Accessible Simulations

We have several simulations published with inclusive features that can meet the diverse needs of learners within diverse environments. Find all published simulations with inclusive features, and read on to learn about our inclusive features and the simulations we are working on.

A sim with alternative input adds keyboard accessibility to the traditional sim inputs of mouse and touch. Students can navigate and fully engage with the sims interactions using a keyboard. Simulations with the alternative input may contain descriptions that identify interactive objects and values. These simple descriptions, if available, are accessible with screen reader software.

A sim with sound and sonification has added sounds designed to create an immersive and meaningful experience for all students including students with vision impairments. Sonifications are sounds carefully mapped to changing values that represent the scientific concepts in the sim. Thus, sonified interactions provide access to the science in a non-visual mode (i.e., sound). Sound effects are also used in sim sound design to help students make connections with things that happen in real-life (e.g. rubbing sound for rubbing a foot on a carpet). Independently or together, these sounds enhance the learning experience for all students. Sounds can be turned off using the global sound button on the sim menu bar.

A sim with interactive description provides a fully described interactive experience that is keyboard accessible, dynamically updates, and automatically responds to changes a user makes as they interact with the simulation. Using screen reader software, interactive description provides a robust engaging interactive experience for students who are blind or have a severe vision impairment.

A mobile accessible sim provides a fully described interactive experience that is accessible with VoiceOver and its special screen reader touch gestures. Using VoiceOver and touch gestures students can engage in a dynamic described experience along side peers using the visual sim. Mobile accessibility provides an engaging described interactive experience for students who are blind or have a severe vision impairment. Students must have access to and know how to use a touch device with the latest iOS, such as an iPad or iPhone.

Pan and zoom enables everyone to zoom in for a closer look. Users can use pinch to zoom and drag gestures to zoom in and pan around on touch devices. With the keyboard, users can zoom in using typical keyboard shortcuts (Mac: Command +/-, Windows: Ctrl +/-) or pan to an area for close examination using arrow keys. The sim auto pans to keep the focused item in view when using a keyboard.

Voicing is a customizable option that uses web speech to voice simulation information as a user navigates and interacts. Voicing also offers on-demand access to a simulation overview, current details, and hints for productive interaction. Though Voicing shares features with traditional screen readers, it works quite differently – it only voices information through direct interaction. Voicing can be used by diverse users including users who are blind or have a severe vision impairment, in diverse collaborations, and on diverse platforms in browsers that support web speech. Voicing is enabled in the Preferences Menu under the Auditory tab.

Balloons and Static Electricity alternative input interactive description interactive description on mobile devices sound an sonification pan and zoom

  • Features: Alternative Input, Interactive Description, Sound and Sonification, Mobile Accessibility Pan and Zoom
  • Interactive Description on Mobile Devices is almost ready in this published version: 1.5.0 (same as published version)
  • Grab a balloon to explore concepts of static electricity such as charge transfer, attraction, repulsion, and induced charge. In addition to the completed inclusive features, this sim's mobile accessibility on iOS with VoiceOver is very good - just a couple of issues around the mobile grab and drag interaction to address. On an iPad or iPhone, grab a balloon with a double tap and hold and then drag your finger. Of course, you can also use a keyboard just like always.

Faraday's Law alternative input interactive description interactive description on mobile devices sound an sonification pan and zoom

  • Features: Alternative Input, Interactive Description, Sound and Sonification, Mobile Accessibility Pan and Zoom
  • Interactive description including mobile accessibility is under development in this version: 1.5.0-dev.5
  • Grab the bar magnet to explore and investigate Faraday's law and how a changing magnetic flux can produce a flow of electricity! In this prototype we are working on the interactive description design.

Friction alternative input interactive description interactive description on mobile devices sound an sonification pan and zoom voicing

  • Features: Alternative Input, Interactive Description, Sound and Sonification, Mobile Accessibility Pan and Zoom Voicing
  • Interactive Description on Mobile Devices, Voicing, and Pan and Zoom are under development in this version: 1.6.0-dev.19
  • Grab the Chemistry book to play and explore concepts related to friction. In addition to the features in the published version, this prototype version of Friction includes good, but not yet perfect mobile accessibility on iOS with VoiceOver, our new pan and zoom feature, and a customizable voicing feature that uses web speech to speak information aloud (i.e., no screen reader necessary for speech output). To enable "Voicing", open "Preferences" and go to the "Audio" tab, and after enabling "Voicing" choose what details you want spoken aloud as you interact and customize the voice.

Ratio and Proportion alternative input interactive description interactive description on mobile devices sound an sonification pan and zoom voicing

  • Features: Alternative Input, Interactive Description, Sound and Sonification, Mobile Accessibility Pan and Zoom Voicing
  • Voicing is under development in this version: 1.1.0-preferences.5
  • Play with the left and right hands in different ways, and explore ratio and proportion. In addition to the published features, this prototype of Ratio and Proportion has a customizable voicing feature. To enable "Voicing", open "Preferences", go to the "Audio" tab, and after enabling "Voicing" choose what details you want spoken aloud as you interact. You can also customize the voice.

Students can already use multiple input methods to interact with the simulation, for example, by using a mouse, trackpad, or touch. The addition of Keyboard Navigation expands options for input methods, allowing input through key presses on the keyboard, and also through assistive devices such as switches, joysticks, alternative keyboards, electronic pointing devices, sip-and-puff systems, and more.

Our design strategy for keyboard navigation and keyboard access is to:

  • use a bold visual focus highlight (common to all sims) that indicates where a student is in their exploration
  • follow known accessible design patterns (see ARIA Authoring Practices) to ensure interactions are as familiar as possible for students who use alternative input
  • provide in-sim guidance for essential interactions in the form of a brief Keyboard Shortcuts dialog

We are designing descriptions that are read aloud by screen reader software. These descriptions provide an additional output mechanism for the simulations. Simple and dynamic descriptions, together, give students access to a non-visual layer that provides a robust text-based mode of the scene layout, navigation, interactions, and dynamic state information as the simulation changes, and dynamic feedback of what is happening (i.e., alerts) during interaction. Sims with descriptions will have already been made keyboard accessible, as well.

Future research will focus on making the descriptions available to more students. At present the descriptions are accessible using screen reader software in the following screen reader-browser combinations:

  • NVDA and Firefox on Windows
  • JAWS and Chrome on Windows
  • VoiceOver and Safari on Mac OS

Using screen reader software students can navigate and read through the simulation at any time using the Arrow keys (i.e., screen reader cursor keys). Students can skim and scan using their screen reader commands (e.g., navigate by regions, by headings, and by interactive elements).

In addition, regardless of which screen reader software is being used, students can use the Tab key and Shift plus the Tab key to navigate forwards and backwards through possible sim interactions.

Two-phase approach to description design

The design of the dynamic descriptions that provide the fully described version of the sim are complex and take the longest to design and test. In efforts to create broader access sooner we have two phases for description design:

  1. In phase 1 we design the simulation’s simple descriptions which provide orientation of the simulation’s layout and names for the interactive elements.
  2. In phase 2 we design the simulation’s dynamic descriptions which include all dynamic state information and the dynamic interactive alerts that describe what is happening.

In our research, we refer to simple descriptions as static descriptions, i.e., descriptions that essentially do not change. Dynamic descriptions and interactive alerts are the descriptions that are designed in phase 2 and create a fully described interactively experience. For a discussion of our research on description, please see our paper on description strategies (Smith, Lewis & Moore, 2017). Based on what we have learned in design research, we are making every effort to release keyboard navigable simulations with their simple static descriptions to provide minimal non-visual access. The fully described dynamic experience requires a longer research, design and development cycle.

Sonification is the use of non-speech sounds (such as musical tones) to convey information. For students accessing the descriptions within the simulations, the use of sonification will complement the text-based descriptions and provide a pathway for conveying information that is continuous in nature – which can be difficult to convey with words. For students visually exploring the simulation, sonification provides a new mode of conveying complex relationships. Sims with sonification are tested using browsers that support web audio. These include:

  • Chrome
  • Firefox
  • Safari