Encouraging Students to Create Accessible Content with WebAIM’s WAVE Tool
How can educators inspire their students to create more accessible digital content by introducing a tool like WebAIM’s WAVE tool?
The delivery of specific accommodations is usually the responsibility of the instructor and the institution. Often, when framing conversations about accessibility, the conversation steers instructors towards doing certain types of accessible work in advance, so the need to have a specific accommodation is lowered. That said, I have been reflecting on how each person in a classroom contributes to the space and can impact how inclusive and accessible the space and content can be.
I don’t have a disability, but I am related to someone who has an unseen disability. He will often look like someone who is disinterested in or non-participatory in the conversations surrounding him, but in reality, he just can’t process all of the sounds and verbal noise at the same time. So when there’s group breakout discussions or work and multiple people are talking, he can’t understand what’s going on. But if a group discussion was held online or if there was a way to have live captions/transcript, he could more fully participate without feeling left out or perceived as being a poor student. In those group experiences, rather than the instructor coming up with a different activity, how cool would it be if the technology and the habits of the classroom were already set up to create an accessible environment so this person didn’t need to ask for an accommodation or suffer the poor grades and feeling left out x because they weren’t willing to “out” themselves.
How cool would it be to have a whole community of learners contribute to making the classroom an accessible place? This doesn’t mean outing or sharing a specific accommodation, this means those same things we want instructors to do to make their courses more accessible could also be done by students to create a more accessible classroom. Just like how some instructors have a syllabus statement about how each person is responsible for creating and contributing to the learning environment, the same can be applied to accessibility and by introducing tools that help do accessibility checks, this work becomes easy to incorporate on a regular basis.
Picking a Tool(s)
Now, before I jump into identifying tools, it’s important to remember that “Human judgement is required. Sometimes evaluation tools can produce false or misleading results. Web accessibility evaluation tools can not determine accessibility, they can only assist in doing so (w3.org).”
An additional challenge when selecting a tool for the classroom is that technologies have their own audiences and may focus on a specific task. This makes it hard to have an “all encompassing” tool or “one ring” that will catch everything. In reality, most people who work in accessibility use a variety of tools. For example, I make use of the built-in accessibility checkers in Adobe and Microsoft Office 365. I also use a variety of screen readers, do testing on Macs, PCs,and tablets, use the Canvas Accessibility checker and Immersive Reader, but also employ tools like Lighthouse in Chrome’s Developer Tools to locate web accessibility issues.
But what can I do for people who aren’t experts? Instructors usually don’t have time to become experts, and students even less so. So I wanted to see if I could find a tool that could help identify potential issues, clearly explain why there might be a problem, provide tips on how to resolve the issue, and be easy to use. It’s a tall task, but I think I may have found one that comes close.
This tool is actually “a suite of tools” combined to work through a web browser plug-in or you can go directly to their website and input a URL without installing the plug-in. This tool works best for single page scans, which is perfect for a student blog post or web content.
It can be overwhelming, because icons appear all over the website pages when the tool is turned on. If you’re not familiar with what the tool is doing and how it works, this can be intimidating. That said, to some degree I like that there are icons everywhere. It helps me see where an issue is located when I visually scan a page.
The parts that I like are:
- Some web pages are distracting, so I can turn styles on and off, to focus on the particular issues raised.
- Summary page that shows the quick number of potential issues. It not only checks for document structure, which is the use of headings in appropriate order, as well as color contrast.
- Details page is also good because I can see the exact number of issues and there’s an info link I can click on which tells me what the error means, why it matters, what to do, it tries to use “plain english” and links to the web standards that may be applicable to the issue.
- Color contrast is actually one of my weaker strengths in terms of remembering to check for the ratio and make sure colors and design are legible. I tend to get excited about fonts and design opportunities, so I like that it’s part of the suite of tools and I don’t need to remember to use another tool to look for this issue.
Overall, I find this tool easy to use, but a tutorial is needed as well as an introduction to why using something like this is important. It even works on some of my courses in the learning management system I use, though I did notice that it doesn’t work well on certain types of embedded content. It also won’t work on documents that are loaded online, like PDF’s or Word Docs, in those cases, the software’s accessibility checker would be best.
In comparison to the Lighthouse tool, I think their audience is different so in the end I prefer WAVE because I’m not a web developer. I think if I were a web developer, I would prefer other tools that allowed me to work directly in the code or content management system, maybe even a tool that could scan an entire site and give me a report to pages with errors – for example, scanning the entire kjpark.org domain or just scanning one page at a time.
With the increase of content being online, from the content used to teach, to a student’s work – including a portfolio online, it becomes important for students to make sure that they’re creating content that can be accessed by the world around them. Posting the content online isn’t enough, this also includes making that content accessible
In 2020, WebAIM analyzed one million home pages for accessibility issues and found that 98.1% of home pages had at least one WCAG 2.0 Failure and that the 60.9 was the average number of errors per home page. With 1 billion people worldwide having disabilities, that means there’s a whole population of people who cannot participate online.
Using WAVE for online content is easy to use, easy to install, and provides a lot of helpful information. I’ve used it to scan my own website and while I knew about some things I could do to make my site accessible, there were still issues. It’s handy to have a tool like this at my fingertips to help me find issues. I think it will be one of my go-to tools
Technology has advanced enough that we have tools at our fingertips that can help us make our own content accessible without being accessibility pros. It’s no longer excusable to say I don’t know how to do that because there are many tools that make it easier to make accessible content and create accessible spaces.. Sure, there are still frustrations with the technologies and there are some areas that still need growth (like live captions) but if little by little we all make steps to learn to create more accessible content, we can reach more people and include them in our conversations, then I think that’s a win.
W3C Web Accessibility Initiative. 2021. Selecting web accessibility evaluation tools. https://www.w3.org/WAI/test-evaluate/tools/selecting/
GAAD. 2021. Global accessibility awareness day. https://globalaccessibilityawarenessday.org/