First Accessibility SIG Partnership Meeting publishes results
Wilbert Kraan, CETIS staff
October 28, 2002

The First CETIS Techdis accessibility Special Interest Group (SIG) get-together was held Tuesday last week. The Manchester meeting brought together, for the first time in the UK, e-learning vendors and specialists, academics from the FE and HE sectors and representatives from disability groups. As the feedback indicates, the opportunity was not wasted to discuss the challenges and opportunities of making e-learning accessible to everyone.

Even the mere attendance of the meeting was quite a learning experience for some seasoned, sighted powerpoint users. After a few minutes wondering why the SIG coordinators where carefully reading out URLs from the screen, and announcing the appearance of each new slide, it dawned: if you don't want to exclude, your information has to be redundant. 'Redundant' only from the point of view of sighted, hearing and physically and cognitively unimpaired people, of course.

Yet, as Vashti Zarach -assistant SIG coordinator- pointed out, accessibility goes beyond the traditionally targeted categories of people; by observing a few common sense rules, on-line learning material can become much more useable for all of us. The debate, however, is still very much on to what exact point such a one size-fits-all policy can be taken. As pointed out by some participants during the discussion, able students will reach a point where multimedia content is so appreciated that two or more separate, equivalent sets of content through appropriate modalities is arguably the best solution.

Other issues that were addressed during the meeting included the need of vendors and specification bodies for use cases. Whether it went well or otherwise, any project that involves improving access to e-learning material can help improve the next generation of tools. While the practitioners in the SIG can provide those, the specialists are busy gathering more, and more readily applicable, guidance for practice. Vendors, meanwhile, have the opportunity to present their solutions to a wide and in every sense knowledgeable audience, and receive immediate feedback.

These fairly clear collaborative advantages were not the only reasons for the meeting's success. Quite a few attendants commented on the well-judged balance of specification outlines, research presentations, product demonstrations, and discussion. Combine that with the generally inclusive level at which most of the proceedings were pitched -i.e. not too techy-, and it is clear that future meetings are well worth while for anyone with an interest in accessible e-learning.

An overview of the proceedings and html and powerpoint versions of the presentations are available from the accessibility pages.