Accessibility in WISEflow
The need for better accessibility, both physically and digitally, is rapidly becoming more and more apparent throughout the world. Organisations and businesses are increasing their focus on how they can improve their service, product or institution for people with different disabilities.
At UNIwise, we too try to provide an increasingly better experience for students with a wide array of disabilities. But if we turn back time a bit, the question of accessibility has been with us from the very beginning.
Sjørringvold Efterskole – The Very First WISEflow users
In 2012, in the early days of WISEflow, we met the principal of Sjørringvold Efterskole at an education exhibition. She approached us with a specific problem regarding their exams.
Sjørringvold Efterskole is an independent boarding school for lower secondary students, specialising in young adults with dyslexia and other learning-related challenges. Because of their specialisation in these students, they had adapted their learning environment to be based solely on tablets that the students used every day. This practice completely levelled the students’ individual learning challenges, as the students could use custom-made digital aids within the tablet to counter their specific difficulties.
The problem arose when it came to testing the students, as their final exams – issued by the government – were paper-based. This meant that all the digital aids the students used every day were inaccessible in the exam situation. The challenge caused a serious problem, as the students were in essence taught and tested in two were different environments, making the testing of the students inaccurate and putting the students at a severe disadvantage.
At the time, digital exams and assessments were unexplored territory for many educational institutions and, as such, also unfamiliar for legislators at the Ministry of Education. The principal of Sjørringvold Efterskole had long discussed this issue with the Ministry of Education, and when the school acquired the WISEflow platform, the ministry at the same time gave them an exemption to conduct their final exams digitally.
This meant that the students could use their tablets in the exam situation and conduct it fully on this device: those who had difficulty reading the assignment could have it read to them digitally; the students with writing and spelling problems could have it read to them likewise, so they could hear the errors and mistakes they could not see in their own text. By implementing a digital exam platform, Sjørringvold Efterskole transformed their exam situations in exactly the same way as they had transformed their everyday learning environment, making the digital tools that the students were accustomed to and relied on accessible throughout their entire education.
Sjørringvold Efterskole became the very first school to use WISEflow, after UNIwise became an independent business, and they still use it today.
Accessibility in Digital Exams – Six Years Later
One part of what makes WISEflow excellent for meeting many different visual learning disabilities is the responsive design. With a responsive design, no matter what device you use, WISEflow adapts accordingly to provide the optimal viewing experience. Whether using large LCD screens, smaller laptops or tablets, WISEflow is easy to read and navigate.
The meaningful graphical elements in WISEflow are assigned text to explain their function or content, so that screen-readers can convey the information just as easily as regular text. The colours used in the software are chosen with consideration to accessibility guidelines, so differently coloured elements are reasonably contrasting (a minimum of 3:1 contrast) to ensure minimal loss of information. With digital exams, another possibility to provide equal access to all students is the optionof customising fonts and font sizes, which is possible in nearly all modern web browsers. This allows visually impaired students to tailor the exam experience to their preferences and counter exactly the hindrances they have towards accessing information on screens, without the exam administration having to make special accommodations for individual students.
Providing accessibility features is a conscious effort in the continuous development of the WISEflow platform. The student’s user experience is a priority to us, so naturally that also includes being compliant with various accessibility guidelines like WCAG 2.0 to provide equal access to our services and functionalities.
The Challenges and Dependencies of Accessibility in WISEflow
In our locked environment, the LockDown browser, the use of students’ own digital aids can become a challenge, as the lockdown browser inhibits access to both local files and online resources (though the latter can be approved by the creator of the exam). One of the steps towards improved accessibility within the lockdown browser is to provide access to assistive technologies on the WISEflow platform, such as spelling control and JAWS (Job Access With Speech), which is accessible through a keyboard command. JAWS is a screen reading software that makes blind and visually impaired students able to access information on a computer screen, either by reading it aloud as text-to-speech or transferring the information to a refreshable Braille display on the students’ computers.
As we partner with other specialised ed-tech providers to deliver the optimal exam and assessment platform, we are often dependent on their compliance with different accessibility guidelines. One such partner is Learnosity, who offers the multiple-choice system we use in our FLOWmulti module. But just as we consider our partners’ professional qualities carefully before we enter into a partnership, we also consider their stand on delivering easy-to-use solutions for all users, and Learnosity is a terrific example of that, as they strive to provide great accessibility features in their product, such as ARIA-labels, closed captioning and WCAG 2.0 compliance.
So, what does all this mean? Are we the world champions of providing accessibility? No, we are not.
What it does mean is that we are aware of the challenges that students with disabilities encounter when they use digital tools in their education. We are aware of our responsibility as providers and we take accessibility into consideration in every step of our development. And – most importantly – we will keep doing that. We think of designing for disabilities and striving for compliance with different accessibility guidelines as a help, not a hurdle. Many of the things we develop in WISEflow to aid disabled students also support the configuration of the overall design of WISEflow, giving the collective user base a better and more streamlined exam and assessment experience. So, while accessibility has been with us from the start, it is no longer something we do for the disabled students alone. We do it for everyone.