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The "Federal Court Concepts" module was developed as a research prototype for the Georgia Tech Research in Accessible Distance Education (GRADE) project. GRADE is a project at the Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access (CATEA) within the College of Architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The GRADE project is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Post Secondary Education (OPE) under Grant #P333A020050.

GRADE partners with many educational institutions across the country, including MERLOT - the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching. MERLOT is a free, open resource designed primarily for faculty and students of higher education that has a collection of links to online learning materials along with annotations, such as peer reviews and assignments. This module was developed for a presentation at the 2004 MERLOT International Conference. Also, an article on the process of creating the module and its accessibility features was published, Closing the Circuit: Accessibility from the Ground Up.

Accessibility Features of this Module

The "Federal Court Concepts" module was designed to be completely accessible to students with disabilities and useful to all users. This module has been tested for accessibility and offers several accessibility features for students with disabilities. Additionally, this module was designed to take advantage of the accessibility techniques, tools, and tips developed by the GRADE project. The accessibility features built-into this module include:

Skip Navigation Link

Each page in this module has a link in the upper left-hand corner called "Skip to main content."
When selected, this link allows users to skip past the navigation and directly access the content of each page. This link is particularly beneficial to people who use screen readers or only use a keyboard or who use other types of assistive technologies because it can be a tedious and time-consuming chore to repetitively work through or hear the navigation and other information before getting to the content each time a page is accessed. Also, this type of link addresses the specific "skip repetitive navigation" requirement in Section 508 - 1194.22, Provision (o).

Alternative Text and Long Descriptions for Images

All users are not able to view the images on a page, whether due to a disability or a slow Internet connection. As a result, alternative text (or more commonly, "alt-text") that provides a short, literal description equivalent of what the image represents is needed whenever an image is present. For example, the module-title image contains the text "Federal Court Concepts," and the alternative text for the image presents as "Federal Court Concepts" to text browsers or screenreaders. (To see the alternative text in a graphical browser, move the mouse or other pointing device over the image, or "turn-off images.")

However, not all images are equal; some images are complex like photographs or present information like charts and graphs. As a result, in addition to alternative text, complex graphics need "long descriptions" and "d-links" to provide additional, detailed information. These "d-links" go to pages that have detailed "long descriptions" of the content of the image. Some images in this module have the letter "d" beside them as a link to illustrate this concept. For example, the module-title image which contains the text "Federal Court Concepts" and also consists of three decorative graphics. The alternative text says "Federal Court Concepts" while the long description of the module-title image describes each of the the components that make-up the image for users who cannot view the graphic, whether due to a disability or a slow Internet connection.

Cascading Style Sheets

This module uses a cascading style sheet to set the color, size, font, and placement of text for all its pages. Altering the style sheet allows the developer to change the look and feel of the module without having to edit each page individually. Users can also develop customized style sheets to their own preferences, such as larger font size or different text or background color. An alternate version of this page using a customized style sheet is available to illustrate the concept.

Second-Generation Accessible Materials

Most Internet sites are developed using HyperText Markup Language (HTML), or "first generation" design. However, many online education courses also use "second generation" materials, such as Macromedia Flash animations or Microsoft Word documents, to supplement the HTML content. This module incorporates "second generation" materials, including Microsoft PowerPoint slides and a Microsoft Excel chart, that have been optimized for accessibility.

Testing for Web Accessibility

The "Federal Court Concepts" module meets the Section 508 standards as well as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)  Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Both sets of guidelines explain how to make web content accessible to people with disabilities as well as beneficial to all users. The following table offers a description of the icons and tools used for testing the accessibility of this module.

Icon for W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, triple-A conformance to Web Content Guidelines.

Each webpage has met all three priority levels and checkpoints (AAA conformance) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) using the Bobby accessibility tool.

Icon for Section 508 Approved using the Bobby tool.

Each webpage has met all sixteen provisions of the Section 508 standards for Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications (1194.22) using the Bobby accessibility tool.

Icon for W3C Valid Cascading Style Sheet.

Each webpage has been tested to be readable with style sheets "turned off." The cascading style sheet has been verified to meet established specifications using the W3C CSS Validator.

Icon for W3C Valid HTML 4.0 Transitional.

Besides web guidelines, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) defines specifications for using HyperText Markup Language (HTML), the general publishing language of the World Wide Web. Each webpage was verified to meet the W3C HTML 4.01 Specification using the W3C HTML Validation Service.

Icon for inspected by Lynx, a text browser.

Each webpage has been tested to be readable in a text browser using the Lynx Viewer.

Icon for inspected by Vischeck, a color blindness simulator.

Images and the colors for the module design have been tested to provide sufficient contrast and be readable in gray-scale mode or by those with color blindness using Vischeck.

For more information about making distance education accessible, please visit the GRADE ten-module tutorial, Access E-Learning.

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