Accessibility is a term often heard and read, but what does it truly entail in reference to digital content? Many think that it refers strictly to facilitating access to content for consumers who require assistance whether it be caused by a hearing deficit, visual impairment, or other contributing factors. But accessibility as it relates to content sharing and distribution, is a much broader topic. Consider, for example, that accessibility could simply mean enabling content access to consumers, all consumers. It can be related directly to regulatory standards, corporate standards, or international guidelines. The purpose of this article is to ignite thoughts and ideas regarding how SDO’s are managing such an important element of their content deployment strategy.
When we talk about creating accessible content, we generally think about Section 508 compliance and the need to use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that is accessible to people with disabilities. These are important elements to a strong accessibility strategy and, by leveraging WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), organizations are well on their way to overall content access compliance. Sounds easy? Well, it takes direction and effort to achieve these goals. Is your organization taking the necessary steps? As mentioned, this article is designed to provoke thought. The SDO sector has had rather static content deployment models in place for some time both in terms of learning programs and published standards. At one point in history the simple step of converting content to locked PDF files for distribution was a fine approach but times have changed. In addition, as SDO’s focus more and more on protecting their intellectual property they can inadvertently step backwards in terms of accessibility. Case in point – for locked PDF files to meet accessibility guidelines consumers are often required to upgrade / purchase specialized software to realize the accessibility functions. Not only is this restrictive in terms of additional cost but many consumers work for public departments or private institutions with restrictions on the ability to download software to their work desktops. This alone creates an environment where accessibility is restricted. These individuals and organizations simply cannot access your digital content and, considering the importance of standards, this needs to change.
The adoption of stronger and more relevant accessibility features has been driven predominantly by industry sectors such as professional learning and higher education. Many of these features are directly inline with 508 compliance and achieving the highest WCAG rankings but others are more targeted at simply making content more effective. For example, the addition of Alt Text alone expands content usability well beyond the most common descriptive features. In fact, much of the accessibility features developed and deployed by professional learning and higher education firms has been designed around access via smart phone. This effort doesn’t align with regulated accessibility rules and guidelines; it’s taken because it a logical step along the path toward making content accessible by everyone and in ways that matter to consumers.
There are two sides to ensure accessibility for all. First, standards developers need to apply accessibility features at the creation level (more on that topic in Part II) and SDO’s need to ensure that they distribute learning and standards content in a format that supports both regulatory compliance and consumer expectations. After all, if it can’t be conveniently and securely consumed then all the collaboration, development, committee review, proofing efforts, etc. are wasted.
In my next article I’ll be asking industry experts about technical specifications surrounding WCAG, Section 508 as well ADA as it applies to digital content. We’ll also dive a bit deeper into the list of accessibility features that are becoming part of what today’s consumers expect and deserve and more specifically how SDO’s can apply those features at the development stage. In the meantime, ask yourself one question; “Is our content truly accessible or are we just meeting the minimum requirements?”
Vice President, Gilmore Global