Program for the Visually Impaired and Moodle

The Program for the Visually Impaired at VCC officially began its existence in September of 1981.  The VI program currently features primarily self-paced studies with 26 FTE’s. The goal of the program is to give students the skills to enter employment or to enroll in mainstream programs with a primary focus on adaptive technologies. The program offers Braille, keyboarding, and CCA English and Math courses at the intermediate level.  The VI Programs have a long history with teaching word processing and presently teaches Microsoft programs exclusively.  In 2004, two certificates were introduced: Office Administration and Applied Technology.  These programs involve a work experience and are at the Post Secondary level.

  Making Moodle more Accessible

One never knows what someone else sees or hears until they put themselves into the other person’s shoes.

The Visually Impaired has a few courses in Moodle and they use them to teach their students how to use Windows and Office products. Those courses are popular, and provide students with a flexible way to keep up with their learning.

Betty Nobel, the Department Head for the Visually Impaired program is continuously looking for ways to serve the needs of her students. Moodle is only one tool they use.

Moodle as a Learning Management System is very versatile, but unlike Mac products, it does not come with accessibility functions. Therefore, the Visually impaired faculty and students have had to navigate a system that was made for people who have sight.  On a couple of occasions during the spring term Betty, approached the CID and wanted to know if we could do something.  Not really understanding the criteria of what the program needed, in the summer when things got a little bit quieter, we decided to give the VI a visit.

As we sat in Betty Nobel’s office and started talking, she tried to explain to us what some of the problems were. We took some notes, but not really grasping the profoundness… we asked her to demonstrate. She logged into Moodle, and with the screen reading software ‘Jaws‘ on,  it took us only a mere 2 minutes to realize how inaccessible the layout of the VI courses were. To test our understanding of the problems, we asked Betty to let us do some changes on the course right there, and within a few minutes and with a couple of clicks we made the course more accessible.

So we pondered: if in so little time we could make such a difference, what would happen if we took a more detailed look at it.

The project was assigned to Kar- On, the new DLSupport person at the CID. She took this task very seriously: with a pair of earphones and working through the material like a Visually Impaired person, she worked on the course for one month.  She consulted with the department every step of the way.

She then:

•    Removed blocks that were unnecessary or inaccessible
•    Consolidated information across weeks
•    Changed links and labels so everything starts with a number to  correspond to the week
•    Removed formatting in the content to read more smoothly in a screen   reader
•    Organized content to view in pop-up windows so it is easier for navigation by the visually impaired.

She also considered some best practices:

•    Simplicity
•    Screen reading capability when designing text and content

Currently the course is a good model and template for other accessible courses and future development. We know that if we develop Moodle courses with these guidelines in mind, they will be accessible and won’t need a complete overhaul in the future.

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