Removing barriers to Edmentum’s online learning tools


Perkins Access helps online learning provider comply with state and federal accessibility rules

When Edmentum approached Perkins Access, Perkins Solutions’ digital accessibility consulting service, to evaluate the accessibility of its products for students with visual impairments, it had already identified some challenges.

Edmentum, one of the country’s leading online learning providers, had previously enlisted a student with visual impairments to find barriers to accessibility.

That student walked the Edmentum team through many roadblocks in the company’s courseware – places where text and images weren’t visible or easily navigated using a screen reader. “[The review] was super informative and helpful,” said Product Manager Courtney Ramirez, “but after that, we knew we had to get to work.” 

The company also knew certain states – Maryland, in particular – expected Edmentum’s online learning and assessment programs for K-12 students to be more accessible.

“We had also heard a lot of chatter about [accessibility] in the higher ed community,” Ramirez said.

Edmentum CTO Paul Johansen had learned about Perkins School for the Blind while studying at MIT in Boston. When Edmentum decided to delve deeper into accessibility testing, Perkins Access stood out.

“It was Perkins’ reputation and long-standing record,” Ramirez said. “But it was also all of the offerings: the Access Report, the consulting, and the ability to develop a continuing partnership, so we can maintain our accessibility standards.”

In the fall of 2015, the Perkins Access team began testing Edmentum products, starting with Plato, a standards-based online learning program.

Next, they tested Study Island, a K-12 Common Core test preparation program with interactive games and worksheets. Finally, the team assessed Education City, an online program with teaching resources and student activities for pre-K through sixth-grade students.

Edmentum received a unique Access Report for all three products. The reports summarized barriers to access, identifying them with screenshots and specific URLs. Required fixes were mapped to applicable Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are federal criteria for making online content accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities.

“We were expecting Perkins to find a lot, and they did,” said Ramirez.

Issues were identified in the way courses presented across pages, as well as with color contrast, audio compatibility and how programs displayed on mobile devices. Also problematic were directions displayed only such as visual cues to move students through programs, images that would be invisible to screen readers.

“There was just a big arrow,” Ramirez said. Sighted users could easily see the text directing them to the next problem sets indicated by the arrows. “But there was no [screen readable] text explaining, ‘Go to the assignment for Algebra 1.’ It would just say, ‘Continue, continue, continue,’ with no context.”

Ramirez said communication throughout the accessibility testing process was quick, open and easy. “[The] team answered all of our questions along the way,” she said. “They know what they’re doing.”

The Access Reports were shared with Edmentum’s software development, user experience and content and curriculum teams. “We kind of have an accessibility task force,” Ramirez said. “They have each taken items back that fall within their area of responsibility.”

In early 2016, the teams created timelines for fixes. Edmentum set dual goals: to remediate existing issues and ensure new products and updates meet accessibility guidelines.

Ramirez said Edmentum is excited to move forward on its long-standing goal to improve the accessibility of its programs for students with visual impairments.

“I think we’re all looking forward to that first sit-down with a student to test the changes we’ve made,” she said. “They’ll have a richer, more unique learning experience that their textbooks and braille readers do not offer. The students are what this is all about.”