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Accessible Web Publishing Wizard: Integrating Accessibility into Authoring Instructional Materials

Introduction

Microsoft Office is the most popular authoring tool instructors use for creating and presenting their lecture and other instructional materials for courses they teach. Course management systems like Blackboard become the conduit for these materials to be organized and published to the web for use by students, including students with disabilities. The accessibility of these instructional materials to people with disabilities are primarily in the hands of the instructor. Most instructors have little understanding of the underlying technical details of web technologies, let alone the details of accessible web design. Therefore the accessibility of the instructional materials depends on methods used to create and publish instructional materials to the web.

Accessibility of Different Web Publishing Options

There are four main ways that office materials can be published to the web: placing the native file formats on the web, using the built-in web publishing features of Microsoft Office, using a tool like the Adobe Acrobat and using the Accessible Web Publishing Wizard for Microsoft Office.

Native Formats: Placing native Word, Powerpoint and excel files on the web are a convenient way to publish Office documents, but the native option causes a problem for all users. People who do not have Microsoft office on their computers will not have access to the materials. For example computers in libraries often do not have Office installed. Even when Office is installed there is considerable disruption of moving from a web browser to the office application interface. Native Office formats are not always very accessible to people with disabilities, especially Power Point files. Office does not require that text equivalents be created for images and other non-text content, so people with learning disabilities and visual impairments may not be able to access content in the document. The structure of Office documents is often poor, so that people with physical disabilities and visual impairments that can not use the mouse will have more difficulty navigating documents.

Built-in Web Publishing Features: The default Office web conversion features for Power Point generates a proprietary XML format that can only be viewed with Internet Explorer (although some recent editions of Mozilla and Opera will do a partial rendering). The instructor can reconfigure Power Point to generate HTML that can be rendered by other browsers, like Netscape Navigator and Opera, but with less flexibility in rendering than the XML version. Even when the HTML versions of Office documents are selected the same problem that appears with native Office formats exist. There is no requirements to add text descriptions and navigation is poor, resulting in people with disabilities not having access to content and having poor navigation structures.

Adobe Acrobat PDF: Adobe PDF is a popular format for placing information on the web. The primary advantage of using PDF over native Office formats is the consistency of printing between operating systems. While Adobe has improved the accessibility features of PDF, there is still a lot of knowledge need by the author to select the right options in the saving process and limitations on creating text equivalents for insuring the document are more accessible to people with disabilities. One of the characteristics of the accessible version (“tagged text”) of PDF is the files sizes are much larger, many time 2-4 times the size of a “non-tagged” version of PDF. PDF also has the same problem of native file formats by taking the user out of the HTML browsing experience and moving them into a PDF viewing environment. This is often annoying to most users, but the built-in Adobe Viewer plug-in in many cases is not usable by people with some types of disabilities, again resulting in them not having access to content.

Accessible Web Publishing Wizard for Microsoft Office: The Web Accessibility Wizard for Microsoft Office is designed to provide the same ease of publishing features as the current built-in web publishing features of Office, but automatically guide and automate the generation of text equivalents for graphical content in Office documents which is required for accessibility. The Wizard generates standard HTML+CSS to support interoperability with the widest number of web browsers and operating systems, which reduces support problems with end users not using the “officially supported browser” required with some web technologies. The Wizard generates text and graphical versions of Office documents and allows the user to choose whether they want to view the material in either a graphical or a text view. The materials are cross indexed with each other so the user can easily move between the text and graphical views. The generation of multiple views of the same information is in contrast to the current design philosophy of creating one resource to try to fit all needs, which is a hold over in thinking from the print world. But the electronic world is not bound by the economies of the printing press, the cost of a few extra bits on server for parallel representations of the same information is usually very small. By generating multiple views of the same information all students, including students with disabilities, have more choices of viewing the information. In addition the html based outline and notes views are available to students to easily print out for use in class and studying.

Goal of the Web Accessibility Wizard

The goal of the Web Accessibility Wizard is to provide an alternative to the built-in web publishing features of Microsoft Office and generate accessible web content by default based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines [1] Double-A requirements which exceed the Section 508 Web Accessibility Requirements[2]. A major part of generating accessible content is supporting the instructor in creating text equivalents for graphical information within Office Documents. The wizard generates valid HTML 4.01 with cascading style sheet (CSS) technology for styling web content that provide parallel graphical and text views of Power Point Presentations and Word documents. The generation of accessible HTML supports the concept of interoperability of the web, since both mainstream and specialized browsers for people with disabilities can render the resulting HTML markup. All users can select the version of content that works best for them. People who are using 56K modem connections may prefer text mostly versions of document because of the shorter download time. People with visual impairments may prefer the text mostly views because it gives them more control over styling and provides them with text equivalents for images.

There are several ways that the wizard supports the generation of accessible HTML. The first is to generate standard structured markup of the Office document. Second is to automatically generate text equivalents for certain types of graphical that have already been defined by the instructor when they originally created the document. The graphical content includes information like charts and tables that the author created using the built-in Office authoring features. When the author using Office tools to create charts and tables the instructor doesn't need to manually generate text equivalents, because the text equivalents can be generated automatically from the information the instructor has already provided in creating the slide content. Third, instructors sometimes use images imported from other programs or scanned in from photographs as part of their Power Point presentations or Word documents. In this case alternative equivalents cannot be automatically generated for the images. The Wizard then guides the instructor in creating the correct alternative equivalent of the image based on how the image is used in the document.

Table 1: Summary of the Types Alternatives Generated for Different Types of Images

Type of Image

Alternatives Required

Decorative Image

Short description of image

Informative Image

Short and long description of image

Chart

Chart title and label/value pairs for the data in the chart

Table

Table title, row and column labels, and table data



Supporting the Instructor in Manually Creating Text Equivalents for Slides

When the instructor has included an image in a presentation or a word document and the wizard does not have access to the original information used to generate the image, the instructor must manually enter the information for the text equivalent. In this case the tool prompts the instructor [Screen Shot 1] to ask them if the image is a decorative image, an informative image or a data table. See Table 1 for a summary of the types of text equivalents needed for different types of images. If the image is a decorative image the user is only required to enter a short description of the image that will serve as the HTML ALT text for the image. If the image is informative, the instructor is asked to not only provide a short description, but also to provide a longer description of the image that will be included in-line as part of a Powerpoint slide or word document. The longer description should describe the information the instructor hoped the image would convey to somebody who could see the image. If the image is a bar or pie chart the instructor is prompted with a dialog box to enter the title of the table, and the label/data pairs of each bar in a bar chart or slice of a pie chart [Screen Shot 2]. The wizard will then generate a properly formatted data table as the text equivalent. The instructor doesn't need to know any HTML to generate the text equivalent. They only need to know the label/data pairs. In the case of a data table the user is prompted with a dialog to identify the number of rows and columns in the table, the title of the table, labels for the header cells of the table and the corresponding data for each data cell in the table. By removing the requirement that the instructor know HTML and accessible design practices the wizard greatly simplifies the process of converting a Office documents into accessible web versions. The resulting document meets the needs of all users by giving all users more options in accessing content, including people with disabilities.

Screen Shot 1: Selecting the type of image description required

Screen Shot 2: Entering summary information

Screen Shot 3: Entering label/value pairs for a chart

Current Status of the Wizard

Accessible Web Publishing Wizard 2.0 was released in June 2004 and tool utilizes the Microsoft .NET 1.1 technology to access information within Office documents and to translate the information into standard HTML+CSS. New features will continue to be added to the Wizard to support and guide authors in creating highly accessible web versions of the Office documents.

More information including sample conversions and a demo version of the Web Accessibility Wizard for Microsoft Office can be found at the following web site:

http://cita.rehab.uiuc.edu/software/office

Acknowledgments

Current support for the project comes from National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research (Grant #H133G030079), the UIUC Division of Rehabilitation – Education Services, and the UIUC College of Applied Life Studies. Previous support for this project came from the Trace Research and Development Center at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (NIDRR grants H133E980008 and H133E990006), Illinois Board of Higher Education, and the Great Lakes Disability Technical Assistance Center at University of Illinois Chicago (NIDRR Grant H133D010203).

References

[1] Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0
http://web.w3.org/TR/WCAG10/

[2] Section 508 Web Content Accessibility Requirements
http://www.section508.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=Content&ID=12

Author: Dr Jon Gunderson

23 January 2005

VLE: All

 


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