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  • Writer's pictureBen Bradley

Does your dog bite?

Updated: Jan 4

The classic case of deceptive Section 508 compliance marketing.


In the 1976 movie “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” Inspector Clouseau checks into a hotel and notices a little dog sitting by the front desk.


Inspector asking a hotel clerk if his dog bites.  The clerk responds "no".

Clouseau asks the hotel clerk: “Does your dog bite?


The clerk responds: “No.


Inspector Clouseau tries to pet the dog, but the dog bites him.


In disbelief, Clouseau tells the hotel clerk, “I thought you said your dog does not bite?


The clerk replies: “That’s not my dog.


Because the dog is sitting next to the check-in desk, everyone assumes the dog belongs to the hotel clerk. Why would anyone think any different?


When it comes to authoring accessible elearning, the deception is the same:


<Insert vendor name> demonstrates how they can produce amazing interactive eLearning content.


“<Insert vendor name> says their platform can be used to create Section 508 compliant eLearning.


Of course, to most people, the assumption is that the flashy interactive content they see in the demonstration courses is Section 508 compliant.


My dog does not bite.


Nothing could be further from the truth.


When you talk to the vendor about Section 508 compliance specifics, you get bogged down in double-talk, deceptive language, bait and switch, and fine print that takes three primary forms:


  1. You need to be the expert

  2. You need a checklist

  3. We have a VPAT


Let’s start at the beginning and debunk the most common deceptions.

 

DECEPTION 1:

"You need to be the expert, therefore, you can produce accessible elearning content."


Part of the deception around Section 508 compliance involves not explaining to the users that it is on them to understand and implement all aspects of Section 508 using the vendor's product.


Of course, what this means is - if you are NOT an expert and don’t adhere to all of the technical requirements of Section 508, your course will NOT be compliant.


Here’s one example from eLearning Brothers’ Lectora Product.


Preparing a title for accessibility:

"You can use the program to create titles published to a Web-based format that follow the standards set in Section 508… View information about these standards at http://www.section508.gov and http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/."


Translation:

"If YOU do everything right - YOU, yes YOU can [possibly] create a course that complies with the standards. To get started, learn about these standards at Section508.gov and the World Wide Web Consortium accessibility site. [Good luck.]"


How many people trying to build an eLearning course have ever been to or even know what the World Wide Web Consortium is let alone know what to do when they go there? If you go to that site, you will find thousands of technical content pages. Here is one very small example of what you will find there:


A portion of the WCAG site that describes Regions and Roles of screen objects and how using aria-labelledby these things can be managed.

Here’s another example of “not my dog” from Articulate:

“Today, we are proud to share that our course creation apps—Rise 360 and Storyline 360—broadly support Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 AA criteria."


Question? What does “broadly support” mean? How do I produce a course that is “broadly compliant”? 


The double-talk gets thick with Articulate Studio 360 product:

“As you build a course in [Articulate] Studio, you’ll make design decisions that impact Section 508 accessibility compliance. “

[emphasis added]


Me? I’ll make design decisions that impact Section 508 compliance? When did I become qualified to make those decisions? How do I know what those impacts are unless I first know everything there is to know about Section 508 compliance?


Any authoring platform that relies on phrases such as “The course developer can…” or “The course developer has the ability to….” transfers the legal risk of non-compliance to you.  


Anyone ‘has the ability’ to go to a Home Depot and buy everything needed to build their own house…but very few do that because it is difficult to do.”


Individual authors attempting to use these tools are fighting an uphill battle.  

Eventually, they understand that to produce a course that will pass an audit, each user must first learn, then apply every aspect of Section 508 compliance on every page of every course.  Then, and only then,  they can possibly produce something that will pass a Section 508 audit.  Way too often, by this time, the timeframe and/or budget for the course has long expired.  

  

Using many of today’s popular authoring tools, people often find that producing a Section 508-compliant course is theoretically possible but practically impossible.  


For example...


Auto advance?

When you visit the Articulate website, the demo courses have a nice “auto advance” feature to get away from the “next button”.  If you use that feature in a course intended to be accessible, that would be a Section 508 violation.   


Interactivity?

Courses on the Articulate website show a variety of fancy interactions and question typesMost of these questions and most of these interactions would fail a Section 508 audit.


Customization of Navigation?

Articulate Storyline 3/360 “allows you to specify the order in which the user’s keyboard navigates and screen reader accesses slide objects. This customization is crucial because, by default, screen readers announce each object on the slide according to its name in the timeline panel, which can easily cause confusion when you have multiple, similarly named objects.”  

 

DECEPTION 2:

“All you need is a Checklist”


As noted above, authoring tools that do not natively support Section 508 compliance published courses first rely on the “author” to be the accessibility expert.  Knowing how onerous that is, often “checklists” are created to give one the impression that “...if I only do the things on this checklist, my course will be Section 508 compliant”.  That may be one's impression but it’s actually part of the deception.  


In reality, the experience of using a checklist to navigate Section 508 compliance is frustrating and full of legal risk. 


Check out the checklists from Lectora or Articulate Rise 360. Spend a few minutes reading these checklists, and your inner dialogue will sound a lot like this...


  • Awesome, they have a checklist for accessible eLearning development! 🙂

  • Oh my.  The checklist is 12 pages long and says it's not comprehensive. 🤨

  • So I have to apply each and every item on the 12-page checklist to each page of my course? 😥

  • Every time I edit my course, I must keep the 12-page checklist in mind? 😡

  • This is overwhelming and simply not possible. ☠️

 

DECEPTION 3:

“We have a VPAT”


VPAT stands for “Voluntary Product Accessibility Template.  It is a document that companies provide that describes how their product does (or does not) meet Section 508/WCAG accessibility standards.  


People often incorrectly assume that the mere presence of a VPAT implies Section 508 Compliance is just a quick stroll down easy street.


There are three deceptive uses of the VPAT.  Let’s get started.


“Oh, you have a VPAT, so I can create Section 508-compliant eLearning with your product.  Right?

Many people believe that simply because a vendor has a “VPAT,” that means their product can/will produce Section 508-compliant output.  The conversation goes something like this:


“Our courses need to be Section 508 compliant - does your company have a VPAT?”


“Yep, we have one I can send over or you can download from our site”


“Hey great.  Looks like we are good to go!”


Unfortunately, simply having a VPAT is meaningless.  What matters is what the company actually says in the VPAT about how its product meets the various accessibility standards. 


For example, in the case of Storyline 360 and Lectora, keyboard support is “partially supported.”  What they don’t tell you - to be Section 508 compliant  - every aspect of the course has to be keyboard accessible!  


See the deception?  It is more important to understand what the VPAT DOES NOT SAY.


“...if you use certain aspects of our product, your course will not be Section 508 compliant.”  



VPAT excerpt where product vendor says "most" of their products features are keyboard accessible ex pet drag and drop and likert scale questions.



The next part of VPAT deception is called: “The Author Can…”

partial screen image where the eLearning vendor lists multiple aspects that all start with phrase

When it comes to any given aspect of accessibility, the majority of eLearning authoring tool responses start with “Authors can…”.  This image is also from the Lectora VPAT.  


It is right there.  All of the burden of compliance is on “the Author.”


Take a step back - do you now understand why creating Section 508-compliant eLearning is so challenging?  


This is why “the author” must be versed in Section508.gov, accessibility, and WCAG. Only then will “the Author” know how to do these things. 


These endless “checklists” remind the “Author” that every mistake is their fault.    


The last part of VPAT deception is called “Don’t do THAT!”

Many elearning demos look like mini-movies - with amazing special effects and blockbuster budgets. These mini-movies often “auto advance” after the media on the current page completes.  This slick multimedia introduction bypasses the “next button.” 


Well, that technique - “advancing slides automatically” is a “level A” (e.g. “serious”) violation of Section 508 compliance. 


The point is that slick demos and marketing are one thing, and fully-compliant elearning content is another. Don’t confuse the two.


Authoring tools that feature “demonstration courses” that are clearly not Section 508 compliant then bury what one actually has to do to make something Section 508 compliant somewhere else on their website are practicing a classic bait and switch.



Partial view of a VPAT that describes multiple things that an author should not do with respect to 2.2.1 - Timing Adjustable

Closing Thoughts

The reality? Creating Section 508-compliant elearning can be a challenge.  The sheer number of technology layers that must work together is significant. An assistive technology layer (screen readers, for example) adds a new dimension to an already complex landscape. Limitations are imposed on creativity and design when the intricacies of programming the technology for use with assistive technology are required by those unfamiliar with this ever-changing technology.


What becomes apparent by anyone that has ever tried to use any of the high-end visual elearning authoring tools that claim Section 508 compliance is this:


Producing Section 508-compliant eLearning is theoretically possible but practically impossible to do at scale using the graphically intensive authoring platforms.


When you evaluate the results, you’ll see that the talent stack and time required to produce a course render their use tactical at best.  At worst, use of tools that promote ever-increasingly visual and interactive designs while also stating “broad support” for “accessibility” (but leaving out what actual Section 508 compliance looks like) is simply deceptive. 


If you have questions or need help, feel free to reach out anytime.


Build compliant e-learning content faster, review and approve, update, analyze, and track learner progress.


With CourseAvenue, you avoid this difficulty because accessibility and compliance are built into every course - right out of the box.  


In fact, if you can use PowerPoint, you can author Section 508-compliant eLearning without being a compliance expert.


CourseAvenue includes robust AUTHOR AND REVIEW features to provide a unique e-Learning authoring platform for developing, maintaining and reviewing online training - all from your browser.


From simple courses to complex, learner-driven branching scenarios, all with rich integrated assessments and surveys - you can do it all in CourseAvenue. 


CourseAvenue was built on a foundation of accessibility.  Here are just a few of CourseAvenue’s integrated Section 508 compliance features:


  • Built-in Accessibility Analysis for item-by-item review of all text, graphics, audio, and video on every page

  • Keyboard accessibility for all navigation controls

  • The audio transcript window displays the text of any narrated page

  • In-text hyperlinks are differentiated, and both the keyboard and screen reader are accessible

  • Accessible media controls

  • Accessible alternate text field available for media items

  • High-contrast color schemes used in the skin

  • Full accessible secondary windows for course tools, help files, and glossary terms

  • Media control layout designed to maximize ease of use with adaptive technologies

  • Accessible course menu available at all times

  • Form controls identifiable by adaptive technology

  • Keyboard shortcuts to enhance keyboard use with non-visual screen reader “hints”

  • A rich user interface provides visually pleasing aesthetics to sighted learners while remaining utterly accessible to non-visual learners

  • Screen reader focus provides logical, predictable progress through a course


Expert developers appreciate the options for building advanced e-learning courses ranging from Javascript API integration to a widget development toolkit to extend the platform to your heart’s content. 


Have your entire team work together. When done, deploy your education to any LMS (or use CourseAvenue’s full set of ENROLL AND DELIVER features so your content can be accessed by any device.


Ready to author, manage, track, and deliver accessible eLearning at scale? 



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