People with disabilities make up the third largest minority group in the United States—more than 40 million people. The Internet is either partially or completely inaccessible to many of the disabled and accessible websites can be difficult to create.
Commitment to Accessibility
SoftChalk products enable educators, instructional designers and curriculum specialists to create interactive and engaging digital curriculum that is typically delivered to students via the institution’s learning management system.
SoftChalk is committed to ensuring that the learning content that our product produces is usable and accessible by all students. In particular, we have focused our efforts on ensuring that SoftChalk produces content that is screen-readable, and can be navigated by students who may be limited to using a keyboard only when accessing the content. In addition, we provide integration with third-party tools, such as ReadSpeaker, to enable additional functionality for those students who may benefit from having their content spoken aloud, in addition to reading their content text.
SoftChalk has been recognized by specialists in the field as a leader among software companies in addressing accessibility issues in its products. We continually strive to make improvements so that educational institutions who use our products can meet regulatory requirements, so that educators can easily incorporate those requirements into their everyday work, and ultimately so that all students can have the best possible educational experience.
SoftChalk evaluates accessibility using Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act issues by the United States federal government. SoftChalk’s Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) documents SoftChalk’s conformance with the accessibility standards under Section 508. The VPAT was developed by the Information Technology Industry Council to be used across the software industry. As more and more companies complete VPATs for their software products, you can evaluate a single product by consulting its VPAT.
Developing software, like developing digital learning content, is an on-going process. We regularly perform internal accessibility testing with screen reader technology to ensure that SoftChalk-produced content works as desired
SoftChalk staff have worked with both individuals and organizations to develop and implement accessibility product improvements. Beginning in 2006, SoftChalk hired a visually impaired graduate student who reviewed SoftChalk-produced content and provided suggestions for improvements; in 2009 when we commissioned a formal review and recommendations from the American Foundation for the Blind which we implemented in 2010; and in 2011 and 2013 SoftChalk solicited input from accessibility specialists at educational institutions who were using SoftChalk in everyday practice which resulted in major product enhancements that followed in 2012 and 2014.
We invite the participation of individuals and institutions who desire to provide testing, feedback and input on accessibility requirements for future improvements and new features.
Information for Users with Disabilities
At SoftChalk, our focus is on making it easy for educators to produce digital content that is engaging and interactive for students, but also is accessible for those who use assistive technologies. Key features include:
- Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)
SoftChalk uses Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) for page layout and styling. Using CSS improves accessibility because it separates the document content from the presentation of the content, allowing the content to be easily read by screen readers. Instructors can elect to use style sheets or no style at all. Pages using styles are still readable without access to the style sheets
Color combinations are selected by the instructor. Color is not used exclusively for information purposes. Feedback to assessment questions is given in text as well as in check or X images given in green or red.
- Embedded Media
When embedded media is used in a lesson, SoftChalk gives the instructor the option to add a text description for the media. In addition, SoftChalk automatically generates the embedded media with a link to a separate document that contains the text description of the media, and includes a link to the media that may be opened using an external player. Providing a media link that can be opened by an external player allows for easier access to player controls by students using screen readers.
- Interactive Activities
The interactive activities in SoftChalk are built using HTML5. Most of these activities allow students to use keyboard controls to navigate the activities. In addition, for screen readers, SoftChalk automatically generates a page that describes the activity and instructors have the ability to add additional or alternative content information specifically for students using a screen reader.
- Pop-up Quizzes
The interactive pop-up quiz questions in lessons have been designed to allow easy navigation of the content by screen readers. You can access and navigate pop-up quizzes with just a keyboard too.
Images added to a lesson can have “alt tags” added, which allow instructors to easily add image descriptors such as long descriptions and alternative text. This allows screen readers to more easily describe an image that is used on a web page. Images used as spacers and for formatting reasons do not have alt tags and are thus (appropriately) ignored by alternate browsers and screen readers.
MathML functionality ensures that when math equations are used in a SoftChalk lesson, screen reader software can read the equation.
The page navigation on lesson content pages has been designed to allow easy navigation of the content by screen readers.
- ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) tags are applied to lesson content for easier navigation by screen readers.
- A “Skip Navigation” link is provided at the top of each lesson page to allow easy navigation past redundant page navigation when desired.
- No hidden frames within lessons.
- No flickering or blinking text or images are used. Navigation can also be performed without the use of a mouse. Only a keyboard is necessary.
Instructors can easily add table caption, table summary, and headers when inserting tables into a lesson. These table features allow screen readers to more easily navigate a table and process the information contained in the table. In cases in which tables are used for formatting, no headers are used so that the tables are compatible with screen readers and other alternate browsers.
- Text Descriptions
Students can view text descriptions of audio and video content as well as content presented in iFrames and widgets.
The pop-up text annotations created in SoftChalk are designed to be accessible by screen readers. All text annotations are generated with a link to a separate document containing the text of the text annotation, for easy access by screen readers.
For questions about accessibility, to report accessibility issues, or to provide input and feedback regarding accessibility features in SoftChalk products, please contact our Support Team by sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For additional information on using SoftChalk to create accessible digital learning content, please see our “Innovators in Online Learning” archived webinars on these related topics:
- “Adding Accessibility to Online Courses: Making your online course accessible for all types of learners”
- “Engaging Diverse Learning Styles with Web and Mobile Multimedia Tools that Add Pizzazz to SoftChalk Content”
- “Creating Accessible Lessons for Students with Disabilities using SoftChalk”
- “Accommodating Other Students with Disabilities: Beyond the Need for Screen Readers”