How to account for the accessibility of OER?

What does accessibility mean?

Accessibility means that as many people as possible can use online services as easily as possible. It also means that accessibility has been taken into account in the planning and implementation of the services.

Accessible open educational resources support the equality and inclusion of learners. The contents of accessible open educational resources are understandable, and the materials are technically easy to use both on the website and on mobile applications. Technical usability also covers the readability of resources with the help of assistive technologies. Physical accessibility has been taken into account by ensuring the accessibility of facilities and environment.

Accessible content is useful for a large number of people. Accessibility benefits especially those with a diagnosed disability or functional defect. In the Finnish Student Health Survey, many respondents mentioned difficulties with reading, writing and concentration that can be facilitated with accessible educational resources (Finnish Student Health Survey 2016).

People with temporary limitations, such as an illness, injury or disruptive environmental factors, benefit from the provision of educational contents in various formats, such as videos with captions. The educational resources need to be accessible to accommodate learners with limited language proficiency or poor IT skills.

Areas of accessibility

Accessibility can be examined from the perspective of technical implementation, ease of use, and clarity and comprehensibility of content. When an online service is technically well implemented, i.e., compliant with the HTML standard and WCAG guidelines, it uses error-free and logical source code. Technically well implemented service operates on a wide range of terminals and with various assistive technologies, such as voice control or screen readers.

Ease of use means:

  • the online service has a clear user interface
  • the system entity is easy to conceive
  • navigation is clear
  • the page, function or content one is looking for is easy to find.

Therefore, in practice, the main content of the educational resources must be easy to distinguish from other elements. Attention should also be paid to how the users navigate in digital learning environments and how the resources are named, so that it is easy for everyone to study using them. It must also be possible to use them independently.

The comprehensibility of content is an essential part of an accessible online service and it enables learning. Comprehensibility derives from clear language and logically proceeding entities. Different learners have different ways by which they perceive and understand information presented to them, so providing content in ways that can be observed through various senses promotes individual learning. The provision of resources in alternative ways is particularly useful for students with sensory impairments or learning difficulties or with a mother tongue other than Finnish.

Accessibility regulations

The Act on the Provision of Digital Services (306/2019) defines the minimum requirement level for accessibility (AA) of online services based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 standards. The act is based on the European Union Directive (2016/2102) on the accessibility of the websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies that entered into force on 22 December 2016. According to the directive, all digital services and ‘published content’ should be accessible. In Finland, the supervisory authority for compliance with the law is the Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern Finland. The Act applies to organisations operating in the role of a public authority (e.g., universities, universities of applied sciences, local authorities). In addition to public authorities, accessibility requirements apply to bodies governed by public law; organisations and services whose activities are supported by public funds; and some private sector service providers (banks, insurance companies).

The online services and content published online by public authorities and governed by public law must meet the accessibility requirements. The requirements apply to all content published online, including text, images, videos and different kinds of files. The law applies retroactively to files shared or presented online only in part: videos and audio files published earlier than 23 September 2020 and document files published earlier than 23 September 2018 are not covered by the law.

The Act does not need to be applied to education provided under the Universities Act or the Universities of Applied Sciences Act when a website or mobile application is created in connection with teaching and its use takes place in a closed group for a fixed period of time. Furthermore, the accessibility requirements of the Act do not apply to live video broadcasts.

Every organisation subject to the legal accessibility requirements under the Act shall make an accessibility statement on their websites and mobile applications and publish it on their website. The statement should specify any deviations from accessibility requirements (e.g., accessibility gaps on websites or in Microsoft Office documents) and inform about the possibility to give feedback on accessibility.

At best, how accessible open educational resources and learning environments are from the learner's perspective?

Accessibility is for everyone as it makes it easier and smoother for everyone to use educational resources and learning environments. People almost inevitably encounter situations in which they benefit from the various elements of accessibility – for example, sufficient contrast used in the educational resources helps if the user tries to read the material in bright sunlight.

At best, open educational resources and learning environments reflect the application of the Design for All principle. In accordance with this principle, as a rule, the educational resources and learning environments try to accommodate diverse groups of learners and use situations, which contributes to the equality and social inclusion of learners.

From the perspective of those using accessible open educational resources or learning environments, the Design for All principle is helpful in the following ways:

1) Everyone has equal opportunities and access to the educational resources and learning environments. Equal opportunities and access are ensured when preparing educational resources and learning environments. Equal opportunities and access include taking into account different hardware environments and network connections, and the varying language proficiency of learners. When properly realised, equal opportunities and access also prevent the stigmatisation of learners or groups of learners.

2) The educational resources and learning environments can be used flexibly. It is possible for learners to adapt the educational resources or learning environment to their specific needs and devices and software available to them with various individual settings and features. At best, the same resources may even contain alternative sections suited for different ways of learning, for example.

3) The educational resources and learning environments are easy to use. The educational resources or learning environments are not too complex, but learners know how to use them regardless of their previous experience, skills, linguistic competence, level of concentration or devices and software available to them.

4) The possibilities of using or understanding the educational resources and the learning environment in a wrong way have been prevented. When learners do not need to spend time reading error messages, they can focus on the content of the educational resources or learning environment. Accessible educational resources prevent potential misunderstandings, which means that the learners can be sure that they have internalised the content of the material in the right way.

5) The educational resources and learning environment encourage people to learn more. Accessible educational resources and learning environments generate good learning experiences and do not discourage the learner.

6) Openness disseminates good accessibility practices. If the educational resources or learning environments are open, the good examples provided by them can be used as models for developing them further. In this way, good accessibility practices applied to educational resources and learning environments spread rapidly to wider circles, which also helps learners.

What to do if learners notice shortcomings in the accessibility of educational resources?

The user experience alone may be indicative of insufficient accessibility of educational resources. For example, learners may notice that the educational resources cannot be used without a mouse or that a video shared by the teacher lacks captions. In some cases, learners can also evaluate the accessibility of educational resources using the same tools as the authors of the material, for example, when checking the colour contrast.

First, learners should give feedback on shortcomings in the accessibility of open educational resources to the author of the material or the teacher who used it in their teaching. If the author or teacher works in a higher education institution or other organisation subject to accessibility requirements, they are obligated to respond to the feedback and provide the educational resources in a format suitable for the user. Even if the accessibility requirements do not apply directly to the author, feedback gives them the opportunity to improve their educational resources.

If the author of the educational resources or the teacher who used them does not respond to the feedback or does not offer replacing educational resources, even if they should under the law, learners should contact the organisation behind the author or teacher. The background organisation should have either an online form or an email address for accessibility feedback, and the response to the feedback should come within two weeks. If the response to the feedback is not satisfactory or there is no answer at all, learners may contact the Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern Finland and submit a request for information or a complaint concerning shortcomings in accessibility.

How do you take accessibility into account as an author?

Accessibility should be taken into account already when planning educational resources, and it should be worked on when preparing the educational resources. When sharing your educational resources openly, you allow others to improve the accessibility of the materials.

Authors who take account of good accessibility of educational resources:

  1. Familiarise themselves with accessibility guidelines
  2. Use the accessibility features of the tools and environments they use
  3. Describe the accessibility of the educational resources and their potential limitations
  4. Listen to feedback and develop material based on the feedback

You can take accessibility into account in your educational resources in the following ways:

Issue

Examples on how to take into account

Lisätietoa

Tools

Clarity and comprehensibility of language

Use a clear general language that is easy for all learners to understand.

Explain the unfamiliar terms used.

 

Institute for the Languages of Finland

Accessible online text
 

 

 

 

Use tools for creating a clear and logical structure

Divide the material into sections with descriptive titles to inform the learner about the structure of the educational resource.

Take advantage of the built-in styles of the software.

Name the links illustratively.

Instructions of the Saavutettavasti.fi website to accessible documentation

eOppiva course: Accessible documents online

 

Use the software's own styles tools for preparing the documents and for checking their accessibility

Visibility and alternative presentation methods of non-textual elements

Take text and colour contrasts into account to ensure that the different contents are as easy as possible to distinguish in the material.

Make sure that the material also functions in black and white.

Produce equivalent content for non-textual material: for example, type alternative texts or captions for images, and add captions, subtitles, media alternative transcripts or audio descriptions to video and audio recordings.

Image and sound

About captioning videos

Plain language videos

The guideline Captioning of videos promotes accessibility shows the differences between different modes of captioning (open or closed captions)

Accessibility extensions to web browsers, such as the NoCoffe extensions to Chrome

Contrast checkers

It is easy to make an accessibility check on videos (www.saavutettavasti.fi)

Findability of resources and their contents

In the metadata of educational resources, describe what the resources are about, who they are intended for and how accessibility has been taken into account in them.

 

Glossary for accessibility metadata

Instructions for adding metadata

 

Library of Open Educational Resources

The usability of resources with different devices and in various environments

Use file formats and solutions that allow the user to customize the appearance according to their own needs.

 

Comparison of Epub and PDF formats

 
 

Make use of accessible materials

When you use resources produced by others in teaching, check their accessibility, e.g., captioning.

 

You can find accessible educational resources, for example, in Library of Open Educational Resources (aoe.fi)

 

How does the organisation ensure and support accessibility?

Legislation sets a minimum level of accessibility for online services. In Finland, the supervisory authority for compliance with the law is the Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern Finland, and the Agency's saavutettavuusvaatimukset.fi website gives support to operators on accessibility issues.

The organisation assesses which educational resources the accessibility requirements apply to and what the requirements mean for each organisation's activities. According to current legislation, accessibility requirements do not need to be applied when the educational resources are used in a closed group on a fixed-term or experimental basis.

However, organisations should already start examining the European Accessibility Act adopted in 2019. The directive extends the requirements to new products and services, such as e-books and devices and software used for reading them. The aim is to have the directive transposed into national law by 28 June 2022 and to have it enter into force in June 2025.

Accessibility can be seen as part of user-oriented development of services to support learning and participation. Accessibility supports high-quality production and utilisation of educational resources in organisations.

The legal obligations and the instructions drawn up from the perspective of the user and the author are taken into account in the organisation's operations.

Measures by the organisation:

  • The organisation determines how accessibility is realised in its operations
  • The organisation assigns responsibilities for measures related to accessibility and arranges the necessary resources for these measures
  • The organisation supports and instructs in the implementation of statutory obligations and provides adequate legal advice
  • The organisation supports the continuous development of educational resources
  • The organisation uses and shares good practices in the implementation of accessibility
  • The organisation invests in strengthening its personnel's accessibility competence
  • The organisation receives accessibility feedback and responds to feedback within 14 days

In addition to meeting its statutory obligations, an organisation that supports good accessibility has:

  1. defined accessibility targets and their continuous monitoring
  2. guidelines for drawing up accessible educational resources and assessing the accessibility of educational resources (see previous sections in the recommendation on the user and author's perspectives)
  3. orientation on the implementation of accessibility for all personnel and especially for specialists in learning and education support
  4. support for authors of educational resources in the preparation and use of educational resources
  5. support for the users of educational resources
  6. accessibility documentation (accessibility statement, accessibility feedback) and agreed processing practices for them

Sources and additional information

More general information on the implementation of accessibility in different forms of educational resources:

Examples of good practices and common guidelines:

You can check the accessibility of PDF files using a variety of tools: