Media Access Australia’s Access iQ spoke with Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility (PCWA) graduate, Bronwyn Lapham, of e-learning development and consultancy eWorks about the benefits of further education in web accessibility.
Access iQ: How does web accessibility come into your role as Senior Technical Officer at eWorks? How does accessibility come into what eWorks does?
Bronwyn Lapham: An important part of my role is to research and facilitate the maintenance of technical standards for the Australian vocational education and training sector — the national VET E-standards. The aim of the E-standards is to provide recommendations of technical platforms for which online learning (e-learning) content can be developed that will be useable by as broad an audience as possible, and be as interoperable as possible. The work is funded by federal and state/territory government and overseen by the E-standards Expert Group. Accessibility has been a component of the E-standards since 2006, when the first recommendation was published. Back then the recommendation was WCAG 1.0, all Priority 1 checkpoints.
The project responsibilities include dissemination and guidance on how to implement the E-standards, so I need to have a good grasp of each of the components, including accessibility.
eWorks is a leader in the field of design, development and support of e-learning in the VET sector, and has managed the E-standards for Training project since then, along with several other projects. eWorks supplies the TrainingVC learning management system widely in use by Australian registered training organisations.
What was your knowledge of web accessibility prior to starting the Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility course?
My background is in multimedia and front end web development, and web accessibility first appeared on my radar in 2007 when I was working for a small content development company developing e-learning for large financial sector clients. The nab (National Australia Bank) had strict requirements and a rigorous testing regime. After that I worked at The Learning Federation — more e-learning, but this time for K-12 school kids, and all Flash programming with the accompanying challenges. In 2010 I started with eWorks, so not so long after the gov.au endorsement of WCAG 2.0 and the subsequent national transition strategy. I was sent along to the OZeWAI conference that year and have not missed one since.
I’m also on various mailing lists and LinkedIn groups discussing the subject, although how anyone with a disability navigates some of them is utterly beyond me. A WebAIM forum digest is pretty heavy going with all those quoted nested replies.
What attracted you about the PCWA and led to you enrolling in the course?
I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my grasp of WCAG 2.0 overall; there are a lot of elements and you can find all kinds of conflicting information and opinions out there, and the W3C site is pretty intimidating and not particularly easy to navigate. Also, I’ve been advocating for the inclusion of accessibility in the planning and design stages of work we do, and was looking for some credibility back-up. eWorks management recognises the benefits of accessible web and having qualified employees, and I benefited from that.
The fact that I could do it all online was also attractive — I work full time, and would have found it difficult to juggle commitments, let alone relocate to Adelaide to do it. I’m not aware of any other course offering of this calibre; Media Access Australia has been on my watch list for a while and I respect their work, and I’d seen a positive review from a contact who knows their stuff.
Why do you think that accessibility knowledge is an important skill set?
The SEO boosts, the interoperability benefits of adhering to standards, that’s all fine and good, but a bigger part of it for me is purely and simply that it’s the right thing to do! Seeing what a game changer an accessible Internet is for those it impacts most is pretty rewarding when you can be part of that. And seriously — if you’re the type that wants to learn to code in the first place, it’s not rocket science. It is important to have the whole picture though, and not just think that because you know how to add alt text that’s all there is to it.
How did you find mixing with other people from different backgrounds? Was that a useful addition to the course content?
To be perfectly frank, I dove into the forum in the early stages of the course but didn’t find a lot of engagement from others at the time, so I pretty much gave up. Since then though, I’ve taken part in the private PCWA alumni LinkedIn group and I suppose because there’s a growing number of alumni members, there’s a bit more conversation. It’s early days yet, but I’m hopeful it will grow. Sharing perspectives and ways of meeting different challenges is valuable. And you can be alerted to challenges you didn’t know existed — you can always learn from others.
We managed a small amount of funding for research into how emerging technologies can be applied to teaching and learning, particularly in VET where people are learning on the job, or other off-campus locations. An outcome of one of those trials has been an accessible HTML5 video player with a creative commons licence, and the ability to share that and ask for critical feedback from the alumni has been fantastic.
What think were the main things that you learnt from the course? What sticks in your mind from the course?
The course was well structured and introduced me to some very useful testing strategies that I’ve employed pretty extensively since. I was gratified to achieve a good result, and because of that the improvement in my confidence in my understanding has allowed me to argue the case a lot more strongly.
Course convenors Denise and Scott obviously spent time and consideration when assessing assignments and gave great critical feedback, and trying to use and compare, then critically analyse assistive technologies was eye opening.
How would your colleagues at eWorks benefit from also taking the PCWA course?
Currently we have a very small content development team, and probably only one of them would benefit. He is self-taught — as was I — and is the only one working in any real technical capacity on interface. I’d like to see an equivalent course for writers and designers, who can have significant impact — both for good and evil. In my opinion, it shouldn’t be left to the coder to write alt text or check colour contrast — that’s the responsibility of the people who have the best understanding of the message being communicated.
What do you think you will do next to further develop your accessibility knowledge?
With the recent promotion of WAI-ARIA 1.0 to W3C recommendation, I’ll be investigating that and how to implement it while keeping an eye on the ongoing development of the standard. Because it’s at that status, we were able to include it for the first time in the E-standards recommendations for 2014. Enquiries will start rolling in and I’ll need to be in a position to help people.
Of course, I’ll also continue to monitor the lists I’m on, the groups and meet up I’m involved with, and all the #a11y tweeters. I’ve also taken advantage of the discounted “all premium content” subscription at Access IQ. I’m a bit of a “completest”, and I’m interested in maybe branching out a bit and doing some writing.
If you were to give a recommendation of the course to a future student, what would that recommendation be?
I guess that it’s pretty much the same recommendation I’d give anyone undertaking any learning exercise: what you get out will depend to a large extent on what you put in. The support from Scott and Denise was great, the course was well structured and comprehensive, and the environment provided was really good too. It was clear to me what I needed to do and by when and how to go about it. I’ve also been enjoying the discussion with others on the private LinkedIn group that’s been set up for the alumni/alumnae; people have shared great information and I’ve also been able to build my network as a result.
Want to learn more about WCAG 2.0 and web accessibility?
The Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility, a university-accredited online qualification jointly conducted by W3C member Media Access Australia and the University of South Australia, is a fully assessed six-week program that covers both accessibility principles and techniques. The course provides students with all the essentials needed to achieve compliance with international best practice in accessibility. Accessible documents, among many other aspects of WCAG are covered in Access iQ’s complete guides to web accessibility for content authors, web developers and web designers.