Individual responses to accessibility

These notes are part of a series for the book.

Seale, J. (2014) ‘Ch. 15: Individual responses to accessibility: Rules, games and politics’ in E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education: Accessibility research and practice, 2nd ed., New York, Routledge.


  1. Introduction
  2. Activity theory as a potential tool for analysis
    1. The structure of activity
    2. The level of an activity
    3. Key concepts within Activity Theory
      1. Transformation
      2. Motivation and consciousness
      3. Mediation
      4. History and development
      5. Contradictions and conflicts
  3. Applicability of activity theory to e-learning and accessibility
    1. Identifying the components of an accessible e-learning activity system
    2. Novice and expert behavior
    3. Mediation
      1. Tools
      2. Rules
      3. Division of labor
    4. History and development
    5. Identifying contradictions in the accessible e-learning system
      1. Contradictions between the object and the tools
      2. Contradictions between the object and division of labor
      3. Contradiction between the community and division of labor
      4. Contradiction between the community and the rules
      5. Contradiction between the rules and the subject
      6. Contradiction between the tools and the subject
  4. Conclusion


Activity Theory

Activity Theory focuses on the activity as the smallest unit of analysis. There have been three generations of activity theory, each building on the previous generation.

First generation

Activity Theory came out of Vygotsky’s work. Its goal was to understand the relationship between a person and the reason for an activity they are they are performing. The first generation identified three parts of an activity system:

A few other details are important:

Diagram for the first generation of Activity Theory

Second generation

Researchers later felt that Activity Theory needed to identify more about the context of the activity system. The second generation expanding the original to include three more parts:

Now that it had six parts, they also began concentrating on three of the relationships in particular:

A few other details are important:

Diagram for the second generation of Activity Theory

Applying Activity Theory to e-learning

Seale maps the creation of accessible e-learning to the Activity Theory components:

Example diagram for the second generation of Activity Theory

This component...In this example, is...Other examples of the mediating components are...Contradictions in the relationship between components...
Long-term, purposeful actions to meet a goal
Creating accessible e-learning resources
Person involved in the activity
The instructional designer who is creating the resource
Activity's objective
Providing all students with access to e-learning
Senior managers, trainers, LMS administrators, Help Desk
Result of transforming the object (objective)
An accessible e-learning resource
What the person (subject) uses during their actions to meet the goal (activity)
Laws and guidelines such as Section 508 and WCAG; software used to create accessible resource; apps used to evaluate accessibilityBetween the person (subject) and the purpose of the activity (object), the relationship is mediated (connected) by tools.
  • Assistive technologies, models for evaluating them, and procurement/service auditing tools
  • Standards and guidelines
  • Instructional design software and approaches, including user-centered design
  • Software for evaluating accessibility of elearning resources
  • Staff development resources and courses
Between the tool and the objective (object): When the tool is not good enough to create accessible e-learning resources.
  • Software used to create the resources may be poorly designed
  • Evaluation tools may give confusing or invalid results
  • Standards and guidelines may be difficult to understand or apply within a specific context.

Between the tool and the person (subject): When the person cannot use the tools in the way they are supposed to be used, perhaps because they do not understand how they should be used.
Formal and informal rules that govern performance at the institution
Company policies and proceduresBetween the person (subject) and the community, the relationship is mediated by rules.
  • Laws, guidelines, and standards
  • Company policies and strategies
  • Rules found in research and practice publications

Some people debate the effectiveness of specific rules, such as:
  • WCAG and whether they apply to all contexts
  • Rules used by accessibility validation tools used for auditing
  • Laws and how or whether they are enforced
  • Conflicts between rules
Between the rules and the person (subject): Policies are weak, weakly enforced, inconsistent, confusing, or do not exist, to the point that their lack prevents the person from meeting the objective (object).

Between the rules and the stakeholders (community): Stakeholders do not agree on the policies or how they will be implemented.
Division of labor
Way the community has decided to assign roles and responsibilities
Responsibility for designing, developing, implementing, and evaluating accessible e-learning resources among the instructional designers, senior managers, trainers, LMS administrators, and Help DeskBetween the purpose of the activity (object) and the community, the relationship is mediated by division of labor. Responsibilities are being shared in different ways.
  • Work that can be done by non-technicians
  • Cross-functional teams and ways of embedding technologists into other teams to audit accessibility measures
  • Strategic partnerships formed between stakeholders
Between the division of labor and the stakeholders (community): Rules developed by the stakeholders are at odds with (or prevent) the division of labor, or processes developed for the roles and responsibilities do not include all the stakeholders.

Between the division of labor and the objective (object): Fragmented division of responsibilities or lack of strategic partnerships which leave stakeholders unable to work together to meet the goal.

A few details are important:

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