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Global Accessibility Awareness Day at DigitalChalk

by | May 26, 2016 | Announcements

What is Global Accessibility Awareness Day?

Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) aims to encourage the creators of technology systems to consider how they can improve accessibility to their platforms. GAAD was created by Joe Devon and Jennison Asuncion in 2011.

So every year on the third Thursday in May (May 19th in 2016), each of us in the technology industry is encouraged to take a closer look at a specific component of our system and evaluate it in terms of accessibility. As with any continuous improvement process, an honest evaluation is critical. At DigitalChalk, we strive to offer the highest level of accessibility possible to all our users, so what we learn from the GAAD evaluation will be communicated throughout our organization to improve accessibility to our online learning platform in very concrete ways.

As Joe pointed out, developers routinely test using Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Internet Explorer, but rarely test with JAWS or NVDA screen readers. Awareness comes first, and is the goal of Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

GAAD at DigitalChalk

Accessibility has always been of paramount importance to all of us at DigitalChalk. Our President and CEO, Russ Stinehour, himself legally blind, actively works with organizations that help the visually impaired use technology. He serves as a member of the Advisory Board to the Industries for the Blind and was named to the North Carolina Commission for the Blind by Governor Mike Easley in 2004.

DigitalChalk first participated in GAAD in 2015. Since participating in GAAD last year, we have implemented the following enhancements to directly improve accessibility to our platform.

Enhanced Themes

We’ve redesigned the DigitalChalk Themes feature system to support enlarged fonts, management of color contrast, and consistent support of ARIA attributes.

Video Captioning

We’ve integrated DigitalChalk with captioning services such as 3Play Media, which is important if your customers include the deaf or hard of hearing. Now you can caption your DigitalChalk videos in multiple languages with a just few clicks.

Testing with WAVE and NVDA

DigitalChalk now uses WAVE and NVDA software during our testing phases to evaluate the accessibility of new product releases. The WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation) tool decorates a web page with information about the accessibility of that page. NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) is an open source screen reader for the visually impaired. Both tools add critically important accessibility information to our testing process.

Chalkboard Updates

The “Chalkboard” is one of the key elements of a DigitalChalk course. The Chalkboard integrates HD video, presentation slides, notes, chapters, checkpoints, and editing tools all into a single component. From information we’ve gathered from our evaluation during GAAD 2016, we’ve already looked specifically at our Chalkboard component and made accessibility improvements with the help of WAVE and NVDA.

As shown below, the Chalkboard player controls include play/stop, fast forward/rewind, mute and other player controls.DigitalChalk: Global Accessibility Awareness Day at DigitalChalk

WAVE helped us identify player controls that were missing important accessibility attributes. What we found is that screen readers have a particularly hard time speaking buttons that contain only an image (like the ones in our player controls above).

To make our player control buttons able to be spoken, we added aria-labels, alt attributes where appropriate, and link titles where appropriate. Using the WAVE tool again, we confirmed that the new player controls could be spoken. Navigating with your mouse or keyboard, screen readers will speak links and buttons on our Chalkboards appropriately. We also include support for aria- disabled buttons. For example, if the fast-forward button is disabled, screen readers will indicate that this button is “not available” right now.

We tested the Chalkboard before and after our updates using the NVDA screen reader. The test indicated a significant difference in navigation and comprehension after we applied the updates to the Chalkboard.

In Summary

The most important things we’ve learned from our participation in GAAD is that relatively simple changes can have a huge impact on accessibility, and that using the proper evaluation tools is necessary to provide accurate accessibility information during testing. DigitalChalk will continue to make accessibility of highest priority and will continue to honestly evaluate accessibility throughout all the features and functions of the DigitalChalk platform. We are looking forward to GAAD 2017 and encourage you to participate as well.

Learn more about GAAD at

Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool (WAVE)

NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA)

Written by: Jon Wilkinson

Jon has been a software engineer for DigitalChalk since 2014. He began coding in 1981 on TRS-80s and TI-994As and hasn’t stopped since.

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