Posted by John Kleeman
One of the capabilities in Perception version 5 that I am most proud of is that we have produced an assessment system that is genuinely accessible for participants. Most assessments created by someone using the software out-of-the-box will meet the accessibility assessment criteria set by the W3C and by the US Government.
Questionmark has always been a leader in accessibility of assessments. The ability to add time as a disability accommodation is one of our widely used capabilities, but for version 5 our customers had been asking for much more. You might think that only a very small number of people taking tests will have accessibility needs, but in fact the number is surprisingly large.
In the United States, there are between 250,000 and 500,000 legally blind people under the age of 65. In England, there are 76,000 blind or partially sighted people under the age of 65 formally registered with the government.
Accommodations for blind people include making software compatible with text to screen readers and allowing people to increase the size of text and change the contrast and colors.
About 7% of men and 0.5% of women are color blind
Color should not be used to distinguish information or navigation or questions.
About 10% of people have dyslexia, 4% of them severely
Accommodations for dyslexic people include providing more time and allowing people to change text size and contrast color, sometimes also screen readers.
Some disabilities (multiple sclerosis, paralysis, muscle and joint problems) prevent use of mouse/keyboard and require special input devices. There is no central register of the numbers of such people but a lot of people are impacted – for instance there are around 100,000 sufferers of quadriplegia (often caused by vehicle or sports injury) in the US.
The key accommodation here is to ensure that the assessment system can be used by keyboard (not mouse) as such special input devices emulate keyboard. For example in the picture below, someone is entering keystrokes to control the computer when they cannot use a mouse.
Providing accessibility improvements within the software does not just aid disabled people, it also helps people with temporary disabilities – for example someone who has broken their arm, or a factory worker who’s not used to screens with a lot of text on them.
Questionmark has been receiving increasing requests from our customers to provide a great accessibility solution for them. And in developing version 5, we worked with two very inspiring experts. The main accessibility standard used in the United States is section 508, and we were helped by one of the people who helped draft section 508, Jim Thatcher. In Europe, the main accessibility standard used is the W3C WCAG and we were helped by Dr David Sloan from the University of Dundee. You can see our formal statements of compliance for section 508 here and for W3C WCAG here.
Unless you choose to disable them, most Questionmark assessments now have buttons at the top right of the screen which allow you to change font size and change contrast – you can try out some example assessments at http://www.questionmark.com/us/tryitout_features.aspx. Or you can see these buttons in the screenshot below.
We’ve thoroughly checked Questionmark with screen readers including the market leader JAWS, and we’ve made sure that assessments are keyboard accessible. We’ve also provided a best practice guide for accessibility, which Questionmark customers can use to ensure that their assessments are accessible.
Accessibility is a journey not just a destination, and we’ll be improving our accessibility over time, but I hope and believe that version 5 will help our many customers produce much more accessible assessments than they could before, and also that the whole assessment community might start to expect more from every piece of software used to deliver assessments. Because if assessments are to be fair, then they have to be available to all.