Developing an understanding of the nature of accessibility and usability problems blind students face in web-enhanced instruction environments

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Rakesh Babu (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Rahul Singh

Abstract: The central premise of this research is that blind and visually impaired (BVI) people cannot use the Internet effectively due to accessibility and usability problems. Use of the Internet is indispensable in today's education system that relies on Web-enhanced instruction (WEI). Therefore, BVI students cannot participate effectively in WEI. Extant literature recognizes that non-visual Web interaction is inherently challenging. However, it does not explain where, how and why BVI students face accessibility and usability problems in performing academic tasks in WEI. This knowledge is necessary to adequately inform the development of interventions that improve the functional and academic outcomes of BVI students in WEI. The purpose of this doctoral research is to understand the nature of accessibility and usability problems BVI students face in WEI environments. It adopts a novel user-centered, task-oriented, cognitive approach to develop an in-depth, contextually-situated, observational and experiential knowledge of these problems. The context of WEI experience under investigation is an online exam over a typical course management system. Research design is a qualitative field study that involves a multimethod evaluation of the WEI environment. The core component of this multimethod evaluation is BVI students' assessment of the WEI environment. This is triangulated through assessments made by WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) and Web developers. The BVI student assessment employs an integrated problem solving model, in combination with verbal protocol analysis, to identify and understand where, how and why BVI students face a problem in completing the exam. The WCAG assessment employs automated accessibility testing and WCAG textual analysis to identify interface objects that violate accessibility standards and characterizes a problem. The Web developer assessment involves open-ended interviews to identify the source of a problem. Results show that the WEI environment consisted of innumerable interface objects that violated WCAG's standards on Web accessibility and usability. BVI participants faced many accessibility and usability problems that posed significant challenges completing the online exam. These problems fall into six major problem types as described below: 1. Confusion while navigating across WEI environment due to its frame-based page structure without unique frame names; 2. Susceptibility to submitting incomplete work when a new question page does not provide location and contextual information; 3. Difficulty understanding how to submit work when the selection controls for multiple option questions lack a consistent keyboard navigation procedure; 4. Inability to negotiate security information pop-up when the WEI environment uses an alert dialogue box; 5. Ambiguity in essay-type question page that lack meaningful labels for interface objects, including text area and text formatting toolbar; 6. Vulnerability of losing work when Backspace behaves as browser's Back button inside text area. This doctoral research contributes in three ways. It fills the knowledge gap about the nature of problems BVI students face in Web interactions for academic tasks. This kind of knowledge is necessary to determine accessibility and usability requirements for WEI. Another contribution is a set of mental model representations that explicate the thought processes of BVI students. Such representations are useful in developing user instruction and design of more accessible and usable Web sites. A third contribution is a user-centered, task-based, cognitive and multi-method approach to evaluate Web accessibility and usability.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2011
Blind students
Computers and people with visual disabilities $x Research
Accessible Web sites for people with disabilities $x Research
Internet in education $x Research

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