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Raising the expertise of Web designers through training. The experience of B.F.W.D. - Accessible Web Design in Austria

Klaus Miesenberger
University of Linz, Austria

klaus.miesenberger@jku.at

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Speaker's information

Klaus Miesenberger received the M. Sc. in computer science and economics from the University of Linz in 1992 and joined the Institute Integriert Studieren. Since that he manages this R&D and teaching institute which runs a service centre for students with disabilities. In 1998 he received his PhD. In 2000 he was guest professor at the Université Claude Bernard, Lyon II. He gace lectures at different Austrian universities and teacher training academies. In 2001 he got his professorship (habilitation) in Human-Computer Interaction for People with Disabilities. His research and teaching work is related to practical I.T. supported integration of people with disabilities and I.T. for people with disabilities:

He chairs the working group "Computer Science with/for People with Special Needs" of the Austrian Computer Society. This group is responsible for the "International Conference on Computer Helping People with Special Needs (ICCHP)" held 7 times since 1989 each documented in extensive proceedings; member of organisation committee and vice chair of the scientific programme committee. He organised the conference at the University of Linz in 2002. The responsibility of the conference is in his hands from now on and he acts as the organizing and publishing chair.

He is member of the scientific and professional societies IFIP, working group 13.3 (HCI and People with Special Needs), OCG, AAATE and F.E.D.O.R.A.

He teaches at the university of Linz and at the teachers' academy in Linz I.T. and assistive technology.

He is member of the board of A.L.S. (Arbeitsgemeinschaft zur Lehr- und Lernmittelerstellung für Sehgeschädigte), responsible for access to school books for school children in electronic form, co-operation with authors and publishers and general management.

He is the founder and the chair of the international association "International Computer Camps", organising annual computer training events for young blind and visually handicapped students to train in handling the P.C., to prepare them for university and to empower international and intercultural exchange. More than 1000 blind and visually handicapped students from more than 30 countries took part in these events since 1993.

He is member and at the moment vice-chair of the association Uniability, the organisation of professional counsellors for students with disabilities or chronic diseases at universities in Austria.

He is working since several years as evaluator and reviewer for the European Commission. He co-operates with several public authorities concerning European programmes in Austria.

He acts as the managing director of National Contact Point for EdeAN (European Design for All e-Accessibility Network).

He set up and manages the Regional Competence Centre I.T. for People with disabilities (K.I.-I) for the Regional Government Upper Austria.

Summary

Abstract

Over the last years a well elaborated body of knowledge in "Web Accessibility" has become available. Awareness and in accordance legal directives today ask for application of this knowledge. The BFWD post graduate course, a comprehensive university course on accessible web design, is a pro active reaction to this an increasing demand.

1. Introduction

The Institute Integriert Studieren at the University of Linz developed the course "Barrierefreies Webdesign" [1] what was partly funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) [2] and the Federal Ministry for Education, Science and Culture (bm:bwk) [3]. This course is designed for post graduate students and practitioners working in the field of web design. The course is e-learning based and designed in an accessible way for students and teachers.
After successfully implementing the curriculum, getting approved the course by the university board and preparing the first parts of the content the course started in October 2005 with 21 students coming from Austria and Germany. Most of the students work in web design companies which are confronted with the need to develop accessible web pages for their clients.

2. Legislation

Web Accessibility in Austria is regulated by two laws:

  1. The e-Government-Law [4] that has been enacted in 2004 states that websites offered by public authorities have to follow international Web Accessibility standards in order to allow access without barriers for people with disabilities. Following this law, web pages of public authorities in Austria have to be adapted by the beginning of the year 2008.
  2. Furthermore the so called "Behindertengleichstellungsgesetz" (anti discrimination legislation) was put in force at the beginning of 2006. This law guarantees the right of access to all areas of the public sector including web pages. [5]

Due to this new legal framework an increasing demand for courses can be expected.

3. Development of the Curriculum

The development of the curriculum has formally been assigned to the committee responsible for computer science studies at the University of Linz. Based on the drafts delivered by the Institute Integriert Studieren and according to the intensive communication and discussions with the committee, the curriculum has been improved through several iterations. The curriculum has a total sum of 44 semester hours and is divided into the following six modules:

Each of the modules contains appropriate lectures. Mandatory attendance hours are reduced to a minimum during the whole course as the main parts of the content are taught using an online e-Learning system. This was intended and also accepted as and invitations for experts on the job.

4. Inclusive Education

The goal of the postgraduate course was not only to teach people about Web Accessibility, but also to design the course itself in a way that people with disabilities are able to attend as well as to teach in the course. According criteria had to be taken into account when selecting and adapting the system. Several e-Learning platforms were analysed including commercial as well as non-commercial systems. It became obvious that commercial systems are at the one hand not affordable for the project, and on the other hand do not comply to the requirements regarding Web Accessibility. As the source is not available they cannot be adapted. The decision was between three non-commercial systems: "ATutor" [6], "Ilias" [7] and "Moodle" [8]. Moodle was selected for several reasons: it is open source, it fulfils most of the accessibility criteria, it seems to be adaptable without too much effort, and it allows content developers to use the tools they are familiar with (as for example M.S. Word for lecture notes). The following changes and features have been implemented to increase the accessibility and usability:

The adapted system now fulfils most priority 1 and 2 criteria of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG 1.0) [9] of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) [10].
To make self-studying easier, a lecture-like presentation tool for content including slides and synchronised speech with the additional possibility to navigate through slides and chapters has been developed. The first attempt was using the Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL) [11], more precisely the Timed Interactive Multimedia Extensions for HTML (HTML+TIME) [12], which are based on the XHTML+SMIL language profile [13] of the Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language and add timing and media synchronisation support to H.T.M.L. pages. But there were some problems that came along with using H.T.M.L.+T.I.M.E.: the use of streaming media is not supported, and the only supported browser is Microsoft Internet Explorer. In a second attempt, a prototype using Javascript has been developed and is in use now. Using Javascript does not make the application fully accessible according to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, but it is assumed that people with disabilities joining the course use modern assistive technologies. Our tests involving experienced blind computer users have shown very positive results.
At the beginning of the postgraduate course, a face to face meeting of 2 days was organised. This was used for an introduction to the course, for social contacts and a good start of co-operation and for an introduction to the e-learning system. Three face to face meetings are organised each semester. The last one includes exams.
Today blind, visually handicapped and deaf students attend the course. Also three blind and one severely mobility impaired teacher successfully use the system for delivering their courses. This shows that an adequate solution has been found.

5. Future plans

After successfully starting the course in Austria first considerations and negotiations have been started to offer the course also in other countries and languages. This of course asks for localizing the content. Such co-operations should guarantee the offer in the long run and an efficient and cost effective organisation and updating.
The curriculum is designed following a modular approach, which allows that single lectures can be changed and also used also for other teaching purposes. Some lectures could for example be easily integrated into the regular lectures for computer science students or to provide training for interested companies and organisations.
As the e-Learning system Moodle is developed by a big community, there is a constant progress in functionalities. To keep the system up to date, it will be necessary to port the adaptations that were made regarding to Web Accessibility also to newer releases of Moodle. Discussions with the community about integrating our adaptions into their development and therefore also into new releases would not only be very useful for us, but also for all other organisations providing e-Learning courses via Moodle.
As soon as version 2.0 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (W.C.A.G. 2.0) [14] becomes an official recommendation of W.A.I., the current installation of the e-Learning system has to be adapted according to the new specifications.
Additionally, also the contents of the course that deal with the guidelines have to be adapted in order to follow the new recommendation.
The Institute Integriert Studieren is currently preparing another postgraduate course which will use the same system for teaching: "Assistic - Assistive Technologies" [15] focuses on consulting and the development of the acquisition-process of Assistive Technologies in practice. It represents an interdisciplinary innovative program including technical, social, economical and medical aspects. The curriculum of this course became accepted by the university at the end of 2005. The first course will start in October 2006.

6. References

[1] "Barrierefreies Webdesign" project homepage, online available on May 13, 2005
[2] European Social Fund (E.S.F.) online available on May 13, 2005
[3] Federal Ministry for Education, Science and Culture (bm:bwk) online available on May 13, 2005
[4] E-Government-Law (E-GovG), 2004, online available on May 13, 2005
[5] Behindertengleichstellungsgesetz - Regierungsvorlage (government bill), 2005, online available on May 13, 2005
[6] ATutor Homepage online available on May 13, 2005
[7] Ilias Homepage online available on May 13, 2005
[8] Moodle Homepage, online available on May 13, 2005
[9] Web Content Accessibiliy Guidelines 1.0, W.3.C Recommendation, 1999, online available on May 13, 2005
[10] Web Accessibility Initiative (W.A.I.) online available on May 13, 2005
[11] Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (S.M.I.L.) online available on May 13, 2005
[12] H.T.M.L.+T.I.M.E. online available on May 13, 2005
[13] X.H.T.M.L.+S.M.I.L., W.3.C. Note, 2002 online available on May 13, 2005
[14] Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, W.3.C. Working Draft, 2004 online available on May 13, 2005
[15] Assistive Technologies project homepage online available on January 23, 2006

Presentation Klaus Miesenberger (ppt, 96.50 Ko)

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