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[T.e.l.l. March Summary] Can I actually use it? Testing open textbooks for accessibility

This post contributed by Gina Bennett, College of the Rockies.
Our T.E.L.L. session for March (on Tuesday the 31st) provided not only a great presentation and discussion, but also a cool take-home gift. Tara Robertson, Amanda Coolidge and Sue Doner shared their learnings and experience with making Open Textbooks truly accessible. We came away with a much stronger understanding of the types of problems people face when dealing with print resources, and a download link to their Accessibility Toolkit.
The presentation was organized roughly into 3 parts. First, we got an overview of our BC Open Textbook initiative (83 books in the collection already!) and all the great reasons why open texts is an idea whose time has come. Books that are free-to-edit and free-to-download vastly increase access to information and learning opportunities.
But – as we learned – it’s not enough to simply get the resources ‘out there,’ and just having one’s fingertips on a print resource does not guarantee that the recipient can extract the information from that resource. All kinds of disabilities can limit one’s to make use of resources that are physically available. Charts, formulae, complex formatting, poor navigation… all of these (and more) create barriers.
The partners in this project identified a wide variety of print-related issues affecting accessibility but they went one step further: they conducted face-to-face user testing with postsecondary learners who face a number of disability issues. Seven students reviewed materials from 5 different open textbook chapters and provided really comprehensive feedback.
The T.E.L.L. session ended with a quick tour of the Accessibility Toolkit – the primary product of the project. The presenters explained the organization of the Toolkit and the unique ‘humanizing’ elements that make this a friendly, practical, and easy-to-use resource for anyone planning to write an open textbook – or any educational resource, really.
Thanks Tara, Amanda and Sue! I now have a much better idea of how Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles expand access far beyond the more common interpretation of ‘Open’.
Link to the project: http://open.bccampus.ca/2015/02/26/introducing-the-b-c-open-textbook-accessibility-toolkit/

Session Recording: