Here at Boundless, we are very proud of the high-quality, affordable digital content that we provide. We have (and continue to) put a great deal of effort into not only making our product the best that it can be, but also sharing it with as many students and educators as possible!
With that goal in mind, we are determined to provide equal and inclusive learning opportunities to all individuals regardless of age, ability, or situation. As a part of that effort, we are constantly working to improve our courseware to eliminate barriers for people with disabilities, including making our site accessible to those who are blind or visually impaired.
What We Mean When We Talk About “Accessibility”
A blind or visually impaired user typically navigates a website with a screen reader, or software that reads the content and navigable components of a web page aloud. At the most basic level, we want all students who interact with Boundless courseware to experience the same level of functionality and comparable ease of use, regardless of whether or not they are using a screen reader.
That means that we had to make some adjustments to our code in order to make it recognizable to a screen reader. We won’t bore you with the specifics here, but you can check out the links and reference list provided at the end of this post if you are interested in delving further into the technical details.
Above: An example of accessible code that is part of our registration flow.
Getting Started: The Tools
The overarching goal of our accessibility project has been to improve the way that our software works for students who might require the assistance of a screen reader.
Before starting our journey, we first had to understand the tools used in this space. To that end, we enlisted the help of a consultant from the accessibility team at The Carroll Center for the Blind, who as stated on their site, “specializes in creating accessible user interfaces and web experiences.” We also received invaluable feedback and guidance from our contacts over at the California State University Accessible Technology Initiative throughout this process. Further, we have been following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a set of protocols made available by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) with the goal of providing a shared standard for web content accessibility.
After diving in, we learned that of the available screen readers (NVDA, JAWS, ChromeVox, to name a few), JAWS (an acronym for “Job Access With Speech”) is far and away the most popular screen reader in the visually impaired community. Additionally, we found that Internet Explorer and Firefox are two of the most heavily used browsers in conjunction with JAWS software.
With that in mind, the Boundless engineering team acquired a number of laptops configured with JAWS licenses so that we could test our code as we made updates to ensure that they worked as expected with a screen reader. With our laptops screens obscured, we needed to be able to navigate around our site using only the screen reader. Needless to say, the Boundless engineering team has quickly become proficient in learning the necessary keyboard shortcuts and utilizing screen readers in a similar manner to the way that a non sighted person would.
Once we had the tools in place, we undertook a thorough audit of our site to identify our “trouble spots” so that we could begin addressing them.
Our Most Recent Achievements on the Accessibility Front
Post-audit, we focused our attention on making the core features of Boundless Learning’s LMS-integrated student courseware fully accessible using a screen reader. Core features include all onboarding flows (registration, checkout, login, password reset, and joining a class), book navigation, assignments (readings and quizzes), and self-assessments (section quizzes).
In addition to the core feature work, other progress we have made on the student-facing parts of our site includes:
- adding the ability to assign a text equivalent description to complex images, such as graphs or physiological diagrams, that is accessible to screen readers;
- allowing a screen reader to fully describe our mathematical equations;
- and adding extensive accessibility-related checks to our test suite to ensure that we do not regress on any of the progress we have made thus far and in the future.
The Path Forward
Now that we have fulfilled our initial objective of making our core functionality accessible, we will continue to work in earnest to make the remainder of Boundless’ LMS-integrated student courseware accessible.
Functionality that is not yet keyboard accessible or optimized for screen readers includes content search, highlighting, note-taking, and flashcards. We have temporarily hidden these interface elements from screen readers to minimize confusion.
Though nearly all of the text and multimedia content in Boundless’ LMS-integrated student courseware is accessible, we are currently auditing our library to determine which images still require descriptive captions and/or alt text equivalents.
As a testament to our commitment to this iterative process, we frequently update our Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) and Accessibility Statement, which communicates our current accessibility status, our ongoing projects, as well as our future accessibility-related plans.
- Carroll Center for the Blind site: http://carroll.org/
- California State University Accessible Technology Initiative: http://teachingcommons.cdl.edu/access/
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG): https://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag.php
- Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI): https://www.w3.org/WAI/gettingstarted/Overview.html
- NV Access (NVDA screen reader): http://www.nvaccess.org/
- JAWS: http://www.freedomscientific.com/Products/Blindness/JAWS
- ChromeVox: http://www.chromevox.com/
- Boundless VPAT and Accessibility Statement: https://www.boundless.com/accessibility/
About the author
Jodi Detch is a Junior Front-End Engineer on the Boundless team.