The DISinHE Centre: Web CT Accessibility

Murray Rowan examines WebCT from the point of view of accessibility.

WebCT’s interface is aimed at the non-programmer and allows easy organisation of media and resources for the delivery of web-based courses. It is very popular with academics throughout the world and UK Higher Education. However, because courseware development software is highly automated, and is a relatively new field, most courseware development software currently available has some accessibility difficulties.

With the impending removal of the education exclusion from the Disability Discrimination Act and new Human Rights legislation, courseware that is produced using these products may become potentially illegal. WebCT is aware of these issues and intends to include more accessibility features in version 3 of their product which will be available in June 2000. Until then, it is recommended that these products be used with care. A review of the accessibility issues concerning the currently available versions 1 and 2 of WebCT is given below.

WebCT V1

This version uses a frames format which makes both the student view and the designer view potentially inaccessible to users of adaptive technology such as a screen reader. The navigation system in the course content has no text link equivalent and the bulletin board system also uses frames. Because of these problems, designers have to create alternative navigation and bulletin board systems to ensure accessibility. WebCT also relies on Java applets, which makes the interface inaccessible to users of assistive technologies.

Accessibility is further compromised by the lack of opportunity to include ALT text in pages generated by the courseware. The bulletin board/mail systems have a complex three-frame structure that is fairly awkward for anyone to use and even more difficult for users of screen readers. The chat is java-based and also inaccessible.

WebCT V2

Version 2 reflects some improvement, but there is much work still to be done. To this end, WebCT is targeting Version 3, which is to be released in June 2000 for additional changes to improve accessibility. In the meantime, educators should use WebCT Version 2 with caution regarding accessibility.

 

Version 2 allows the designer of the course to add ALT text to images generated by the courseware. The new site map feature has been added to help users with navigation and the new mail tools provide pop-up windows as an alternative to frames. New strategies to improve the access to student tools / navigation are currently being developed. Hopefully we will see more in Version 3 in June.

There is still a long way to go before WebCT is completely accessible, as is the case with all of the major courseware packages of this type currently on the market. However, WebCT acknowledges the accessibility issues, and seems to be actively pursuing development of a more accessible interface.

References

  1. For more information on disability and information systems in UK Higher Education see the DISinHE web site at: http://www.disinhe.ac.uk/
  2. A brief explanation of adaptive technology followed by a list of simple tips and techniques to make your WebCT output more accessible is available on the WebCT site at: http://www.webct.com/v2/help/access/accessibility.html
  3. More information on the accessibility of version 2 of web CT, and on the plans for the release of version 3 can be found at: http://about.webct.com/v2/access_v2.html
  4. WebCT, the web based CBL (Computer Based Learning) courseware package is available at: http://www.webct.com/

Author Details

 
Murray Rowan
Project Officer
Digital Media Access Group
University of Dundee
DD1 4HN
Email: mrowan@computing.dundee.ac.uk
Web site: www.computing@dundee.ac.uk/projects/dmag/

 

Date published: 
Thursday, 23 March 2000
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