Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Open means accessible

CC0 Public domain on Pexels
One important aspect of openness is accessibility but how many open educational resources meet accessibility guidelines?  How many films offer subtitles and a text manuscript, can all texts offer text to speech, are there transcripts of audio podcasts and are there options for slower playback of video and audio material? The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide all the necessary guidelines for web-based content but I suspect a large amount of educational content falls short (maybe even this blog!).

This has been a largely overlooked aspect of openness but an article in Inside Higher Ed, Berkeley Will Delete Online Content, reveals that Berkeley's whole open courseware program has been called out for not complying to accessibility legislation.

The Justice Department, following an investigation, in August determined that the university was violating the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. The department reached that conclusion after receiving complaints from two employees of Gallaudet University, saying Berkeley’s free online educational content was inaccessible to blind and deaf people because of a lack of captions, screen reader compatibility and other issues.

Complying with these demands would be a time-consuming and costly process for the university; 20,000 audio and video files would have to be upgraded. So Berkeley have chosen to remove the offending resources from the public space and put everything back where it came from, closed behind the university log-in. This process alone is calculated to take between three to five months.

“In many cases the requirements proposed by the department would require the university to implement extremely expensive measures to continue to make these resources available to the public for free,” Koshland wrote in a Sept. 20 statement. “We believe that in a time of substantial budget deficits and shrinking state financial support, our first obligation is to use our limited resources to support our enrolled students. Therefore, we must strongly consider the unenviable option of whether to remove content from public access.”

This would seem to be a major blow to open education and I can imagine that many other institutions will be checking their own open courseware to see how well it meets accessibility requirements. But most importantly it shows that accessibility should be built in to all educational resources, whether they are publicly available or restricted access. Moving resources from public view doesn't solve the problem because you need to ensure that all students can access and use the resources as part of their education. It would be very sad if this endangers the further development of openness in education but if it means that awareness of accessibility will be raised than maybe it's a step that must be taken.


  1. Hi Alastair! I agree with you, that it has to be build-in in all educational resources. A personal dilemma that I have with this is that I don´t immediately have the time and knowledge to do this. But I love the fact that this blog post and the discussion we´ve had in ONL171 has been a starting point to our discussions at Malmö University.

  2. Nice to know that! Accessibility is an important and often overlooked issue. It's not only for people with difficulties, using subtitles and offering transcripts can benefit everyone.

  3. Thank you Alistair, this blog post made me realize that I must take openness a step further, that is thinking in advance about accessibility requirements when designing blended courses. Using digital technologies to, for example, record lectures does not automatically mean that it is accessible to all students participating in the course. I have told my colleagues about this post.