This extended abstract is a contribution to the Accessible E-Learning Online Symposium of 16 December 2013. The contents of this paper was not developed by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and does not necessarily represent the consensus view of its membership.

Chat’s accessibility in mobile learning environments

1. Problem Description

Chats have become a very useful tool in learning environments. Furthermore, the use of mobile devices has been increased in the last decade for learning environments and a new way of learning, mobile-learning (m-learning), has emerged. However, are all Chats suitable for m-learning environments? These applications should be accessible because all students should have the same opportunities to learn. Thus, Chats should comply with educational and software guidelines and standards which establish how to create educational software in an accessible way. Considering all these things, the main aim of this work is to evaluate the accessibility of three of the most used mobile Chats around the world and specifically in Spain (Line, Whatsapp and Spotbros) from the point of view of the standards and guidelines that a Chat for m-learning should accomplish.

2. Background

Many studies highlight the advantages of using this collaborative tool in educational environments [1]. Moreover, it has been demonstrated previously that students prefer using a mobile phone Chat application to a Desktop or Web one [2]. Nevertheless, despite the advantages that Chats shown on educational environments, they present many accessibility barriers [3]. Different guidelines, standards and best practices such as: WCAG, MWABP or ISO 9241-171:2008 help developers and experts to assure the accessibility of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs). However, these documents are not focused on m-learning environments and the guidelines needed to assure the accessibility of these applications.

3. Strategy

The main aim of this research is to evaluate if Whatsapp, Line and Spotbros Chat applications are accessible for m-learning from the point of view of the standards and guidelines that a Chat for m-learning should comply. These three Chats have been selected according to a previous research [4], because they present the most accessible content, have more educative possibilities and they have an elevated number of users. To achieve it, we have performed a thorough study of all the guidelines related to accessibility in m-learning Chats. Thus, next guidelines have been selected: WCAG 2.0 because it specifies accessibility guidelines which can be applied for non-web information and communication technologies too; the MWABP guidelines, because the evaluation is done through mobile Chats; the standard ISO 9241-171:2008 which specifies the requirements for accessible software; and the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines because it specifies how to create accessible applications for educational environments. The evaluation process follows the W3C evaluation methodology [5]. The objective is to check different chat features and options provided by selected chats and check their accessibility; then, take a sample from each application (WhatsApp, Line and Spotbros). The evaluation process was carried out by three different experts with more than three years of experience on the accessibility field and was conduct in an iPhone 4S with the latest iOS version, 7.0.3, and using VoiceOver and a stylus for simulating different assistive tools.

4. Major Difficulties

The most challenge issue faced is the election of four guidelines and standards to carry out the evaluation. There are many guidelines and standards which are used to evaluate the accessibility of software, educational environments or mobile devices. Then, we spent many time in the election of the most suitable standards and guidelines to follow in the evaluation process. On the other hand, there are many mobile devices which have their own limitations and features. Due to these reasons, a complete evaluation of accessibility will be concluded because users' opinion will be considered too. This paper presents the evaluation of these three Chats with a specific technology. However, other devices, assistive tools and operating systems should be considered

5. Outcomes

This evaluation highlights the serious accessibility barriers that have been detected in the evaluation of the three selected Chats considering the accessibility guidelines. In this section we try to summarize and remark those we think are more severe:

Line (left) and Spotbros (right) doesn't have User Interface elements with name, like buttons.
Figure 1. Different Graphical User Interface elements like buttons doesn't have a name

WhatsApp allow users to increase text size as an accessibility option
Figure 2. WhatsApp allow users to increase the text size.

WhatsApp (left) and Line (right) do not have an accessible documentation and support.
Figure 3. There is a severe lack of accessible documentation in all analyzed chats.

6. Open Research Avenues

There are many research avenues closely related to this project. Firstly, a guide of best practices for evaluating mobile applications as Chats in educational environments will be created. There is also the option to carry out a survey with special need students to make a complete evaluation of the students' experience in mobile Chat applications. Finally, there are many mobile devices that have their own limitations and features. Due to these reason, to carry out a complete evaluation of accessibility will be interesting consider all of them. For the evaluation presented on this paper, it was selected one device, two assistive tools and one operating system, as it has been mentioned in previous sections, but many other systems could be considered for future researches.


This research work has been partially supported by the research project MA2VICMR (S2009/TIC-1542)


  1. Instant Messaging for Creating Interactive and Collaborative m-Learning Environments. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. 2007. 1; 8-2
  2. Bere, A. A comparative study of student experiences of ubiquitous learning via mobile devices and learner management systems at a South African university. In Proceedings of the 14th Annual Conference on World Wide Web Applications. (Durban, South Africa, 7-9 Nov, 2012)
  3. National Center on Accessible Information Technology in Education. “Are chat rooms accessible to people with disabilities?” Web Link
  4. Calvo, R., Arbiol, A., Iglesias, A. Are all Chats suitable for learning purposes? A study of the required characteristics. 5th International Conference on Software Development and Technologies for Enhancing Accessibility and Fighting Info-exclusion DSAI 2013. (Vigo, Spain, 13-15 Nov, 2013)
  5. Website Accessibility Conformance Evaluation Methodology (WCAG-EM) 1.0 Web Link