Solving Accessibility Problems in Virtual Lab Environments


Presented at 11:30am in Matchless on Thursday, November 9, 2023.



  • Rachel Comerford, Senior Director of Accessibility Outreach and Communication, Macmillan Learning
  • Crista Earl, Principal Accessibility Consultant, Tech for All
  • Dustin Politico, Senior Media Editor, Custom, Macmillan Learning

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 1-hr
  • Format: Lecture
  • Expertise Level: Beginner
  • Type of session: General Conference


In 2018 a collaborative team of content experts, educators, accessibility experts, and software developers began a project to build a web-based environment for chemistry and biology lab simulations. Macmillan Learning and its partners incorporated accessibility principles and approaches into the development from the beginning to ensure all students can utilize the tool and complete virtual experiments. We examine challenges and solutions to making a highly visual and dynamic web app accessible.


The first version of the software was released in 2020, and has been used in high school and higher education courses to familiarize learners with a lab environment, lab procedures, tools, experiments, and outcomes. Continued development has aimed to expand the content and improve the user experience and accessibility of the software, with version 2.0 going live in the fall of 22. We will examine challenges in making a highly visual and dynamic web environment accessible, and demonstrate solutions that were employed.

We will focus on specific accessibility features and enhancements that have been added over the past two years, including enhancements to “drag and drop” functionality and the dissemination of color information to users in situations where dynamic color changes are possible . We will also address methods used to communicate the existence and extent of accessibility features to potential users, and challenges that arise when they assume this type of software is inaccessible.

Objectives: • An example of a virtual lab environment will be presented and selected accessibility challenges will be identified • Specific methods of providing full screen reader and keyboard support for "drag and drop" interactions such as placing items on the bench or adding materials to containers • A novel approach to communicating specific color information in situations where dynamic color variations are required will be presented • Methods and ideas to communicate accessibility features to users and any known results of those methods and ideas will be examined. A particular focus will be placed on users who may assume that such an interface is inaccessible, or users who don't know they can benefit from these features


  1. An example of a virtual lab will be presented and selected accessibility challenges will be identified
  2. Understand methods of providing full screen reader and keyboard support for "drag and drop" interactions
  3. Examine methods and ideas to communicate accessibility features to users

Disability Areas

All Areas

Topic Areas

Accessible Course Design, Accessible Educational Materials, Uncategorized, Universal Design for Learning

Speaker Bio(s)

Rachel Comerford

Rachel Comerford is the Senior Director of Accessibility Outreach and Communication at Macmillan Learning where she leads cross-functional efforts to ensure students of all abilities have access to their course materials. In 2020, BISG awarded Rachel the Industry Innovator award for her work helping Macmillan Learning to become the first Global Certified Accessible publisher by Benetech. Under her leadership, Macmillan was recognized by WIPO’s Accessible Book Consortium with the International Excellence Award for Accessible Publishing in 2020 for their work towards providing educational materials that any student can use. She has over a decade of experience in the print and digital publishing world. Prior to coming to Macmillan as an editor, she held a variety of editorial and sales positions at WW Norton and Pearson.

Crista Earl

As a senior member of the Tech for All (TFA) consulting team, Crista leads non-visual accessibility evaluations of software, website, mobile, and integrated

hardware and software products. Crista brings over 30 years of experience in design, development, and testing of

accessible information and communication technology. She has helped organizations in a variety of industries, including educational publishing, finance, and retail.

In her previous role as Director of Web Operations for the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), Crista oversaw a team of developers, database administrators,

content managers, and social media professionals to develop and expand several accessible websites and software applications.

Dustin Politico

Dustin is a Senior Media Editor for Macmillan Learning. He comes from a science background, having completed a PhD in Chemistry with focuses in biochemistry and structural biology. Following his graduate studies, he worked in K-12 STEM outreach through a post-doctoral fellowship. Since joining Macmillan Learning 6 years ago, he has functioned as a subject matter expert, content developer, project manager, and media editor. Accessibility has been and continues to be a key focus for Dustin in many of the projects in which he is involved. In particular, he has helped address a variety of accessibility challenges with simulation and interactive types of activities.