In January 2018 we were lucky enough to host a visit from Alistair McNaught, a JISC subject specialist on accessibility and inclusion. Alistair spent a day at the University as a “mystery shopper”, playing the role of a student with disabilities who was trying to access various digital resources and services. He looked at the full range of services – prospectus, website, Library platforms and Moodle – but here I’ll focus on his observations about the VLE.

The first thing to note is that Alistair had difficulty logging on to a PC in the morning: it took more than ten minutes for the desktop to appear. The student sitting next to him confirmed that, after the initial boot, it often did take a long time before a public PC was in a state that allowed work to take place. Not good for a student with ADHD!

Alistair confirmed that tab order (for keyboard navigation) works well in Moodle and the visual tracking of focus is good. There’s easy navigation with breadcrumb trails and a navigation side panel; this is important because good navigation assists all users, especially assistive technology users. The Moodle accessibility block is available and obvious on all pages, and Equality and Diversity information is easily discoverable. The self-enrol E&D course has lots of very good, easily accessible, generic awareness-raising resources; and there are easy-to-find PDF resources on equality data – these have good reflow and colour change possibilities. All this is good news and it allows us to build on – in Alistair’s words – conscious competence.

However, there are some things we need to think about. For example, some of our third-party resources have accessibility issues; we are to some extent a hostage to fortune in these cases, but at least now we are in a position to raise the points with the suppliers. Another issue was that some of our generic units have poor colour contrast; Alistair pointed us to a tool – the Colour Contrast Analyser from the Paciello group – which will help us identify these problems more readily. And once we are aware of them, it’s easier to fix.

Alistair also took a look (with the consent of the academics involved) at a couple of teaching units from ICJS. He was highly impressed with the pedagogical approach taken in these units, and he praised a number of aspects. A “lovely human [video-based] introduction adds value for many students” – but he added that it “would be even better with transcript or captions”. It was “great to see active use of rich media and a nice visual key to resources”; the “direct links to reading resource and final assessment” were useful; and the “impressive range of resources” were “well organised” and had “clearly scaffolded teaching with explanations and pointers to the purpose of the resources”. Where resources could cause access issues this has been recognised and a genuine attempt made to remedy it with a PDF alternative (however, the PDF had its own accessibility issues and so does the ‘Click here’ link text). Finally, a Useful News and Information block showed “great currency, with tie-in to contemporaneous issues”. So, again, there is a lot of conscious competence on which we can build.

These units had some issues; fortunately, they are easily fixed. For example, hyperlinks need unique and meaningful link text so that assistive technologies that gather page links together can give users meaningful information. If an author writes “Click here to browse an interactive timeline of key events” then the result from assistive technologies might be a long list of “Click here”s – which is entirely uninformative. Much better to write: “Click here to browse an interactive timeline of key events”. Another problem came from an interactive Articulate resource that failed to load; even if it did load, Articulate generally produces output with limited accessibility. And some structures had untitled navigation elements, which would cause problems for some users. (This last issue might be down to an underlying Moodle template issue; Alistair pointed us to another tool – the HTML5 Outliner plugin for Chrome – that will help us investigate this further.)

All in all this was a tremendously useful visit. We know there are areas of good practice we can build on, and there are issues we can fix.  And it truly is worth pursuing this: if we take an inclusive approach to Moodle and the content on it, all learners will benefit.

Feature image title:  Web Accessibility Word Cloud by Jill Wright is licensed by CC-BY 2.0 on Flickr