Assessment Software Design and Accessibility: Six Key Areas to Consider

Diverse group of business people brainstorming ideas about assessment software design and accessibility

Product Design and Accessibility

The intersection of product design and accessibility for online assessment is a really important topic that can often be overlooked. Accessibility refers to the design of products, devices, services or environments for people with special needs. This includes all people with a visual impairment, hearing impairment or mobility impairment.

Product design, on the other hand, is all about the process of designing a product that meets the needs of users. In the context of online assessments, the product should be designed in a way that is accessible to all users, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. As noted by the Employer Assistance and Resource Network, if workplace technology is not accessible, it excludes individuals and becomes a barrier to employment.

Considerations for Accessibility in Online Assessment

Online assessment tools have been rapidly growing in popularity, a growth that was fuelled further by the Covid pandemic when learners and exam candidates could no longer congregate at test centres. Many organisations now use online assessment software to assess the skills and knowledge of students, employees, members and prospective stakeholders.

With the right solution, an online assessment platform can provide a scalable, cost-effective and convenient alternative to traditional, in-person assessments. Running exams online actually presents a significant opportunity to level the playing field for all exam candidates. Expecting everyone to travel to a test centre and write for hours with pen & paper is not a process that is fair to all. However, for people with a disability, online assessments can also present significant challenges unless the assessments are designed with accessibility in mind.

Accessibility considerations in product design are often limited to making sure that the product can be used by people with special needs, such as adding closed captioning or audio descriptions to video content. However, this only scratches the surface of what accessibility really means in the context of online assessment. A truly accessible online assessment experience must take into consideration the unique needs of each user, regardless of their abilities.

1. Accessible Assessment Content

Exam content should be presented in a way that is easily understandable and in a format that is accessible to everyone. For example, visual content should include alternative text descriptions for images and audio content should include transcriptions and captions. Questions should be clear with concise answer options, and be built in a way that is compatible with assistive technologies, such as screen readers or magnifiers.

2. Use of Assistive Technologies

Many people with audio or visual impairments rely on solutions such as screen readers or magnifiers to access digital content. Online assessment software should be compatible with these technologies. Exam content should also be presented in a way that works with screen readers, which can mean using semantic HTML and ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) attributes.

3. Accessible Support and Resources for Exam Candidates

It is essential that exam support and resources provided by the technology supplier are accessible. This includes providing documentation and help materials that can be used by any test-taker. This should be backed up by multiple and convenient ways for the candidate to contact customer support should they need any assistance prior to or during their exam.

4. User Experience for Online Exams

A focus on user experience when designing accessible online assessments is also crucial. The interface should be intuitive and test-takers should be able to navigate the assessment with ease. For example, buttons should be clearly labelled and easy to find, and the interface should be designed to minimise distractions and help users focus on the task at hand. A good assessment solution will also offer alternative interfaces for people with different types of visual impairment or dyslexia.

5. Testing Accessibility of Exam Interface

Another key aspect of designing accessible online assessments is conducting thorough testing. This includes testing the software and exam content with people with different kinds of needs to ensure that it is accessible and usable for all users. When testing at TestReach, we consider the needs of a wide range of people, including those with visual impairments, auditory impairments, motor impairments and cognitive impairments. This allows us to identify and address any accessibility barriers before the online assessment software is rolled out to a wider audience.

6. The Benefit of Remote Proctoring for Accessibility

Remote invigilation, or online proctoring, where exams can be taken securely from home without having to travel to a test centre, is another important feature of online assessment to consider in terms of accessibility. It can make the experience of an exam so much easier for someone with special needs, as they no longer have the inconvenience of travelling to a test centre but can stay in the comfort of their own home environment. This can significantly reduce stress and anxiety levels.

Live remote invigilation is the preferred approach, as this not only maintains a high-level of security and protects the integrity of the qualification, but also gives a supportive service for candidates, where there is interaction with a person. At TestReach, we have a team of in-house supervisors who are well-trained and understand the underlying software, which means they can provide a knowledgeable, supportive and friendly service to all candidates regardless of ability. In terms of software, the process of connecting with a remote supervisor should be very straightforward, and the supervisor should be informed of any specific requirements for that candidate e.g. extra time allowed, additional comfort breaks.

To conclude, designing accessible online assessments is not just a matter of compliance with accessibility regulations, it is a matter of providing a fair and equitable assessment experience for all users. By considering accessibility at every stage of the design process, we can create online assessments that are accessible, inclusive, effective and meet the needs of all users. This ensures that everyone has the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge fairly and on an even footing. Any learner can then demonstrate their skills and knowledge to the best of their ability and enjoy the positive impact on their career progression, with huge benefits all round.

Read more about considerations for accessibility in assessment here