ANGEL Accessibility Issues and Recommendations

Following are issues identified within the ANGEL interface that present accessibility difficulties to persons with disabilities. These include issues that arise when using screen reader technology. Where possible, recommendations have been suggested to work around the issues.

Course Mail

Issue: Navigation can be inconsistent and tricky. This involves an issue with the message input area that you must tab past and then Shift+Tab back into. The other way to do it is to use the form list function in JAWS, but not all screen reader users use this function and all of the input fields must be properly labeled for it to be useful.

Recommendation: Use an outside e-mail client. This allows you to use the client you are most familiar with for all course communications. You can choose to forward all course mail to your Penn State e-mail account to ensure that you do not miss important course messages.

Issue: When JAWS users navigate to the inbox page, they are taken directly to the message list frame, so when they press the "B" key to search for buttons, the Compose Message button is not found because it is outside of that frame.

Issue: The following headings are unlabeled and should be labeled either level 3 or 4 within the HTML: Action, Search, Source Filter, Options, System Folders, My Folders, and Slow Inbox?.

Compose Message

Issue: In the Compose Message window, screen reader users are automatically placed in the Message Body area instead of at the top of the page, which is confusing.

Issue: The Select Message Recipients pop-up window that opens after the To button is clicked causes several issues for screen readers:

  • The blank frame is not labeled.
  • JAWS users move through the list of available buttons using the down arrow. The OK button is listed before the To, CC, and BCC buttons. This design is bad for users, as they only perceive options to select a recipient name and then click OK, while left unaware that after selecting a name they then have to assign the name to the To, CC, or BCC field.
  • Oopening the Select Message Recipients pop-up window does not stop users from using keyboard options to access the Save Draft or Send buttons in the Compose Message window, so they may possibly send blank e-mails.

Live Chat and Live Office Hours

Issue: The message field is not labeled.

Issue: The screen reader reads off a number of "blank" items before reaching the message field.

Issue: Link is not labeled.

Issue: The Send button does not interact with the keyboard.

Issue: You cannot return to the Online Users list after going to the Ignored Users list.

Issue: There is no option to play a tone when a new message is posted.

Issue: There is no option to choose whether to list new messages first or last. A screen reader reads from the top down, which is tedious when there are numerous messages before the new message. There is also no option for a screen reader to start reading at new messages, with an option to read old messages (similar to MSN Messenger's accessibility functionality).

Recommendation: For users with assistive technologies, other means of text chat based communications such as MSN Messenger (JAWS has specific scripts to work with MSN Messenger) are more accessible options. AOL Instant Messenger client and Yahoo are unusable with a screen reader.

Discussion Forums

Issue: In threaded view, the expand/collapse buttons on individual posts do not work (not to be confused with the button that expands/collapses all posts in the discussion forum).

Recommendation: Set the toggle key for the expand/collapse function within the forum's threaded view frame as the keyboard's space key. This is a common and frequently used key for JAWS reader users for such an operation.

Issue: When using the Tab key to navigate through to select a post to read, the cursor will become stuck once entering the main discussion content area. The reason is that the cursor immediately lands on the expand/collapse switch and the system changes the functionality of the Tab key to toggle that switch rather than to continue to tab through to other items.

Issue: As is the case with e-mail, to enter the message input box when creating a new post or a response, you must tab past it, then press Shift+Tab to reverse tab into it.

Issue: Once the cursor reaches the Directions portion of the window, it can become stuck within that portion.

Issue: How to navigate out of the message area without using the mouse cursor to click out of it is unknown at this time.

Issue: Both the view and quick navigation menus are pull-down style boxes and can present issues to users with a screen reader. Users must select the pull-down box, which does not give a clear indication of the type of choices that it contains. Selection then occurs by using the up/down or left/right arrows. Once a selection is chosen, it will be applied upon pressing Enter or navigating away with the Tab key.

Issue: Responses to posts are visually organized by indenting the responses to previous posts slightly. There is no clear verbal representation of this when using a screen reader.

Recommendations: To work around the issue with the Directions portion of the window, instructors can place the directions in a sticky post instead of using the Directions field. To work around interface issues, students can choose to subscribe to discussion forums and read the posts in their e-mail application. Replying to forum posts will require using the discussion forum interface in ANGEL. Due to the difficulty of navigating the interface with a screen reader, students may find it easier to create top-level posts instead of replying to individual forum posts. Editors can move these posts into the appropriate thread, if desired.


Issue: Multiple choice-based questions require that a user tab into the multiple choice/radio button answer area to select an answer. The user must then tab out of the area in the case of the multiple choice type question because arrowing down will change the user's answer. An issue with this is that users of screen readers will often use the arrow keys to read the content of the page and the Tab key simply to navigate the page. When the user tabs out of an answer area, he/she will be taken to the next answer area, skipping the question itself. To get to the question, the user will have to tab out of the answer area from the question he/she just answered, into the next answer area, and then arrow up to that answer area's question.

Recommendation: Create a separate team and assign the student who uses a screen reader to that team. Within the assessment settings on the Access tab, select the name of that team. In the Custom Team Settings window, select Advanced Settings, then for Display Mode, select Single Question.

Issue: For matching type questions, screen readers read the letter then the text of each prompt before moving to the answer area. Users must remember all the lettered choices in order from a first-pass reading to select the correct letter from each answer pull-down menu, because they are unable to easily refer back to the list of prompts as non-screen reader users are able to do.

Issue: For ordering type questions, screen readers do not read a label on the page. If a JAWS user goes to the form field list, they do show up as labeled.

Issue: Including a timer that is not fixed in one position creates a few issues. One is that it interferes with the JAWS navigation, making assessments very difficult to navigate. Another issue is on a cognitive level. The timer can become a constant distraction and create anxiety within a test taker. Depending on the length of a question and the size of the window or screen resolution, the timer will often cover assessment questions.


Issue: Gradebook column names are read together by screen readers and can be problematic. For example, the first three column titles are read one after the other, without distinguishing between the three columns.

Layout and General Navigation

Issue: Within a course, the tabs at the top of the page (Syllabus, Calendar, Lessons, Resources, Communicate, Report, Manage) are labeled for screen readers as "tab menu heading level 3." However, to indicate the proper page hierarchy, the tab menu should be labeled as level 2 because it is one level below the course title, which is labeled as heading level 1.

Issue: The "Select a table" dialogue in JAWS reveals that tables, for example, the course mail message list, do not have names. The tables are not using caption tags, which act as the title or name for the table. Without a caption tag, the default name for a table is all of the data in the table in one long string.

Issue: There is no "skip to content" option at the start of the page once a user is inside a course/group. Users must tab through navigation links with every page refresh.

Issue: Users can change the layout within ANGEL to better accommodate their needs through certain settings. Some user settings, such as the theme, seem to be kept within the user's Access Account so that regardless of the computer they view ANGEL on, it looks the same. Unfortunately, this is not true for the display settings. Settings such as the PDA layout and the 508 standards option are stored locally on the user's machine rather than on the server. So if the user sets the profile up to have the PDA layout on his/her own machine then goes to a different machine, the user will have to reset the profile choices for that computer. Also, after the user logs out, he/she will need to select the Accessible View link again when logging back in unless the selection remains stored in a cookie file.

Issue: In the title bar of each page component, such as My Courses or My Groups, the settings, refresh, hide, and new window options are not accessible. These options only appear when a user moves his or her cursor over the title bar.

PDA Layout/Accessible View

Issue: A way to get a more accessible layout is to select the Accessible View link found in the top banner to the right side, or by clicking the PDA button found in the bottom left corner on the screen just under the 508 button. Despite the different names, they actually perform the same basic function if the user selects I would like to specify screen reader settings, then selects Yes for the Optimize pages for screen readers option in the Screen Reader settings. Using either of these view options will remove the link feature to automatically redirect to the source. Some World Campus courses include a link to external course content that will automatically navigate the student to that content after a few seconds.

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