Evaluating the accessibility of e-texts for students with disabilities is an important task, but a difficult one due to the variety and number of digital textbook services available. This page does not contain a comprehensive list of known issues for every product from every publisher. Instead, it is intended as a starting point for faculty that will introduce a few common issues and outline the process that should be used to evaluate your particular materials.
What is Assistive Technology?
The phrase “assistive technology” refers to tools like screen readers and screen magnifiers that allow individuals with disabilities to maintain or augment their functional capabilities. Often, assistive technologies present digital content in a different way than it was originally intended; for example, an individual who is blind might use a screen reader that takes digital text content and renders it as audio. Accessibility barriers arise when certain types of content are implemented in a way that prevents assistive technologies from accessing the content, or when the content is only provided in one format (such as audio without a transcript).
Common Content Accessibility Issues
Here are some common content accessibility issues your digital textbook materials might contain.
- What it means: Images should all have alternative text descriptions (“alt text”) associated with them, which allows screen readers to read aloud the content of the image for non-sighted users.
- How to fix it: You may or may not be able to make this change on your own. If the content area containing the image is editable, such as a quiz question that you created, there may be a built-in interface in the content editor that allows you to add alt text. However, if the image is part of the textbook itself and is not editable, you may need to contact the publisher to have it fixed.
- What it means: Tables often visually have header rows that structure the data they contain. However, if the header row is not specified in the code programmatically, then screen readers won’t be able to correctly interpret the table structure and it may be read aloud as just a sequence of data without associated column and row headers.
- How to fix it: Similar to alt-text, this may or may not be within your control. If it is content you created in a content editor, there may be a properties interface that lets you define the header row and/or column. Otherwise you will need to contact the publisher.
- What it means: Flash-based applications are generally not accessible to screen reader users. If the video player used by the publisher is not accessible to screen reader users, they may not be able to successfully locate, start, or stop the video.
- How to fix it: The publisher will need to replace the player with one that uses HTML5 rather than Flash and has been designed with accessibility in mind.
- What it means: Many academic videos contain visualizations of important concepts. If the visualization is not effectively described via audio, individuals who are blind or low vision will not be able to access all of the content of the video.
- How to fix it: Contact the publisher and ask them for an audio-described version of the video.
- What it means: Closed captioning is critical for deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals to access the information presented through the audio of a video.
- How to fix it: Ask the publisher to provide closed captioning.
- What it means: Certain types of quiz questions rely on inaccessible mechanisms. For example, drag-and-drop questions are generally inaccessible to individuals who are blind and individuals who do not use a mouse. “Hotspot”-type questions rely on inherently visual judgements, and are inaccessible to individuals with a vision disability.
- How to fix it: Avoid using inaccessible quiz question types. Multiple choice and text entry question types tend to be the most accessible options, but this is dependent on the platform you are using. The best option is to ask the publisher for guidance.
- Ask for Publisher Information: Contact the publisher to ask them for details about the accessibility of your particular textbook and/or digital content service. This should include all known accessibility issues, any workarounds that the student can use, and any guidance for faculty on how to ensure any content you create within the platform is accessible.
- Review your Assessments: If you use a platform’s online quizzes, ask the publisher for a list of quiz question types that are accessible. Review your own quiz content to ensure that none of your questions rely on drag-and-drop actions, images without alt text, or other inaccessible mechanisms.
- Consult with Accessibility Specialists: Reach out to the Digital Accessibility office for help evaluating your e-text at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Notify your Students: If the digital software or services (including e-texts or online homework systems) used in your course are not fully accessible, please notify your students in your syllabus with the following statement:
"This course requires the use of [name of software or service], which is currently not accessible to users of assistive technology. If you use assistive technology to access the course material, please contact your faculty member and Disability Services at 303-492-8671 or by e-mail at email@example.com as soon as possible to discuss other effective means for providing equal alternate access."
Accessibility Guidance for Specific Products
- Use the 2.0 version of an e-text if it is available. You should consult with your Pearson representative to ensure all of your materials are in the 2.0 version.
- Consult the Pearson list of accessible question types.