Many people can think that simply because some laws require software to be accessible, that accessibility will automatically happen. Linda Stuart of AFS Intercultural Programs warns that this is not always true, and that there are many software providers that do not develop products that follow accessibility guidelines without prompting from their clients.
AFS went through a two-year process trying to select an accessible software provider for their learning management software ( LMS). They offer a learning module for participants of AFS programs, before, during and after an intercultural experience abroad, in order to evaluate and relate with their experience abroad. Many of the University clients, including one institution in particular, were requiring them to ensure that the LMS was accessible according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in order to meet their obligations as federally funded institutions. AFS had already been looking at compliance with the worldwide standard, namely the WCAG 2 standards, which made sense for AFS’ mission as a nonprofit to ensure access for all. The request from this university client accelerated the process.
AFS started by contracting a technology consultant who recommended a list of approximately seven LMS providers. They were able to eliminate many of the options up front, as many of the LMS providers didn’t have the key functionalities they needed, or required large upfront costs, but more importantly, many didn’t provide accessibility according to the WCAG 2 standards.
The LMS provider that they initially selected did not have an accessible product, but promised that they were committed to getting that on their docket for the following year. As time went on, it became apparent, due to the company's lack of responsiveness and action, that it was not necessarily that way. Eventually by the summertime, the provider acknowledged that they actually were not going to be making accessibility happen anytime soon, as the majority of their clients were not demanding it. At that point, AFS took steps to transition away from that relationship.
The second LMS provider, and the one that they ultimately settled on, had a product that initially had some accessibility bugs. It relied on an accessibility mode that needed to be activated by the user or by the administrator, and things did not always function as well as they needed to. However, the company was extremely responsive. It followed up on issues as quickly as Linda and her team could flag them. The provider also sent weekly reports to AFS on the progress towards improving accessibility.
“When we said it was our priority to offer an online program that was fully compliant with international accessibility guidelines, they made it their priority too. I know our unique case request pushed their customer service management, implementation, development and support teams to adapt to meet these standards,” Linda Stuart.
Ultimately the goal was to have a native accessible version of the software, which finally came to fruition in November 2017. Now, accessibility does not need to be activated, but is rather incorporated in the software from the beginning.
AFS was fortunate to strike up a rare deal with the University that was most vocal about access, in which the University volunteered its own technology experts to provide free accessibility consulting to AFS throughout the process.
Now, thanks to the collaboration with the University, and two years of effort drawing from the expertise of a consultant initially, and in turn, in their own staff, AFS now has access to an accessible LMS, and a responsive company that will likely ensure that accessibility is preserved. This will mean that they have access to contracts with more universities who are required by federal regulations to ensure that any software they work with is ADA compliant. At the same time, AFS’s current 5 year strategy promises to deliver impact through “expanding access to intercultural education. ” This tool helps AFS advance that goal and meet mission starting now!