Accessible Interfaces Design in Spanish University
e-Learning Platforms
N. Lloret Romero and L. Fernandez Aquino
Instituto de Investigación IDF,Grupo de Investigación CALSI, Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Camino de Vera s/n
46021 Valencia Spain
Keywords: e-Learning, accessibility, disability users, special education systems, human, technology interaction,
accessible interfaces.
Abstract At the moment e-learning platforms are being applied in the University studies of ascending form. The
objective of this work is to analyse the e-learning platforms of different European Universities, to analyse
their user interaction capacities and the degree of accessibility developed in these platforms. Interaction in
e-learning platforms is vital for potential users; in many cases the bad development of these platforms
encourages the abandonment of these studies. Starting off with this hypothesis, we develop an evaluation
study of the interaction of e-learning platforms in European Universities and we study the degree of
interaction with the user, we also consider the level of accessibility developed according to W3C standards.
The study considers the necessity to know the
repelling factors in the interoperability and
interaction of the e-learning platforms when they
must fulfil accessibility and standards, these have an
influence on its design and the development of the
system. For the accomplishment of this study we
have analysed the platforms of diverse European
Universities from the viewpoint of user interaction
by means of the design of interfaces and services of
a high level of interoperability of this selection
obtained 10 platforms to analyse of deeper form.
The methodology of the study forces us to make
diverse types of evaluation both of users as of
design. Once this part of the project had been
analysed, the analysis of the accessibility of these
platforms, manual as much as automatic, was made
in order to appreciate the implanted degree of
accessibility. Until levels arrived within the service,
that guidelines had been followed according to the
W3C and that appreciation users with disability of
these services perceived. The data collected from the
study denote that in platforms of a high degree of
interaction and interoperability in many cases the
application of accessibility criteria is reduced.
We analyse the e-learning platforms and make the
study of interactivity according to guidelines
described in the study, the analysis of users and the
test of interoperatibility. Help menus and user-
guides: website. We also make the study of the
accessibility standards, the evaluation of the use of
the W3C guidelines and we test the validation of the
accessibility of these platforms using software.
The year 2003 was declared the “European Year for
the Disabled”; the European Union committed itself
to developing all the actions tending to guarantee the
better integration of the disabled into all aspects of
social life, according to the endorsement of the
European Social Agency in December 2000.
In the knowledge society in which we currently find
ourselves, the concept of accessibility goes further
than mere access to the infrastructures, currently
access to information through the Internet is posed
as a fundamental basis for the integration of all the
collective groups and the respect of equal
opportunities for all citizens.
The Region of Valencia has posed the technological
challenge as one of the basic pillars of economic and
social development. To this end it presented, in its
day, the “1
Region of Valencia Modernisation
Plan” and it is currently working on its “2
Modernisation Plan” in which there is special
Lloret Romero N. and Fernandez Aquino L. (2007).
HUMAN-TECHNOLOGY INTERACTION - Accessible Interfaces Design in Spanish University e-Learning Platforms.
In Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies - Society, e-Business and e-Government /
e-Learning, pages 506-511
DOI: 10.5220/0001276405060511
emphasis on the accessibility of the services for
This being one of the basic premises of the Plan,
a UPV team has been carrying out a study on the
degree of implementation of these recommendations
in the e-learning platforms of various Universities on
a European level. In order to carry out the
aforementioned study all the services offered by the
Valencian Generalitat in the various institutions that
offer on-line training have been analysed, as well as
a sample of 10 European Universities, and of these
those that are really capable of being true e-learning
platforms in view of their level of accessibility have
been selected, from this selection interactive services
to be studied were obtained. The methodology of the
study forced us to carry out various types of
evaluation, both manual and automatic, so as to be
able to appreciate the degree of accessibility
implanted. To what extent the levels were reached
within the service, which guidelines had been
followed according to the W3C and what
appreciation disabled users perceived of the said
The data obtained from the study denote a lack
of precision in the application of the accessibility
criteria, which in many cases makes access with
minimum levels of disability impossible. This
communiqué presents in detail how the study has
been carried out, the conclusions and some
minimum recommendations as regards the
optimisation of the services offered in the matter of
accessible e-learning.
2.1 Accessibility and Accessible Design
Accessibility can be defined as: The set of
characteristics that an environment, product or
service should have in order to be usable in
comfortable, safe and equal conditions for all people
and, in particular, for those who are in some way
disabled. Accessibility can be understood in relation
to three basic forms of human activity: mobility,
communication and understanding; the three are
subject to limitations as a consequence of the
existence of barriers. The barriers are any
impediment, hindrance or obstacle that limits or
impedes normalised, dignified, comfortable and safe
ways of access, use, enjoyment, interaction and
understanding of the environment, product and
service. To be specific, the advances insofar as the
degree or level of accessibility that characterises the
environments, buildings and public spaces in
society, are not isolated cases but depend on the
interaction between the three components of that
same society:
The normative and institutional structure,
which establishes the minimum demands
of accessibility, should encourage their
The technological level, which establishes
the development of solutions and their
application possibilities.
The social organisation, which is at the
same time the receiver, mediator and
executor of the conditions established by
the regulations, institutions and
The interaction between these three components
makes up a system that, in an aggregate way, will
determine the possibilities that make an asset or
service appropriate for its use with all people or, on
the contrary, inaccessible for a segment of the
The consequence is that it is not enough to work
in an isolated fashion on one aspect of the system,
but rather that it is essential to work jointly between
the institutional, regulative, social and technological
spheres in order to achieve that, both for the
suppression of barriers as for the Design for All, it
be a reality applied to any asset or service, i.e. that
what is new should be made accessible and what is
old should be transformed in order to become
accessible. Only through planned action and taking
the system as a whole will it be possible to tackle the
area adequately.
Accessibility is a necessary condition for the
social participation of people with different
functional limitations and a guarantee for the best
design for everyone. In a society in which the
information technologies and communications are
being used more and more so as to be informed, in
order to study, to relate to others, for entertainment
and for work, and in which there are increasingly
more services provided via telematics, assuring the
accessibility of the new technological resources,
Internet in particular, is a priority.
In fact, currently, accessibility in the Internet is
very limited, above all due to indifference, or
ignorance of the problem, on the part of many web
designers, and bearing in mind the great number of
disabled all over the world – some five hundred
million people – it is a very important aspect to be
Before entering into the web design, strictly
speaking, it is a good idea to talk about accessible
Design, broadly speaking, in general terms, given
that many of the principles used here are also
applicable to web design as a result of being
included in the design of a product in general.
The concept of Design for All (as it is known in
Europe, whereas in America it is known by the name
Universal Design) is a synonym of “meant for
everyone”. In a strict sense it is the process of
HUMAN-TECHNOLOGY INTERACTION - Accessible Interfaces Design in Spanish University e-Learning Platforms
creating products, services and systems that are
usable by all people, encompassing the greatest type
of situations possible.
According to this philosophy the equipment and
services should be designed to satisfy the needs of
all the users; as much the average user as users with
different functional profiles should be able to use the
product as much as possible and with the maximum
features, without the need for adapting or additional
specialised design.
Seven Universal Design principles have been
established to guide a wide range of disciplines of
design including: the environmental design of
products and communications. These seven
principles can be applied to evaluate existing
designs, to guide the process of design and to
educate both the designers and the consumers on the
most usable characteristics of products and
environments. The Principles are described below,
indicating its definition and the guidelines to be
followed for its observance.
Principle One: Equitable Use
The design is useful and marketable to people with
different capabilities. Guidelines:
a. It provides the same means of use for all
users: wherever possible identical;
equivalent if not.
b. It avoids segregating or stigmatising any
c. The provisions for privacy, security and
protection should be equally available for
all users.
d. It makes the design interesting for all users.
Principle Two: Flexibility of Use
The design should have sufficient flexibility to
accommodate the greatest range of preferences or
individual capabilities. Guidelines:
a. It provides options in the methods of use.
b. It incorporates means of access and forms
of use for both the left and the right handed.
c. It facilitates exactitude and precision for the
d. It provides adaptability at the user’s rate.
Principle Three: Simple and Intuitive Usage
It should be simple and intuitive, easily understood
independent of the experience, knowledge, language
or the level of concentration of the user. Guidelines:
a. To eliminate unnecessary complexities.
b. To be consistent with the expectations and
the intuition of the user.
c. It incorporates a wide range of instruction
and skill in the language.
d. It arranges the information according to its
Principle Four: Perceptible Information
The design provides the user with the information
necessary for its use independently of the
environmental conditions and his sensorial
capabilities. Guidelines:
a. It uses different methods (graphic, verbal,
tactile) for a redundant presentation of the
essential information.
b. It provides an adequate contrast between
the essential and the additional information.
c. It maximises the legibility of the essential
It differentiates the elements such that they
can be described (i.e. it makes it easy to
give instructions or directions).
e. It provides compatibility with the variety of
techniques or devices used by people with
sensorial limitations.
Principle Five: Error Tolerance
The design is error resistant. It minimises the risks
and the adverse consequences of both accidental and
deliberate errors. Guidelines:
a. It adds elements in order to minimise
dangers and errors: the most used elements
should be more accessible; the dangerous
elements should be eliminated, isolated or
b. It provides warnings about dangers and/or
c. It provides escape routes with safe
d. It discourages unconscious actions in tasks
that require vigilance.
Principle Six: Low Physical Effort
The design should be used efficiently and
comfortably with a minimum of effort or fatigue.
a. It allows the user to maintain a neutral body
b. It uses reasonable functioning strength.
c. It minimises repetitive actions.
d. It minimises the physical effort sustained.
Principle Seven: Size and Space for Access and
The environment provides a space and conditions
that are adequate for its use independent of the body
size, posture and mobility of the user: Guidelines:
a. It provides a clean line of vision of the
important elements for any user whether
seated or standing.
b. The components should be within
reasonable reach for any user whether
seated or standing.
c. It includes variations in the hand holds for
different hand sizes.
WEBIST 2007 - International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies
d. It provides adequate space for help or
personal care devices.
These are the criteria that define a design that is
usable for everyone. Of course other aspects should
also be borne in mind throughout the design process
such as aesthetics, the cost, safety/security, or
respect towards diversity.
With reference to the accessibility problems related
to webpage design, one should bear in mind that
many users may be operating in contexts that are
very different from one’s own:
They may not be able to see, hear, move or
may not be capable of processing certain
kinds of information easily or at all.
They might have difficulty in reading or
understanding a text.
There is no reason why they must have or
be capable of using a keyboard or a mouse.
They might have a screen that only displays
text, a small screen or a slow connection to
the Internet.
They may not speak or understand the
language in which the document is written
They may well find themselves in a
situation in which their eyes, ears or hands
are occupied or hindered (e.g. driving a car,
working in a noisy environment etc).
They might have a previous version of the
navigator, a completely different navigator,
a voice operated navigator or a different
operative system.
The contents developers should bear in
mind these considerations while designing
the pages.
Given that there are many different situations to
be taken into consideration, each accessible design
chosen generally speaking benefits many groups of
disabled people as well as the entire Web
community. On this aspect, the World Wide Web
Consortium (W3C), through a work group known as
WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative), took up the
challenge and has made the effort to “standardise”
the webpage design procedure in order to make them
accessible. This has been embodied in a series of
recommendations in the form of Guidelines. And it
is in these guidelines that the key to providing
equalitarian access for all Web users is to be found.
The WAI, in association with organisations from all
over the world, is promoting the accessibility of the
Web through five complementary activities:
To assure that the essential technologies of
the Web support accessibility.
To develop guidelines for the authorship of
pages, user applications and author tools.
To develop evaluation and reformation
tools for accessibility.
To direct training and technical assistance.
To follow up on the research and
development that could affect the future
accessibility of the Web.
Of all the groups of guidelines dealt with by the
WAI we are mainly interested in one, above all
others, for this project. We are referring to “Web
Content Accessibility Guidelines”.
The steps that were taken to carry out the
aforementioned study were the following:
In the first place the whole platform was
visited in search of pages claiming to be
accessible, that is to say, pages that had a
WAI logo or that had an alternative
accessible version. These signs of
accessibility should be found in the main
page of the website, given that this is their
entrance point.
Once having detected the accessible pages
an automatic tool was then applied to them
to check whether they really were or not.
We also saw fit to pass the said tools on to
the most important Institution Webs,
independently of whether they claimed to
be accessible or not.
The next step was to analyse the results
obtained and to compare the results of the
two analyses carried out thus obtaining
pertinent conclusions.
Finally a series of improvements were
contributed, the most common detected,
which helped us to make the said webpages
The levels of priority that were taken into
consideration were 1 (A) and 2 (AA), 3
(AAA) was rejected given that it was very
exacting and no platform was found that
could comply with it, not even the webpage
of ONCE.
HUMAN-TECHNOLOGY INTERACTION - Accessible Interfaces Design in Spanish University e-Learning Platforms
Insofar as the levels of exploration of the
platforms, level 3 (the main page and the
two levels below it) was the maximum
level explored, because if one of the
platforms of dynamic webpages is not
accessible up to level 3, it is difficult for it
to be accessible in subsequent levels.
The study was carried out on the 15 platforms
analysing the levels of priority required by the W3C
regulations. Each point of verification is assigned
one of the three “levels of priority”.
Priority 1: The Web content developer has to
satisfy this point of verification. Otherwise, one or
more groups will find it impossible to access the
document information. That this point of verification
be satisfied is a basic requirement so that some
groups are capable of using the Web documents.
Priority 2: The Web content developer should
satisfy this point of verification. Otherwise, one or
more groups will find it difficult to access the
document information. The satisfaction of this point
of verification will remove important obstacles for
accessing Web documents.
Priority 3: The Web content developer can
bear this point of verification in mind. Otherwise,
one or more groups could find some difficulty in
accessing the document information. The
satisfaction of this point of verification will improve
access to Web documents.
The specification of three “levels of adaptation
to facilitate reference for other organisations.
• The adaptation level "A" (A) includes the
points of verification of priority 1;
• The “Double A” (AA) level includes
priorities 1 and 2;
• The “Triple A” (AAA) level includes
priorities 1, 2 and 3.
Examples of habitual barriers found in all the
platforms studied:
Images without alternative text;
Absence of alternative text for the sensitive
points of the maps of the image;
The incorrect use of the structural elements
in the pages; the unsubtitled sounds or the
undescribed images;
The absence of alternative information for
the users who cannot access the frames or
the scripts;
The tables that are difficult to interpret
when they justify;
Or, the sites with poor colours contrast.
The Relation of these Guidelines to Other
Guidelines of the Web Accessibility Initiative
(WAI) of the W3C
We could say that the WAI divides its guidelines
into four large groups:
1. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
(WCAG). They study how accessible the
content of a website is. These are the
guidelines that interest us the most.
2. User Accessibility to Applications
Guidelines (UAAG). They study the
accessibility of the navigators.
3. Author Tools Accessibility Guidelines
(ATAG). They study the accessibility of the
author tools employed to develop websites.
4. XML Accessibility Guidelines (XAG). The
XML applications with accessibility
As well as the development of the guidelines,
WAI is also working on the use of the Web
technologies, such as HTML, CSS, SMIL, XML,
DOM, which are collaborating in accessibility.
WAI co-ordinates with other organisations to
develop tools that can help in the evaluation, to
readjust pages, and provide alternative solutions to
support accessibility.
In spite of the great existing legislative cover on the
subject of Web accessibility we have confirmed that
in practice all this legislation is not really taken
seriously given that our analysis carried out on 15
platforms has demonstrated that very few comply
with the web accessibility requisites in levels 1 and
2. Only 2 platforms complied with level 2 and 5 with
level 1, the rest did not comply with any
accessibility requirement.
As regards the Web Accessibility Guidelines, let
us repeat and make quite clear that these guidelines
don’t just make the pages more accessible for the
disabled but also for all users in general. In the case
of training the inobservance of these guidelines
makes the better use of training impossible on the
part of any user given that the said users have to be
in front of the computer for many hours in order to
obtain their training, for which reason it should be
much more of a priority in these services than in
However, in spite of their seeming usefulness
one also has to make clear that the Web Accessibility
Guidelines are a recommendation and not a law,
with all that that entails, and, moreover, the decision
WEBIST 2007 - International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies
to place the accessibility logo in a website is the
responsibility of the Content Provider, who is able to
place the icons (if he wishes) without having
complied with the guidelines themselves with the
requisite responsibility and without any kind of legal
penalisation for having done so.
This is one of the reasons for the lack of
seriousness and the contradictions found in our
analysis already commented upon in previous points
of the project.
As general conclusions relating to the analysis
carried out one should say that:
It is to be highlighted that the majority of
the platforms have used the versions 1.0
and 1.1 of the TAW analyser and we can
say that these versions are much less
“exacting” than the version used in our
analysis (3.0). As a result this has given
numerous “exacting” errors meaning that
we have had to analyse them far beyond the
numeric data returned to us by the TAW
tool. But despite this we recommend
always using the most up-to-date versions
of the tools because in general they are
more thorough and detect more errors.
Many pages within the same platform have
the same heading or menu, for which
reason many errors in this part of the
website are repeated throughout all the
pages that contain the aforementioned
heading or menu. For this reason these
errors, which should only appear once, crop
up many times. We have kept this in mind
when it came down to evaluating each
One should also bear in mind that many
errors unleash or provoke, to some extent,
other errors, for which reason one should
take this into consideration when evaluating
the page errors.
One should not assume that all automatic
errors are valid given that the experience in
the analysis has demonstrated that, on
various occasions, the programme has
detected an error where none was to be
For a definitive analysis of accessibility we
can not base our conclusions on applying
just one tool, like TAW, but also the
experience of the person analysing, as well
as the context of the platform, its structure
and the programming method used are also
going to affect the final result of the
Analysis to a large extent.
As a final conclusion on the objective of our
study, it has to be said that, in spite of the fact that
many of the platforms appear to be accessible, their
contents are not, given that only 4.5% of the pages
analysed passed our accessibility tests. We could
sum up by saying that the majority of the platforms
show a “pretty face” aiming to provide an aspect and
image of accessibility, which in reality they do not
possess. This leads us to conclude that it is necessary
for the Universities, in general, and those that have
distance learning platforms, in particular, to
approach this topic with greater seriousness and to
make a real effort in this regard given that we are
talking about Public Administrations, entities that
should show more concern for making the
information reach the citizen, although this means a
loss in the aesthetic beauty of their services, which,
as a result of having a more attractive image full of
images, movements, striking menus etc., only serve
to increase the probabilities of inaccessibility and
place the distance learning student in a backward
situation as regards his real training.
“Designing a More Usable World for All. General UD
Information, Standards and Guidelines” [on-line].
[Date of consultation: 6
Available in the Web: <>
“Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0. W·C
Recommendation 5
[on-line]. [Date of consultation: 30
Available in the Web:
“eEurope 2002: Accesibilidad de los sitios Web públicos y
de su contenido” (“e-Europe 2002: Accessibility of the
Public Websites and their Contents”)
Communiqué from the Commission to the Council, to the
European Parliament, to the Economic and Social
Committee and to the Regional Committees. [on-line].
[Date of consultation: 18
-April -2006].
Available in the Web:
HUMAN-TECHNOLOGY INTERACTION - Accessible Interfaces Design in Spanish University e-Learning Platforms