INTRODUCTION The development of the internet has opened everybody’s world to new experiences and new ways of working
The development of the internet has opened everybody’s world to new experiences and new ways of working, banking, shopping, booking of holidays/activities, spending leisure time, paying bills, accessing online services and studying.
Faster communication methods have also been of great benefit to everybody. We now have vast amounts of information and knowledge at our fingertips. As the world wide web has reached virtually every part of the globe, it is vital that everyone has equal ability to use the internet without any barriers being put in their way. Ensuring websites are accessible to all members of the community with or without additional needs is the best way of ensuring this can happen.
“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” Tim Berners-Lee
There are now approximately 13.9 million disabled people in the UK and 19 per cent of these are adults of working age (Scope.org.uk. 2018). The development and subsequent growth of the internet and online services has allowed disabled people the chance to become much more independent as previously hard to access services are now increasingly available online.
One area to benefit hugely from the development of the internet is that of education and online learning. The provision of online courses has dramatically increased in recent years. Whilst this has benefitted all sectors of the community, it has been particularly beneficial to disabled people. They can now study from the comfort of their own homes without worrying how, or even if, they can make it to a class in a physical location. For the disabled to take advantage of online learning and the benefits it brings, it is vital that the websites/online courses they wish to visit are fully accessible.
“web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate and interact with websites and tools, and that they can contribute equally without barriers” (W3.org, 2016).
The aim of this literature review therefore, is to investigate web accessibility and usability, particularly in online educational degree-level courses both in the United Kingdom and abroad. The review will focus particularly on web accessibility for people with additional needs. For example, learning difficulties, speech difficulties, cognitive/neurological impairments, age related disabilities, physical impairments, auditory impairments, visual impairments, mental impairments and any other additional need. However, accessibility is equally important for all sectors of the community.
This review also aims to gain a thorough and in depth understanding of web accessibility and how it can be implemented in online education; both from a technical point of view and a usability point of view. The author has an interest in web accessibility (particularly in online university level courses) and web design. The authors’ interest in these areas has been sparked by participating in several online courses and by having a relative struggle with accessing various web pages due to their dyslexia/visual stress problems.
The findings from this literature review will hopefully identify any gaps within current research that could warrant further research and investigation.
LEGAL REASONS FOR WEB ACCESSIBILITY
It is a requirement of law in many countries, including the UK, to make websites available equally to all sectors of the population. The equality act in the UK states that:
“You’re disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and “long-term” negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities” (UK Government, 2010).
The UK government states that if your service is not accessible to all members of the community that wish to use it then you may be in breach of the Equality Act 2010.
To make sure online courses don’t breach the equality act the government states that they must:
• Conform to at least level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0).
• They must be able to be accessed by assistive technologies that disabled people commonly use such as screen readers, screen magnifiers and speech recognition tools.
• The government also advises that accessibility is tested through user research i.e. by the users with the disabilities who will be accessing the courses.
• Not discriminate against students based on their disability.
• Ensure reasonable adjustments are made.
• The needs of disabled students must also be anticipated.
THE GROWTH OF ONLINE LEARNING
In 2016 The Babson Survey Research Group carried out a survey in the US which showed how online learning is growing and indeed becoming a mainstream option for students studying at University level.
“The number of students taking online courses grew to 5.8 million nationally, continuing a growth trend that has been consistent for 13 years. More than a quarter of higher education students (28 percent) are enrolled in least one online course.” (Onlinelearningconsortium.org, 2016).
Online learning in the UK is also expanding at a huge rate. Many universities are now offering degrees online both to home and international students, as stated by Geoff Webster of the Cambridge Education Group (CEG), at least 30 UK universities are running online courses and offering them to students globally.
“There are now more than 1,400 online master’s-level courses in the UK, ranging from professional training to full degrees.” (Webster. G 2017).
In the past some of the higher rated universities were reluctant to offer fully online degrees. As stated by the president of Coursera (A Massive Open Online Course Provider (MOOC)), Daphne Koller said that,
“the necessary technology was available, but universities had been hesitant about their “reputation”. (Koller, D. 2014).
This idea is now beginning to change. An example of those universities implementing the change is, the University of Leeds who now do several online courses, including some Masters’ degrees and post-graduate courses as well as a selection of MOOC’s