I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whether screencast tutorials are accessible. Or, more accurately, about how accessible they can be made to be.
I use Adobe Captivate to create tutorials for the library, and I include interactive features like click buttons, links, mouse-overs, etc. From a pedagogical and usability standpoint (if it’s done right), all this is a bonus–it encourages active learning, engagement, and time on task. A major benefit of screencasting is that it can reach visual learners, who’d rather watch a process than read a description of it. Audio narration can reach learners who like to hear material rather than read it. Students with learning disabilities (or anyone, for that matter) can review the material repeatedly, at their own pace, whenever and wherever they want. All good.
Captivate includes a number of accessibility features, including output for screen readers and closed captioning. I’ve used those features, and I’ve seen my tutorials used via a screen reader. (Thanks to the campus web access group for this.) The result was far from pretty, and also pretty far from meaningful compliance with Section 508. (The subpart to pay attention to in this case is C: Functional Performance Criteria.) An experienced screen reader user couldn’t navigate through the interactive features without difficulty, and in some cases we hit brick walls.
It all makes me wonder–how often do we really take accessibility into account when we develop screencast tutorials, or for that matter, any new library services? If we can’t make all delivery methods equally accessible, do we try to ensure that we provide alternative means or support for users? According to Section 508, that’s what we should be doing (assuming we receive Federal funds.)
I’d be interested to hear from anyone who’s worked on making their screencast tutorials accessible, or who’s thinking about ways to supplement screencasts with more accessible types of online instruction. I’d also be interested to hear about how other libraries have tackled this, from a policy perspective. It seems to me that having a clear policy and shared understanding about how to balance innovation and accessibility is a baseline requirement for libraries doing online instruction.