Questionmark Conference Close-up: Making Assessments Accessible
Posted by Joan Phaup
Making Your Assessments Accessible and Available to All will be presented by Performance Solutions Specialist Cheryl Johnson and Questionmark Chairman John Kleeman during the Questionmark Users Conference March 14 – 17 in Miami. Cheryl brings a strong commitment to accessibility and usability to her work as an instructional designer as well as a trainer. She has been inspired by seeing how technology can dramatically expand opportunities for individuals with disabilities. I am looking forward to seeing Cheryl at the conference and would like to share my recent conversation with her:
Q: Could you tell me about your work as an instructional designer?
A: I’ve been involved with many corporate and government training programs over the years. Although I have developed some instructor-led training, I’ve worked primarily on elearning. Lately I’ve been moving into social learning, mobile learning, high-level simulations, and gaming.
Q: Let’s talk specifically about the subject of accessibility: could you discuss your experience with that?
A: In the mid-nineties I started training people to use assistive technologies. That was before assistive technology was really considered a productivity tool. Back then it was only about making information and technology accessible to people. There really were no tutorials or any good training out there, so I started writing my own training with the motivation of reducing the amount of tech support I had to provide to the people I’d trained! A few years later I was living in Utah and often had to train people remotely. My learners were primarily vocational rehabilitation clients, and sometimes I would be training just one person at a time. It was not cost-effective for me to drive long distances to train one person. I worked with a colleague to develop what would have been called in those days a “distance learning” program to help people use voice recognition technology effectively. He went on to patent the technology, called VoiceWindows (http://www.voiceteach.com/), as an online tutorial. It is a tutorial on voice recognition technology and its use with various software applications. In addition there are many macros built into it to increase productivity when using voice recognition technology. I have also trained many quadriplegics and have seen the huge impact technology could have on the quality of their lives, in some cases opening up work opportunities. Technology can open up a lot of possibilities and help make people be more productive both inside and outside the workplace.
Q: What are the key things people involved with assessment need to know about accessibility?
A: It calls for being creative and thinking differently about things. When I teach classes on accessibility I explain some rules: things like 508 compliance and the various standards people need to meet. But people get frustrated because they don’t know how to meet those requirements using what they have. Section 508 compliance really is just the basic standard. It’s more about making sure the person can access that information rather than whether is it really usable. I try to focus on helping people make information and technology usable as well as accessible. There are no written rules out there for doing that, so creativity is key. I recommend that when organizations are designing assessments or learning materials, they have people who use the technology on the design team from the very beginning. They know their technology. They know how things work. And they can suggest alternative ways of achieving something. That might mean taking a hot spot question, which would require the use of a mouse, and making text links for the hot spot areas so that someone who’s unable to use a mouse can answer the same question using a keyboard.
Q: What do you hope people will take away from your presentation?
A: An understanding of how important it is to make sure that people who use assistive technology are part of their design team. A realization that quite often people who use assistive technology are sometimes novice users and need clear direction and instructions in using it for a particular application—for example a particular assessment that you have adapted for their use. People with disabilities like to use interactive tools and want as rich a learning and assessment experience as everyone else. And of course, enthusiasm for finding creative ways to make assessments more enjoyable, usable and effective for everyone. John will be showing how Questionmark Perception addresses accessibility and usability issues. He’ll be covering what you have to do to make your assessments in Perception accessible, so that will be a major takeaway, too!
Q: What are you looking forward to at the Questionmark Users Conference?
A: I’m excited to meet people who want to make high quality learning and assessment available to everyone. That’s exciting to me, because I’ve spent many years fighting that battle! I also have to admit I’m looking forward to the cruise on Tuesday night!