[Athen] ALEKS and Accessibility

Ron Stewart ron at altformatsolutions.com
Tue Jan 7 14:05:53 PST 2014

Thanks Karen, I did not want to provide any feedback on this topic until
others had responded.

These issues have been a topic of conversation going back to 1998 based on
my product archive, not with this product specifically. This I find to be
unfortunate but progress has been slow or going backwards for as long as I
have been involved in this space. As far as I am concerned the VPAT on this
product is garbage. Though I appreciate your efforts and feedback! This is
not the first vendor to go down this road, nor the largest, but at this
point all litigation has been settled and we do not have any good case law
to hang our hat on. I also know that they have gone through several
cooperate reorgs which have been detrimental to their accessibility efforts.

Most of the member institutions on this list do not operate under Section
508, so using that standard is questionable. I also wonder how the VPAT
document could be verified, across all disabilities, as several of the
competing products been subject to. Since this particular vendor has been
unwilling to provide that level of access as far as I am aware. In my mind,
McGraw Hill has become a bad actor in this space with their failures to
remediate their existing products, with the introduction of "new"
inaccessible products such as the Connect product, and the hostile attitude
that have taken with the secondary curricular conversion efforts of alt
media specialists nationally. What I find totally abhorrent was the response
that was received in regards to their Connect product, "find a comparable
product that is", was the response to the purchaser. I now have a client
that is in litigation regarding their decision to use this product. This
kind of behavior on the part of a vendor is totally unacceptable, but seems
to be standard practice because our institutions continue to accept it.

I have been reviewing my archive in regards to this topic and this has been
a repeated topic of conversation over the last few years. At this point, it
is my professional opinion, ALEKS does not meet the basic accessibility
requirements for an education product based on the requirement of Section
504 and the WCAG 2.O specifications at the AA Level. My group actually, as
do most others, use a higher standard in our work based on the concept of
functional usability with commonly available assistive technology, but that
is not pertinent for this discussion.

If the equations are not in MathML, or effective facilitation cannot be
provided, then they are not accessible. If the content only works with a
specific access product and not the other comparable products in the space
then it is not accessible. What typically happens is they work to make their
product JAWS "compliant". This does little or nothing to actually insure
that it is accessible under applicable law. The vendor needs to provide
accessibility information with commonly available screen readers, screen
magnification system with audio support, text to speech systems along with
suitable highlighting, voice recognition systems and so on. At this point I
do not believe McGraw Hill can provide those assurances, nor can their major
competitors. Continuing to pass the accessibility buck to the educational
entities is not sustainable in the current environment, and will make their
product unsellable in the near future into the publically funded educational
space. These vendors are relying on customer ignorance to sustain these
practices, and as a tax payer I find this morally abhorrent.

One of the conversations, the national leaders on this topic, have been
having with the major publishers over the last decade is where do we draw
the line. Without a suitable set of standards/guidelines this is very
difficult to do and it is very hard for a commercial provider to shoot for a
moving target. The student having to disclose their disability is
unacceptable under Federal law. Having a system self-identify what browser
a user is using and other related technologies is, but is morally repugnant
to many who work in the field. I am not sure how to effectively resolve
these issues.

Some food for thought on a cold winter day. I do need to say that I could
substitute all of the other vendors for McGraw Hill in this conversation.

Ron Stewart

From: athen-list-bounces at mailman2.u.washington.edu
[mailto:athen-list-bounces at mailman2.u.washington.edu] On Behalf Of Karen
Sent: Tuesday, January 07, 2014 3:04 PM
To: Access Technology Higher Education Network
Subject: [Athen] ALEKS and Accessibility

Hi All ,

ALEX has a October 1, 2013 VPAT that is supposed to cover all of their
changes. Lisa Nicks is the accessibility specialist at McGraw Hill who I got
the VPAT from. lisa.nicks at mheducation.com

We have also been in communication with folks from McGraw Hill (who now have
purchased ALEX in the last year as I understand it. ) They have moved all of
their equations to Javascript rather than JAVA, and they say that 72% of
their equations are now accessible, even though the folks we talked with
weren't sure the equations were in mathML (Lisa Nicks wasn't on the call).

We are going to be doing some testing of ALEX this Friday. I'll post back to
the listserv next week on what we find.

One of their accessibility "improvements" they showed us, was a way for an
instructor to indicate that a blind student was using ALEX. When the
instructor clicked that button, all graphical questions were eliminated. How
do folks feel about that? Our math instructors didn't like that at all. We
asked the McGraw Hill folks if they would provide tactile alt. formats for
those graphical questions. They seemed to think that was our responsibility.
My feeling is that we shouldn't have to pay for materials that we then have
to accommodate. How do others feel about this?

Thanks. Hope that helps.



Karen M. Sorensen
Accessibility Advocate for Online Courses
Portland Community College
"The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless
of disability is an essential aspect." Tim Berners-Lee

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