The following outlines recommendations from the Accessible Moodle project to improve the accessibility of UCL Moodle for disabled students and staff, as well as improve usability for all users. These have been informed by focus groups with disabled students and staff; analysis of how UK websites adhere to accessibility guidelines; and research of relevant journal articles and accessibility guidelines.
Our primary aim is to ensure Moodle is technically accessible using assistive technologies including ZoomText, JAWS screen-reader, Read & Write, Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software, as well as other assistive technologies commonly used at UCL. In addition, keyboard-only access should be fully supported. It is also important that UCL Moodle is usable for those with disabilities, as well as the wider student and staff community.
In order to develop these recommendations, the project team ran focus groups with UCL students and staff with disabilities, to find out what they found difficult to use within Moodle and what suggestions they had for improvements. I have blogged previously about the background to the project and the outcomes of these focus groups.
A number of sources were also referenced to see how Moodle could be made to better adhere to accessibility guidelines. The most important of these are the following three guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) :
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA for making Moodle and its content more accessible.
- Web Accessibility Initiative – Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite (WAI-ARIA) for designing Moodle so users of assistive technologies, like screen-readers, can navigate and read its pages.
- Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) for making the Moodle rich text editors more accessible.
A number of websites were also analysed to compare how each of them implemented W3C guidelines.
The list that follows is a wish list, which may not all be implemented, but gives us a guide for how we might improve Moodle. Although there are many other elements that are important, but not mentioned below, the following makes a start of improving the interface for disabled and non-disabled users alike.
We are taking a multi-faceted approach to resolve the issues identified, and work is likely to be ongoing, but here’s a list of changes we’d like to see made to make Moodle more accessible.
Assistive Technology compatibility.
The following recommendations are likely to require implementation at multiple levels, so don’t easily fit under any single development areas below. The project aims to achieve the following:
- Content and editing features are available to screen-readers, or suitable alternatives are available – e.g. offline marking in Word enables in-line marking for assessments.
- Navigation is straight-forward, with content appearing before menus and appropriate headings, links and lists being utilised to enable easy navigation using common screen-reader features. E.g. the list of module tutor names under every Moodle course name in the search results means that hundreds of links are listed to screen-reader users and sighted users are overwhelmed by irrelevant information which needs to be scrolled past, and which is particularly problematic for those with dyslexia.
- All images have alt tags (even if these are empty), or in the case of icons that supplement text, they use ARIA tags to tell screen-readers to ignore them.
- Accepts user input using voice recognition software, like Dragon Naturally Speaking.
- Enables magnification by ensuring the pages display well when the browser is zoomed in or when zooming software is used.
- Visible focus when using the keyboard (tab, space, enter and arrow keys) to navigate.
- Supports the use of OpenDyslexi font, available as a browser plugin to help those with dyslexia read text.
A multi-faceted approach
The following five areas outline the different ways in which Accessibility improvements can be made to UCL Moodle.
- A new, more accessible UCL Moodle theme for use on desktop and mobile devices.
- Minimise clutter, by enabling blocks to be hidden and removing extraneous information.
- Position elements for optimal access. E.g. ensure the login is prominent and important course features are easy to access.
- Simplify the menus, by showing relevant links only to relevant users. E.g. staff see different links from students.
- Improve the course icons by making them larger and clearer. E.g. the maximise block link is not intuitive.
- Show alerts to users – e.g. explaining that editors can drag and drop files, warnings of Moodle outage periods.
- Improve navigation, e.g. by enabling links to key areas that users expect.
- Use high contrasting colours on a pale background that is easy to read for those with dyslexia (e.g. not white).
- Changes to Moodle configuration.
- Configure text editors so they encourage accessible content design. E.g. offering heading styles 3-5, removing the inclination for people to add heading 1 and 2 tags when these are used at higher levels within Moodle pages.
- Enable global search (assuming this does not negatively impact performance).
- Allow students and staff to personalise the interface by enabling courses to be moved up and down on the My Home page, hide and show blocks, maximise the screen or use a default width better for reading and dock blocks.
- Enhanced Moodle features.
A number of plugins to Moodle exist that make Moodle more usable and improve accessibility.
- Implement and configure user tours to help users understand how to use Moodle and point to help with accessibility features.
- Install the course checks plugin to help staff create an accessible Moodle course – e.g. checks for assignment due dates in past, courses not reset, broken links.
- Implement a Moodle course site map so students can easily see what is available on a course on one page.
- Enable importing content from Word, which some users find easier to edit within than Moodle.
- Pilot the Blackboard Ally plugin to help in the creation of more accessible learning resources and course structures.
- Install the Office 365 plugin to make it easier to author, organise and link or embed content into Moodle (coming to Moodle core in v3.3).
- Enable staff to add icons to help signpost particular areas of their course and help people who prefer these visual cues, as opposed to having to read excessive text.
- Improved training, staff development and support.
- Develop a course for Moodle editors so they understand how to develop accessible Moodle resources and activities.
- Develop an online course to explain how Assistive Technologies can be used with Moodle (e.g. regions for JAWS, browser plugins to show a reading ruler, change fonts to OpenDyslexi font, improve colour contrast).
- Improved interfaces by proposing enhancements to Moodle HQ and iParadigms (who provide Turnitin).
- Adequately signpost links showing (new window, document, external/internal etc) automatically.
- Enable users to personalise their experience by allowing them to choose their own course format, set blocks to particular colours.
- Improve assessment interfaces, such as the Moodle Assignment rubric functionality and display.
- Flag new items on the Moodle course page (allow this to be enabled/disabled in user preferences).
- Improve the Moodle calendar – e.g. size, reliance on colour, clicking month to access full screen.
- Improve the discussion forums – e.g. showing the entire thread when replying, the accessibility of the email alerts it sends.
- Fix Moodle heading tags.
The UCL Digital Education team, staff in Disability Support teams and staff from IT for IoE are slowly working through each of these five strands to make improvements to virtual learning experiences at UCL for those with disabilities. Many of these improvements will also benefit other Moodle users, since accessibility cannot be considered in isolation from usability, so this means an enhanced user experience for everyone!