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As an institution of higher education, we are required by law to ensure that our course content is accessible to all of our students. This includes everything from the textbooks and publisher tools to handouts and exams.

Unfortunately, publishers aren’t governed by those same laws.

That means it’s our role in higher education to keep accessibility part of the conversation so that publishers know that accessibility is a priority for us.

One of the biggest hurdles with digital accessibility is that we don’t always have cut and dried answers. Several pieces of this have to be evaluated by human beings and carefully considered on a case-by-case basis.

What follows are questions you can bring up in your conversations with publisher reps as well as information to help you evaluate and make decisions about publisher content.

Questions for Publishers

Are videos captioned and audio recordings transcribed?

Embedded multimedia must also be available in a text format. This is part of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, under the “Perceivable” section.

Can all of the text displayed on the screen be read aloud by text-to-speech software, and are the images and videos described for the visually impaired?

This item is also part of the push to make content perceivable by assistive technologies without losing meaning.

Are all the activities navigable and usable with only a keyboard?

Any publisher tools should have full functionality from a keyboard. This is important for assistive technology and falls under the “Operable” section of WCAG 2.0.

Can you send me a copy of the VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template) or any other accessibility test results?

A VPAT is a document prepared by vendors that describes the extent to which a product is accessible. However, vendors often complete the assessment for the VPAT internally, and some may not be completely honest in the document. You may also want to ask who completed the VPAT for the vendor, and inquire about any other accessibility tests that may have been conducted on the product in question.

What type of accessibility support is available to students?

Because we are talking about publisher tools specific to individual courses at Angelo State University, our Information Technology helpdesk cannot offer assistance for any students with accessibility issues. To ensure that students still have acceptable technical support, it’s important to ask what type of support is available, including the hours and the expected response time.

Does your tool work on mobile devices? Is it optimized for mobile devices?

Your students use mobile devices all the time, so it’s important that they can access your course content from their phones and tablets as well. But it’s also important to ask if the tool has been optimized for mobile devices — this ensures that content displays correctly and is functional on smaller screens.

Does your tool require a plugin (Ex: Flash, Java, etc.)?

Plugins are likely to cause problems for students. Desktop browsers are dropping support for plugins and most mobile devices don’t support them either.

Will students need to install any software?

If so, students may not be able to use the tool on campus, especially if they are logging in from a computer lab.

Publisher Content Evaluations

It may be difficult to find a publisher tool that is 100 percent accessible. In all likelihood, you may receive a copy of the VPAT and begin looking through it and say “But what does all of this mean?!”

That is a totally normal reaction. Please feel free to contact me and we can go over it together.

And if you discover from your evaluation that the publisher tool isn’t completely accessible, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a deal breaker.

First, you can follow up with your publisher rep and ask if improving the accessibility of the tool is on the product roadmap. That’s just helpful information to help you anticipate future upgrades, and again, it keeps accessibility part of the conversation with publishers.

The next step is to develop an Equally Effective Alternate Access Plan (EEAAP). This document will include such items as:

Creating the EEAAP is important to staying proactive about digital accessibility. If you choose a product that isn’t accessible and find that you have one or multiple students who need equally effective alternate access, be aware that it can be expensive and may require last-minute and feverish extra work for other individuals on campus.

Jayna Phinney
Jayna Phinney

Jayna Phinney is an Instructional Designer in the Center for Digital Learning and Instruction. Contact her at or 325-486-6264.