Buzz about digipedagogy
Current digital issues in a pedagogical environment. The blog is published by Digipedagogy and Video Services.
I just visited the “Interaktiivinen teknologia koulutuksessa” (Interactive Technology in Education) conference in Finland, more commonly known as ITK, which was organised for the 33rd time this year. It is Finland's largest educational technology event, which discusses technology, its use and research from different perspectives in the context of teaching. This year, the main theme was the now so trendy artificial intelligence, but I chose to pay attention to accessibility. Accessibility had been included in the title in just one presentation, but the accessibility aspect was sometimes brought up elsewhere as well, if not during the presentation itself, then afterwards as audience questions. While touring the exhibition area and listening to the presentations, my understanding of the current situation was confirmed: There is still a lot of work to be done on the accessibility of the tools.
I attended one workshop that used a facilitation tool that should have supported accessibility. Still, the tool uses task types that work with the mouse only (i.e., keyboard accessibility requirement was not met). The colour scheme chosen for the event was poor in contrast, using, for example, white texts on a pink background. When I mentioned it, the answer was that "you (as a content creator) can choose the colors yourself" and "if you have to be accessible, then you shouldn't use these particular tasks that are not usable with keyboard only". However, from the perspective of equality, services and content should always be made in such a way that users are always treated equally by default, whether the law requires it from the supplier or not.
When a service is sold to schools, I think it should not even be possible for a school to choose colour combinations that do not meet the requirements. It should also be possible to at least disable non-accessible task types completely at the organizational level, so that they are not selected by mistake. In addition, e. g., those who add images should be prompted to add an alternative description, and it should also be advised what kind of description would be good. When a company is selling their products to schools, their own demonstrations should meet the accessibility requirements.
In the presentation of the service of another Finnish company, it turned out that an accessible alternative is available as a new feature for the interactive embeds created in the tool. The presentation revealed that this accessible option can only be viewed if the content creator has specifically chosen to offer it to users. The presentation showed a nice example, but for one reason or another, the content creators had not chosen to provide the accessible alternative. In my opinion, this indicates, above all, that accessibility has not been properly understood in product development. Now, if a user needs an accessible alternative, they should not have to specifically request that the content creator publishes the accessible option. Accessible services and content should always be displayed by default. Besides, accessibility improves the user experience for all users.
I also toured the ITK exhibition and there I talked to a representative of a Finnish content service who presented to me the accessibility features of their service. What drew my attention, was that the service offered "dyslexia font as a new cool feature". I also came across another Finnish company, whose tool had also recently introduced a similar tool with a so-called dyslexia font. Dyslexia font is marketed as beneficial for students with reading difficulties. Unfortunately, the providing a dyslexia font is an indication, that the product development has not investigated what researchers say: research does not support the use of dyslexia fonts (see, e.g., Kuster et al., 2018 & Wery et al. 2017). One wonders why this solution, which has been found to be unworkable, is still being cultivated. The schools that pay for the possibility to use a dyslexia font, are throwing away their money.
Companies and their suppliers should prioritize accessibility in their online services. They should not buy them from well-intentioned but incompetent operators, or, in the worst case, from so called “snake oil dealers” who know themselves that they are selling a solution that does not work. Unfortunately, often these accessibility overlays do not work as desired and may even make it difficult for automatic accessibility check tools to work. (See Law et al., 2020, and read more on the Overlay Fact Sheet). Those accessibility features glued on top are like decorating a bad-tasting cake: when serving, it turns out that it wasn't that good after all.
Companies developing online services and their suppliers should roll up their sleeves now at the latest. They should mend the accessibility problems of their online services, and they should dig deep. Especially the companies that wish to continue to sell their services to the public sector (e.g., schools) in the future in EU. The Digital Services Act requires online services to be accessible with assistive technology, which means companies should prioritize accessibility in their products from the beginning. Developers should select such components and libraries for use in the development work, where accessibility is already in place. As an analogy, if the current components do not meet the requirements, you must bake the cake again from better materials than before.
Currently, when not even the buyers of services do always know how to test accessibility, and in many situations no accessible alternatives even exist yet, a non-accessible product can still sell. But if the goals of a company are in a sustainable business promoting equality, it is worth taking accessibility seriously right now, and placing accessibility at the heart of the company’s operations. Companies should primarily invest in acquiring their own accessibility expertise: of course, at the moment, not too many experts are available, and schools are not providing accessibility studies: Digital accessibility is still included only occasionally in software studies. This is something every school should consider when they design the curricula! Accessibility should be included in the design, implementation, and testing of software and, of course, wherever these topics are taught. We need professional bakers to bake the amazing cakes!
Kuster, S. M., van Weerdenburg, M., Gompel, M., & Bosman, A. M. (2018). Dyslexie font does not benefit reading in children with or without dyslexia. Annals of dyslexia, 68, 25-42.
Law, C. M., Groves, K., Hoffman, A., Lewis, A., O'Neill, D., & Rowland, C. (2020, October). Panel: Accessibility Overlays. In ICT Accessibility Testing Symposium: Time for Testing in Testing Times (Remote Work, Commerce, Education, Support...) (p. 25).
Wery, J. J., & Diliberto, J. A. (2017). The effect of a specialized dyslexia font, OpenDyslexic, on reading rate and accuracy. Annals of dyslexia, 67, 114-127.
The author is a member of the accessibility steering group and working group of the University of Oulu and an advocate of accessibility since the turn of the millennium.