Assessment Accessibility in Questionmark Perception Version 5

john_smallPosted 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.

Color blindness

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.

Motor disabilities

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  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.

Licensing Open Standards: What Can We Learn From Open Source?

steve-smallPosted by Steve Lay

At the recent Questionmark Users Conference I gave an introductory talk on Open Source Software in Learning Education and Training.  When preparing for the talk it really came home to me how important the work of the Open Source Initiative (OSI) and Creative Commons is.  These organizations help to take a very complex subject, namely the licensing of intellectual property, and to distill it into a small set of common licenses that can be widely understood.

I’ve always been an advocate of distributing technical standards using these standard licenses where possible.  Standard licenses allow developers who use them to be confident of the legal foundations of their work without a cumbersome process of evaluating each license on a case-by-case basis.  So I was delighted to see an excellent blog post by Chuck Allen from the HR-XML consortium discussing this issue and providing some detailed analysis of several such licenses that highlight the different approaches taken by several consortia.

The community reaction to the temporary withdrawal of the draft QTI specification has already been discussed by John Kleeman in this blog, Why QTI Really Matters.  What struck me in that case was that there was uncertainty amongst community members surrounding the license and the impact of the withdrawal on their rights to develop and maintain software based on the draft.

This problem is not unique to e-learning, as Chuck Allen demonstrates with his analysis of the licenses used by the organizations he studied in the related HR field.  I’d echo his call for more convergence on the licenses used for technical standards.  In fact, I’d go further.  The W3C publish much of the core work on which the other standards rely, for example, HTML used for web pages and XML used by almost all modern standards initiatives.  Using the same approach would surely be the simplest way to license open standards based on these technologies?

Just as organizations like GNU, BSD, MIT and Apache have given their names to commonly used open source code licenses, I look forward to a time when I can choose the “W3C” open standards license and everyone will know what I mean.