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Accessible Digital Media Guidelines

Properly designed e-books, software, Web sites and learning management systems can and must be accessible to all users with disabilities. Technology is prevalent everywhere, and learners of all ages and in all fields require equal access to content to keep pace with their colleagues and classmates. Whether they are high school students, IT professionals or research chemists, inaccessible materials prevent people with disabilities from using the same materials at the same time as their peers, and can limit their educational and career opportunities.

The principles of universal design — designing to meet the needs of as many users as possible — provide a new dimension for improving the usability of electronic materials for everyone. Producing accessible materials will increase their reach by broadening the market to include people who have been previously excluded. Developers who incorporate access solutions may also find that these modifications bring benefits to the general population, not just users with disabilities, as studies of multimodal learning have shown.

Moreover, publishers, educational-software programmers and Web-site developers are increasingly aware that they must consciously include people with disabilities in their audiences. Policies are now in place or are under consideration in many markets that make accessibility a requirement for distributing electronic materials. If the materials necessary for the job or the classroom are delivered electronically, publishers would be wise to design them so people with disabilities can utilize them. And more and more learning content is delivered electronically as early every higher education institution, some K-12 schools and many corporations have adopted learning management system (LMS) software, which organizes and delivers digital materials for on-line courses. However, few developers understand why access is critical or how to provide it in their products.

This document presents solutions to accessibility obstacles in a format designed to educate and assist digital publishers as well as Web and content developers. We hope that the information contained here will accelerate the creation of e-books, digital talking books (DTBs), software and Web sites with accessible images, multimedia, interactivity, data tables, graphs, and mathematical and scientific expressions.

These guidelines focus largely on content creation for educational materials, but the solutions and recommendations given here should not be interpreted as restricted to academic settings. Lifelong learning is expected of every individual in the 21st century and advancement in the workplace is often tied to learning new lessons and concepts. Corporate trainers and knowledge management experts in all fields are utilizing interactive and Web-based content for professional development, and learning materials of all types now include multimedia (movies and audio clips). The suggestions offered here for making on-line textbooks accessible apply with equal importance to on-line user guides for everything from software to power tools. The solutions provided to make digital classroom content accessible apply equally well to digital training materials offered via corporate intranet.

The guidelines are the culmination of the Beyond the Text project, conducted by the WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) and funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) of the U.S. Department of Education (2003-2006; award #H133G020091). This document is a greatly expanded version of recommendations first published in 2000 and revised in 2003, under projects funded by the National Science Foundation (Awards #HRD-PPD-9906159 and #HRD-PPD-9623958, respectively).

The Beyond the Text project researched and developed methods for improving e-book multimedia navigation, and creating and integrating captions and descriptions for the video and audio presentations. NCAM staff analyzed e-book hardware and software devices, and created accessible e-books samples in several different formats that include embedded and linked multimedia clips, as well as DTBs containing in-line, linked and embedded multimedia. Staff also participated in technical-standards working groups, contributing expertise to work underway within the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), the DAISY Consortium, the W3C Timed Text Working Group, and others. Visit the Beyond the Text Web site to download the e-book and DTB samples, and review a chart evaluating and comparing the accessibility of various e-book and DTB software and hardware devices.

We also encourage you to review the results of a separate NCAM initiative to promote the design of accessible learning management systems, used by many schools, universities and workplaces, as the framework for finding and displaying educational content. Through NCAM's Specifications for Accessible Learning Technologies (SALT) Partnership, an accessibility working group within the IMS Global Learning Consortium (IMS) was established to produce specifications for a universally designed infrastructure for adaptable learning systems. This work will result in an international standard from the International Organization on Standardization (ISO).

Please contact us if you have comments about these guidelines or suggestions for future revisions.