Student Diversity is Key for Learning
Over the last two years, I've had the pleasure of partnering with Atlassian University to provide a wide range of training, including in-person courses, virtual courses, and even being the voice of Planning with Portfolio for Jira. If I had to count, I've likely delivered training to close to 1000 students since 2017 as an Atlassian Certified Instructor, but this week was a first – one of my students was blind.
When teaching an Atlassian University course, we provide students with access to a virtual environment to practice the concepts presented. Each student is also provided soft copies of the slides as well as a lab workbook to guide them step-by-step through the environment. This particular course, Confluence Server Essentials, provides new users the opportunity to learn about the basics of Confluence. Navigation, page creation, blueprint usage, and collaboration features such as @ mentions, comments, and blogs are all covered in the full-day course.
My blind student had a laptop with accessibility features and used the Jaws Screen Reader to help navigate the different UIs of the applications. He also had a colleague to assist him if needed. As I started the course, he was attentive and eagerly participated in the discussions. However, when it was time for everyone to log in to their environments and start the first set of exercises, I noticed that he was starting to fall behind.
During the exercises, his assistant had a technical issue with her own laptop and asked if I would step in while she talked to tech support. I sat down and watched as he tried to navigate his screen reader through the Confluence System Dashboard and eventually to the correct Space to continue through the lab. This was my first time working with a screen reader, and I spent quite a bit of time wondering how it chose which parts of the screen to read. However, once we got into a rhythm, I was able to help him navigate to the correct menu. By the end of the time box, we managed to complete two of the four exercises.
Accessibility in Atlassian Products
Atlassian supports or partially supports accessibility requirements for Jira, Confluence, and Bitbucket Server and Data Center products, in compliance with Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 (AA). At Praecipio Consulting, we developed a custom accessibility app for Jira, at a client's request, to accommodate sighted and non-sighted users. While support and partial support of accessibility are steps in the right direction, I still needed to find a better way to help this student.
Enter the Atlassian Marketplace. If the functionality doesn't exist in the products themselves, we search the Marketplace for apps to add on to the instance. There are over 2000 apps available for Server, almost 1000 for Cloud, and nearly 700 for Data Center instances of the Atlassian applications, and these apps are generally tagged with additional information to further help you make the right choice. Through a quick search of all compatible apps tagged as Supported, I found two that looked promising: Accessibility for Confluence and Unstoppable for Confluence. Not knowing which one would work best, I tossed a coin.
Because the Atlassian University lab environments work like a mini Server environment, they function the same as the customer instances of Confluence we work in every day. Following best practices, I wanted to test the installation of the app in a separate environment before installing it for the student. In my Instructor Environment, I found the user with the most administrative rights (as per the lab workbook) and installed the app. A quick check of the documentation told me the additional installation steps needed to activate it. As testing is important as well, I validated functionality myself first, and I was confident this app would provide the student with a better learning experience.
A Retrospective on the Accessible Experience
Once installed and configured, my student was able to continue forward with the next two labs, including all exercises. Through exercises like creating a blog post, editing a page, and adding attachments, he was starting to understand how Confluence could help him with his daily tasks.
What did we do well?
- Found an accessibility app and installed it
- Walked the student through how to use it
- Provided 1:1 instruction during labs to ensure understanding
What could we have done better?
- Communicated about the student before class
- Researched screen readers to understand the best one
- Asked the students for a solution
Going forward, I want to identify students with accessibility needs beforehand, so that I can prepare accommodations as needed. While I have thought about this as an instructor before, now that I've had the experience and have learned from it, I am better prepared to provide a better learning experience for all of my students moving forward.
We can all do great things if we communicate ahead of time. If you or your organization have accessibility needs, let us know! We can bring solutions and custom solutions as needed.