


Window-Eyes

Window-Eyes came across an interesting problem when trying to read the Cardiac Muscle Page. On some parts of the page the author has used horizontal rules to divide the page into sections. In other places lines of equals signs = are also used as a way of dividing the page. This works well for anyone actually looking at the page but less so when using Window-Eyes as it read out each equals sign, “equalsequalsequals” etc which would become very irritating for anyone relying on a screen reader. Horizontal rules, however, do not create this problem for screen readers. Apart from this, Window-Eyes read the contents of the page with no problems.


The contents of the on-line questionnaire were also read correctly.


Readability

Default black fonts on white backgrounds and captions in bold type beneath images used throughout the sites make the pages very readable.


Images

Images are large and, as previously noted, are mostly accompanied by alternative text descriptions.


Layout

The layout of all the pages checked on these sites is clear and consistent, making use of bullet point lists and horizontal rules (in HTML the <UL> and <HR> elements) to divide the various sections.


The “What do I need to know?” page has buttons with questions written on them for students to activate to find out the answers. Selecting the buttons causes a smaller window containing the answer to appear. This page seems to be reasonably accessible, although it did not work very well with the Lynx browser it was possible to activate all the buttons by only using the keyboard and could also be read with Window-Eyes


Navigation

Link text in the main explicitly states what the links lead to and navigation bars appear consistently at the top and foot of the pages. One possible accessibility problem with the navigation bars is that the hypertext links included on them are small, mostly as single numbers leading to corresponding pages, and might be difficult for some users to either see or to be able to control the mouse sufficiently to activate. However, the same information is available on the various Contents pages contained in the site.


Interaction

There are pages on the sites where students are invited to interact. In addition to the on-line questionnaire there is also a discussion board for students’ questions.


It was not possible to fully test this feature as it is available to internal users only. However what could be tested appears to be accessible, both to screen reader and non mouse users.


File formats not native to the web


PowerPoint

There are PowerPoint presentations on these sites with complex diagrams included in many of the slides. Although there are no alternative descriptions in HTML or text of the diagrams, arguably users actually need to be able to see the diagrams so text alternatives may not be adequate. It seems likely that the alt attribute would not be sufficient to give equivalent information to that contained in the images, so the ‘‘LONGDESC’’ attribute would need to be used.


Conclusion

This series of pages are well designed and have a good level of accessibility. .


6. Computing (University of Glamorgan)

http://www.comp.glam.ac.uk/pages/staff/dwfarthi/


This site contains material relating to courses in computing. Frames, images and data tables are included in the site.


The pages considered in detail are:


(a) IS232 Project Management and Professional Issues

http://www.comp.glam.ac.uk/Teaching/IS232/

(following the “each week’s activities” link)


(b) Getting Started

http://www.comp.glam.ac.uk/Teaching/projectmanagement/principles2f.htm


Automated Evaluation


HTML Validation

The HTML validator found several undefined and missing elements and missing DOCTYPE declarations on both pages.


Bobby

Bobby found no Priority 1 accessibility errors in the Getting Started page so the page meets Bobby approved status. The Project Management page was less straightforward to evaluate. Bobby analyses the contents of each frame separately. It was not possible to carry out an accessibility evaluation of the data table that appears in the third frame when the “each week’s activities” link is selected. Bobby could only analyse the default contents of the frame, i.e. its opening contents, which give the course title (since obviously the URL is the same no matter what is displayed in the frame). Bobby detected two Priority 1 accessibility issues with this page, no alternative text description to a small decorative gif image and no titles for frames. The lack of titles for frames is the most important accessibility issue in this instance and is discussed further in the Layout section below. In the source code of this page “frame name” has been used instead of “title”, but this does not appear to achieve the same result.


Manual evaluation


Assistive technology


Window-Eyes


Both pages contain three frames. Window-eyes read the contents of the top frame first, then moved to the left frame and read its contents and then continued on to the right frame. It read the titles of the HTML documents contained in each frame first (e.g. the text contained within <TITLE> </TITLE> elements) and then went on to read the text contained within the heading elements <H2> </H2>. In both instances the text is the same, for example “project management and professional issues”. So a user accessing the site with a screen reader would get a good indication of the contents of each frame, despite the frames not having titles assigned to them with the title attribute.


The data table used in the Project Management page was difficult to fully comprehend when relying on Window-Eyes to read it. Screen readers work through tables cell by cell, working across the top row first from left to right, then moving down to the next row. The top row contains headings so Window-Eyes read the entire row of headings first, then moved down to the following rows to read the text the appears under the headings. Reading row by row rather than column by column made it difficult to keep track of what text came under what heading. Furthermore the screen reader did not indicate when it came to empty cells, simply skipping over them, making it even more difficult to keep track. So a user relying on a screen reader could easily become disorientated as it was not possible to work out what text is associated with which heading. The summary attribute, which like the alt attribute, provides a summary of the contents of data tables, is not used. A further indication that the data table may not be very accessible is that it could not be displayed at all when viewing the page with Lynx.


ZoomText

Pages in which frames are used may be difficult for some screen magnification users to navigate. Testing the pages with the ZoomText magnifier involved a lot of movement around the screen, in particular looking for the scroll bars to navigate within the frames.


Readability

Although the colour contrasts used on some pages are not good, it is possible to override the colours using the Internet Explorer Colours and Accessibility features. So the readability of the site is good.


Images

There are very few images on the site. The images that are used are small gif images. Although some images do not have alternative descriptions in text, most are accompanied by captions describing their contents.


Layout

To be truly accessible, the W3C recommend that frames should be given descriptive titles. The frames used on this site do not have descriptive titles. Although this does not appear to be a problem when using Window-Eyes to read the site, it could be an accessibility issue with older screen readers and text only browsers. The lack of descriptive frame titles is clearly indicated when the pages are viewed with Lynx. The frame containing the “project management and professional issues” document for example, has the title “captions”. This, and not the document title, is displayed when the page is viewed with Lynx. So it might be difficult for users in some circumstances to guess what the contents of the frame might be.


The width of the data table used in the Project Management page is not specified in the document source code at all, neither a relative value as a percentage or an absolute value in pixels. Consequently the table does not fit into the screen area when the screen resolution is set at 640 x 480 pixels. This could be an issue for some visually impaired users who use a low screen resolution setting to make the contents of the screen appear larger. As the table width is not specified a horizontal scroll bar appears at 640 x 480 pixels which makes the table less straightforward to navigate.


A caption describing the purpose of the table or a summary describing its contents is not provided. The inclusion of either of these features would make the table more accessible.


Navigation

Link text, on the whole, is very descriptive.


Conclusion

As this is a mainly text based site it has a good level of accessibility.


7 Economics (City University)


http://www.city.ac.uk/andy/teaching/teaching.html


Site description

This site contains information to support Economics and Economics and Accountancy courses. It contains layout tables. It is a mainly text based site although does contain some images.


The pages considered are


(a) Default page

http://www.city.ac.uk/andy/teaching/teaching.html


(b)Economic Theory – Macroeconomics 1999-2000. Coursework 1 – outline answers and feedback

http://www.city.ac.uk/andy/teaching/et/cw.htm


(c) Alternative Topic for QM coursework

http://www.city.ac.uk/andy/teaching/qm/alternative_2.htm


Automated evaluation


HTML/CSS Validation

The pages did not validate to HTML 4 and could not be validated with the CSS validator because of this.


Bobby

The default page contains no Priority 1 accessibility errors so meets Bobby approved status. The Economic Theory and Alternative Topic for QM coursework pages however do contain Priority 1 accessibility errors. This is due to the lack of alternative description to images of economic diagrams and a scanned image of a newspaper cutting.


Manual evaluation


Assistive technology


Window-Eyes

Window-Eyes was able to cope very well with the evaluated pages as they mainly consist of text. There were two exceptions to this however. In the Economic Theory Macroeconomics 1999-2000 page there are two diagrams (illustrating the Keynes effect and the Pigou effect). The diagrams have been saved as gif images so could not be read by Window-Eyes. In this instance an alternative description in text would make the page fully accessible. (It is not clear whether MathML could be used to describe the characters used in economics diagrams in the same way that it could be used to describe mathematical notation, once it becomes more widely supported).


The other problem Window-Eyes encountered was a scanned Jpeg image of a newspaper article on the Alternative Topics for QM coursework page. In this instance a possible solution is to make a copy of the scanned image available to students in the tiff file format. This would enable the image to be converted into text by Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software and then read with a screen reader. OCR software does not support the gif and jpeg file formats used on the web but does support tiff, bmp, pcx and xif file formats. Although these types of file formats are far too large to use on web sites it could be helpful if lecturers saved scanned images of such items as newspaper articles as Tiffs as well as Jpegs, for any student who needs them.


Readability

Although the colour contrasts used on some of the pages (black text on a default dark grey background) are not good they can easily be altered with Internet Explorer’s colours and accessibility features.


Images

As previously described, the images on this site consist of a scanned jpeg image and gif images of economics diagrams. These images could be inaccessible to some students.


Layout

The layout is clear and uncomplicated.


Navigation

Link text is clear and descriptive


Conclusion

On the whole, apart from the examples of diagrams and the image of a newspaper cutting, this site is mainly text based and most of the material contained on it is accessible.


8 Communique – French language, literature and cultural studies (University of Sunderland)


http://www.sunderland.ac.uk/~os0tmc/communique.html


Site description

The site contains study materials for undergraduate courses in French language, literature and cultural studies. The site is made up of frames, images and a form and contains material written in both English and French.


Evaluated pages

(a) Default page

http://www.sunderland.ac.uk/~os0tmc/communique.html


(b) Les Chemins du savoir

http://www.sunderland.ac.uk/~os0tmc/19/main


(c) Advanced interpreting and translating

http://www.sunderland.ac.uk/~os0mta/fre312.htm


Automated evaluation


HTML Validation

The default page did not validate to HTML 4; errors were found in the opening or closing of some tags, errors in the use of the <FONT> element and failure to include alt attributes (alternative text descriptions to images) were some of the items listed.


Bobby

These points were also reflected in the feedback gained from testing the default page with Bobby. The lack of alternative descriptions to two images on the page (one of the Eiffel Tower and one of an image map linking to an external commercial site) were noted as a Priority 1 accessibility error.


To be accessible image maps should be client side rather than server side. This means the information stored within the image map, linking its various regions (or hot spots) to other locations, is made available to the user’s browser. This enables the user to control the image map with not only the mouse, but also the keyboard or other types of input devices. Server side image maps can only be controlled by a mouse and are therefore inaccessible to some visually impaired and some users with motor impairments (who either cannot see well enough or do not have the required hand movement to use a mouse). In this instance the image map links to an external source, was presumably not created by the page author and is not essential to anyone using the Communique site. However the fact that it appears to be server side and also has no text links corresponding to its hotspots, added two more Priority 1 accessibility errors to the default page. This shows that web authors not only need to be aware of the accessibility of the content they compose, but also need to be aware of the accessibility of content written by others which they choose to include on their web sites.


Bobby noted that the frames used in the Pages dix-neuf section of the site have not been given titles, a Priority 1 accessibility requirement. Users without visual disabilities can scan the contents of the screen and quickly assess the contents of multiple frames displayed on it. Users relying totally on screen reading software cannot do this as the software only gives access to one word at a time. So it is therefore very helpful if web content developers give frames descriptive titles so users of screen readers can get an idea of the purpose and contents of each frame. (To assign a title to a frame the title attribute followed by a descriptive title simply have to be added to each <FRAME> element.) The contents of each frame do not contain any Priority 1 accessibility errors with the exception of a small gif image which is not accompanied by an alternative description in text.


The Advanced Translation and Interpreting page provided an interesting example of a Priority 1 accessibility requirement which Bobby is unable to check, that of identifying changes in the natural language web documents are written in. This page is written partly in English and partly in French but the lang attribute (lang=”en” and lang=”fr” in this instance) is not used to identify what is in English and what is in French. This is an accessibility issue for users of screen reading software and is discussed in greater depth in the Assistive Technology section below.


Manual evaluation


Assistive Technology


Window-Eyes

Window-Eyes is not a multilingual screen reader. It would therefore not have been able to correctly pronounce the French used on the site, even if changes in natural language had been identified. Nevertheless, testing the site with Window-Eyes gives a good indication of how a multilingual screen reader would cope with a web document in which changes in natural language have not been identified.


The Advanced Translation and Interpreting page was very difficult to comprehend when using Window-Eyes to read it. As the changes in natural language, from English to French, are not identified in the document source code a multilingual screen reader would assume the French was in fact English and pronounce it accordingly. It was possible to guess some of the French words being pronounced in English by Window-Eyes but it would quickly become very tiresome for anyone relying totally on a screen reader to read the page. Multilingual screen readers with Braille output would experience the same problems. Guideline 4 of the WCAG, Clarify natural language usage, lists the clear identification of changes in natural language usage as a Priority 1 accessibility requirement.


Window-Eyes could not successfully read the instructions for students on how to type accented characters on the University’s computers. This text is enclosed in <BLOCKQUOTE> tags which, more correctly, are used to designate text as a quotation. A series of three digit numbers and corresponding accented characters are listed, with a series of full stops to link them. The screen reader skipped all the accentuated characters and could only read the three digit numbers and each full stop. So the first line was read as “one three zero dot dot dot dot dot dot one seven four.” In this instance the best option is probably to place this text in a table rather than marking it up as a quotation and to use the HTML entity names for special characters to mark up the accentuated characters. So for example, a lower case a with a grave accent is written as &agrave; an upper case A with an acute accent is written as &Aacute; By marking up the text in this way it should be possible for multilingual screen readers to pronounce the accentuated characters correctly.


Readability

The text throughout the site is made more readable by the use of horizontal lines to divide it into sections.


Some of the colour combinations used within the frames on this site, for example blue hypertext on red backgrounds, could make the links difficult for some visually impaired or dyslexic students to read. However, it is possible to alter the colours by using the colour and accessibility options in Internet Explorer.


The default page in effect contains a patterned background, images of the Eiffel Tower. This could make the text difficult for some visually impaired or dyslexic students but, again, the image can be removed by selecting the “ignore colours specified on web pages” option in Internet Explorer. So providing students are aware of these possibilities, the pages are very readable. Also, the images are very effective so it would be a shame to remove them from the site altogether.


Images

The images on this site are of black and white drawings. Although there are no alternative descriptions of them in text, an understanding of the contents of the drawings is not essential for an understanding of the contents of the site.


Layout

As with any pages containing frames, navigation might be difficult for users of screen magnification software. To improve the accessibility of the site the frames need to be assigned descriptive titles (see the Bobby section above).


Navigation

The Les Chemins du savoir page contains a search facility, consisting of a form containing a text field, a pull down menu and two buttons. The form appears to be very accessible, it was possible to read and fill it in using Window-Eyes and by only using the keyboard and not the mouse. It also worked well when viewed with Lynx.


Link text and headings used on the site are very descriptive.


Conclusion

This site presents some very interesting accessibility issues. The need for web authors to be aware of the accessibility of content from other sources included on their site. The need for users to be aware of the options contained within web browsers enabling them to alter the appearance of web pages. The need for any changes in natural language in web documents to be identified in document source code. The last point is the most important accessibility issue connected with this site.


9 Nursing (City University)

http://www.staff.city.ac.uk/m.j.nicol/


Site description

This site contains material to support courses in nursing. The information is presented in HTML files and Adobe pdf files. While it seems reasonable to assume that students with disabilities, with the exception of dyslexia perhaps, are unlikely to be enrolled on nursing degree courses, this site provides an opportunity to evaluate the accessibility of pdf files.


The pages considered in detail in this evaluation are:


(a) Default page

http://www.staff.city.ac.uk/m.j.nicol/nutrition.htm


(b) Nutritional assessment

http://www.staff.city.ac.uk/m.j.nicol/nutrition.htm


(c) Blood Pressure Recording (pdf document)


Automated evaluation


HTML Validation

The HTML validator could not validate the default or the Nutritional Assessment pages. Undefined elements and errors in the opening and closing of tags were among the errors listed.


Bobby

The Priority 1 accessibility error noted by Bobby on the default page was a lack of an alternative description in text to the University logo at the top of the page. There were no Priority 1 errors on the Nutritional Assessment page so it meets Bobby approved status.


Manual evaluation


Assistive technology


Window-Eyes

Window-Eyes read the contents of the layout tables contained on the default and Nutritional Assessment pages correctly. However, and this illustrates the pitfalls of pdf files, it was unable to read any of the Blood Pressure Recording document.


Readability

The readability of the default and Nutritional Assessment pages is good, with background and text colours that can easily be altered. The Blood Pressure Recording page, as a pdf document, could be far more difficult for some students to read. Unlike HTML documents, the flexibility does not exist with pdf documents to alter the font size or change text and background colours.


Layout

Layout tables used on this site have fixed widths, rather than widths set as percentages. As discussed in some of the previous evaluations, this can make tables more difficult to navigate for users with low screen resolution settings.


Navigation

Headings and link text used throughout the site are very descriptive.


File formats not native to the web


Portable Document Format

The main accessibility issue presented by this site is the use of pdf documents. To ensure that the contents of pdf files are accessible to all students alternative versions in HTML or plain text should be provided. Such alternatives are not provided on this site.


Conclusion

All the HTML documents used in this site are very accessible. The pdf documents are far less so, although it is accepted that for most, if not all of the students taking the course, this is unlikely to be an issue.


10 Infant and Child Development (City University)

http://www.staff.city.ac.uk/k.j.alcock/


Site description

This site contains material to support the teaching of Infant and Child Development. Layout tables and slides saved as gif images are included on the site.


The pages included in this evaluation are:


(a) Genetics contents page

http://www.staff.city.ac.uk/k.j.alcock/lecturenotes/genetics1/index.htm


and the series of slides and lecture notes leading from it.


Automated evaluation


HTML Validation

The pages do not validate to HTML 4. Most of the errors raised by the HTML validator are situated at the beginning of the document source code. It is unclear how much impact this would have on the accessibility of the documents. There are also some errors in the opening or closing of tags.


Bobby

Bobby found a Priority 1 accessibility error on the Genetics contents page, a lack of text alternatives to the gif images of slides used throughout the series of lecture notes. However, in this instance the issue has been addressed. Bobby was unable to detect that links to text versions of the slides are also available on the site.


Manual evaluation


Assistive Technology


Window-Eyes

The Genetics contents page consists of two layout tables. Window-Eyes read both correctly.


The series of pages displaying slides and notes consist of a layout table containing links to previous and next slides and a link to the text version of each slide. The slide itself is saved as an image. Beneath each slide is a series of notes. On each page Window-Eyes read the links contained in the layout table first, then moved on to the notes (skipping the slide of course, as it is saved as an image). The text in the text versions of the slides presented no difficulties for the screen reader. Providing text versions of slides in this way ensures the contents are fully accessible.


Readability

There appear to be no accessibility problems with the readability of the series of lecture notes on the site. Default fonts are used and background and text colours can be easily altered.


Images

As previously noted there are text versions of all gif images of slides.


Layout

There is some use of heading tags (in HTML <H1> <H2> etc) to change font sizes on the Genetics contents page. This is not strictly correct from an accessibility viewpoint (WCAG Guideline 3). If a heading tag (a structural element) is used to change a font size (a presentation effect) the organisation of the page can be difficult to understand for users of some types of assistive technology. In this example however, it would not seem to be too major a problem.


Navigation

Navigation is straightforward with descriptive links and consistent layout of navigation links to next and previous slides.


Conclusion

Apart from some minor errors in HTML markup, this is a very accessible site. The inclusion of text versions of lecture slides is especially helpful.


Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank everyone who took the time to return the questionnaire upon which this survey is based and especially those people who allowed their web sites to be evaluated.


Many thanks also to David Mountain, of the Department of Information Science, City University, for his help and support throughout the project, and to the DISinHE team at the University of Dundee for their tolerance and understanding of various delays in the project.


Disclaimer

Every effort has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information on this web site . However, DMAG wishes to emphasise that although the contents are regularly reviewed for accuracy, it is the responsibility of the user/reader to check the accuracy of relevant facts before entering any financial or other commitment based upon them. If you do happen to come across any inaccuracies, DMAG would appreciate your help in informing us.