Approximately 1 in every 5 people live with a condition which could affect the way they use and experience on-screen assessment. Having an accessible software application ensures that all users can perform tasks in roughly the same time, and with the same level of effort, regardless of age or ability.
In an increasing number of countries, laws and policies are in place that require digital content to be accessible. These policies are primarily based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), with the goal of providing a single standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of everyone.
Surpass HTML delivery has recently been awarded WCAG AA accreditation from the Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC) for a set of tests created and delivered using Surpass and HTML web delivery; this achievement marks a significant step towards the goal of making the Surpass HTML web delivery driver fully accessible.
We spoke to Leon Hampson, Accessibility Team Lead at BTL, to find out more about the importance of accessibility, and what BTL are doing to ensure that Surpass is accessible to all.
Leon joined BTL in early 2015 after working agency-side for public sector and B2B clients, as well as public utilities and global software companies. He is a passionate advocate for accessibility, having had previous experience with projects for clients including the British Council and the Fire Service.
His goal for the BTL Accessibility Team is closely aligned with the BTL mission statement “To significantly improve the assessment experience for everyone”.
Hi Leon, firstly, could you tell us more about the role of the accessibility team at BTL?
BTL have a dedicated accessibility team, whose responsibilities cover a range of activities from prototyping new features, to testing and verifying that any development work meets our accessibility requirements. We also carry out regular accessibility audits with every release of Surpass. Our Accessibility Test Analyst, Isabel Holdsworth, a blind screen reader user herself, is integral to this process, and gave an extremely insightful presentation at the Surpass Conference this year. The presentation can be downloaded on the conference website for anyone interested.
The accessibility team sit within the Design Team, as it’s closely linked with the user interface and user experience. We’re closely involved in the development of any new functionality in Surpass, and the overall design of the system.
We’re a passionate team who also play an important role in educating colleagues and customers on the importance of good accessibility and helping them work towards achieving it. As well as the ongoing development of new features and support and maintenance of features already in Surpass HTML delivery, the accessibility team are currently seeking to establish a culture of best practice in HTML development within the organisation. After all, good practice in HTML is the foundation of good accessibility.
Can you tell us more about why having an accessible software application is so important?
Firstly, in many of the countries where Surpass is used, digital accessibility is a legal requirement, but, for BTL and our customers, it’s not just about complying with the law.
BTL’s mission statement is ‘to significantly improve the assessment experience for everyone’, and that means everyone. We’re passionate about offering the same experience to all candidates who take a test using Surpass, regardless of their age and ability, and accessibility is the key to achieving that. We don’t think that anyone should be excluded from being able to sit their test, or be at a disadvantage because of the software being used.
How do you know whether something is accessible or not?
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines set out criteria and guidelines that need to be met in order to be classed as accessible. These fall under four main headings: Perceivable – information and user interface components cannot be invisible to all senses; Operable – the interface must not require interaction that the user cannot perform; Understandable – information and the operation of the software must be easy to understand; Robust – content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents.
There are testable success criteria within each of these areas, and the software must meet these criteria in order to be classed as accessible.
Can BTL help customers in determining whether a test conforms with accessibility criteria?
Yes, there are many ways we can provide support, and the team are always happy to share their expertise when it comes to the creation of accessible tests. We can provide a thorough and impartial audit of a Test Form, and advise on what needs to be done to achieve the required level of conformance. We can also work closely with third-party auditors, helping them to understand the tests, and customers to interpret the findings that come back, which we translate into actions.
You mentioned ‘required level of conformance’, what does that mean?
There are 3 levels of WCAG conformity – A (lowest), AA, and AAA (highest). Surpass HTML delivery achieved WCAG AA conformance, which means that the test meets all the level AA criteria.
You can find about more about the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) on their website.
What process did Surpass go through to achieve this?
It’s no easy task. The software is tested against 38 individual success criteria, as well as undergoing thorough use case testing by specialist testers with specific disabilities, for example, visual impairment, motor impairment, and cognitive disabilities, which provides a highly detailed and rigorous analysis of the product. This particular set of tests were analysed by a team of specialists at the Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC), one of the UK’s leading accessibility consultants. The insight they provide has proven invaluable; not only in meeting the immediate requirement of producing a set of fully accessible tests, but in helping BTL to gain further knowledge and understanding in the area of accessibility.
Ok, so if the software being used is classed as accessible, does that mean the test delivered using it will automatically be accessible?
Having an accessible test delivery driver like Surpass HTML delivery is important, but it’s only half the story. The accreditation we’ve achieved tells us that an accessible test can be delivered using Surpass HTML web delivery, but the accessibility of the test content itself is of equal importance to the software it’s being delivered with. Authors must give a lot of thought to how the tests are presented and written, such as whether the language used is appropriate for the age group, that images have a meaningful text alternative, and that text is formatted in a way that screen readers can easily understand, to name just a few. The Item Authoring module of Surpass has proven itself to be highly adaptable and robust in allowing authors to transition their content into Surpass, and to present it in a suitable way for their learners.
Accessibility is very much a team effort, and everyone involved in the test creation process needs to have accessibility considerations at the forefront of their minds. There’s many factors that contribute to and accessible test, and we can provide organisations with some useful best practice guidance on the authoring of accessible tests if needed.
What is the impact of having an inaccessible test?
It has a huge impact and can put a large number of people at a serious disadvantage. To give just a couple of examples, for visually impaired users, seemingly small things such as font and colour scheme can make text difficult to read, videos or images with no audible description, and features that aren’t compatible with assistive technologies all create barriers for users.
People with motor difficulties may not be able to operate a mouse or keyboard, so require the ability to use an application that supports alternative input devices. This would be the same to someone even with a short-term injury that prevented them from operating their computer in the traditional way.
By having a test that is inaccessible to some users, the worst-case scenario means they can’t complete their test. In the best-case scenario, the user has a different experience to other candidates, and tests take longer, potentially causing them more stress and having a detrimental effect on how they perform. Both of these scenarios are unacceptable.
What has been implemented in Surpass to ensure that no users are at a disadvantage, and what have we learned?
A number of design changes to the core product were required, and there were some difficult technical challenges to overcome, but the talented teams and BTL tackled these head-on, learning all the time along the way. BTL understand the importance of designing and building accessibility into the product from the outset, and accessibility is now a key consideration when designing and implementing any new functionality.
Where can I find out more about accessibility and good practice for creating accessible assessments?
BTL have produced some documentation in order to help our customers gain a better understanding of accessibility, and also gain knowledge about how to ensure the content you create using Surpass is accessible.
As I mentioned above, the accessibility team can also help with auditing tests and help you achieve the required level of conformance. If you would like access to the full documentation, or require the services of the Accessibility Team, you can contact your BTL Account Manager for further details.
Surpass Community members interested in finding out more about the features that allow you to deliver accessible tests with Surpass can contact their Account Managers. If you’re not a member of the Surpass Community and want to know more, please contact us via the form on our Contact Us page..