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Accessibility Tips for Teaching
Accessibility tips to use when teaching courses face-to-face, online, or any combination of delivery methods.
Accessibility and Universal Design for Learning are important considerations to keep in mind when designing and delivering courses. We have all probably heard about Universal Design features in buildings and public spaces. Examples can be seen in sidewalk cutouts for wheelchairs, ramps into buildings and captioning on television shows and movies. An interesting survey looking to see who uses closed captioning/subtitles on video showed that 80% of users are not hard of hearing or deaf, only 20% were. Universal design is intended to provide access to everyone regardless of age, disability or other factors.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Accessibility follows these same concepts in the learning environment. Designing courses with accessibility in mind provides educational opportunities to all students. For example, a captioned video is not only helpful to students with hearing issues, it benefits non-native English speakers also. Making changes to course content with a focus on UDL and accessibility provides a sense of independence to all students, whether they report a disability or not. Think about accessible course design as being proactive instead of midway through semester having to make changes to accommodate a student with a disability.
In the HyFlex, blended and online environments it is even more important to think about accessibility. Your students may be in the classroom, remote, or unable to attend the live session. Providing everyone with accessible course materials will help create a successful learning environment.
Blackboard Ally, integrated into your course automatically generates alternate formats of documents students can download. Most files your post can be downloaded as audio, PDF, ePub, electronic braille, BeeLine Reader, and Immersive Readera. Ally reviews the documents you have posted (Word, PowerPoint, and PDF) and provides tips to help improve the accessibility score.
Questions to Ask
The following are a few questions to start with while looking over your course and designing assignments.
- Would students with hearing losses, sight limitations, or diverse cognitive skills have equitable access to your assignments, documents, videos, and files?
- Do all students have the technology tools needed to complete the course?
- Are your assignments flexible to meet the needs of a diverse student group?
- Would your interactive activities exclude someone with a disability?
- Have you provided multiple ways for students to gain and demonstrate their knowledge?
These four steps will help you to prioritize and begin the process. After completing the syllabus, contact information, textbook/required readings, and captioning videos, take a look at the bulleted list of helpful tips.
- Accessible syllabus – check the accessibility of your syllabus (Word or Adobe Acrobat PDF, both have built-in accessibility checkers)
- Faculty contact information – do you have multiple methods for students to contact you with questions (Name, email, phone, the preferred method of contact, virtual office hours?)
- Textbook – if used, is it accessible for all students? Ensure open education resources you use in the course are also accessible.
- Videos – are they closed captioned? The captioning can be auto-generated (YuJa’s auto-captions are about 75-85% accurate) if the speaker is clear and enunciates well. This shows a good faith effort. If a student requests an accommodation captions must be 100% accurate.
- PowerPoint and Word files can be checked for accessibility. A common issue is not including alternative text (alt text) to images for students with a visual disability. Microsoft has great step-by-step guides that show you how to fix these issues Basic Guidelines for Creating Accessible Documents
- Rule of thumb: use the formatting tools in the Microsoft products.
- PowerPoint– slide layout and formatting.
- Insert slides based on the formatting you want, don’t select a blank slide and create the formatting yourself.
- If you add extra text boxes and images you need to fix them for accessibility.
- Word– use formatting tools built into Word.
- Headings, Tables, Bold tool, Italicize, etc. formatting is already designed for accessibility.
- Don’t use colors to signify the importance of text in your document. Color is difficult to see for many. Using the formatting features to signify emphasis.
- Structure is important when using a screen reader to listen to documents. Use headings and table titles, otherwise the reading order just flows without breaks and is difficult to understand.
- PDF files – creating PDF versions of Word & PowerPoint files.
- After checking Word or PowerPoint files for accessibility select Export as, then, select “Create a PDF/XPS Document.” This retains the accessibility you have.
- Checking accessibility in existing PDF files:
- To check accessibility, you will need Adobe Acrobat Pro DC (paid version). Adobe Reader does not allow you to edit the file.
- Documents scanned to PDF from a copier will need to have parts of the file fixed for accessibility.
- Documents scanned as image files and saved as PDF are not accessible.
- PowerPoint– slide layout and formatting.
- If you have files that are not accessible, check if there are any online versions of the documents that may be accessible.
Accessibility Tips for Microsoft Word
Key things to be aware of to make your Word documents accessible.
- Headings & Title
- Headings create a hierarchy in the document that a screen reader can follow.
- You need to set a default document title for a screen reader to be able to scan and read audibly to users.
- Hyperlinks must have clearly defined labels so screen readers can read the title text audibly.
- Embed the hyperlink URL in the words.
- Needs clear table structure
- Table title, column headers, row headers, if appropriate
- Alt Text – describe information conveyed by images, tables, charts, figures
- Lists – use the formatting tools in Word
- Color Contrast – important to use formatting in Word to convey information, color does not work for people who are blind, colorblind or have low vision
- How to Check
- Select the “File” tab in the main software ribbon and select info
- Next, Check for Issues and then Check Accessibility
- Things to Watch For
- Don’t use fonts smaller than 11pt
- Make sure there is enough color contrast and don’t use color to convey information
- For longer documents provide a table of contents
- Use the Style and Formatting tools within Word when creating your document
- Exporting to PDF
- Select “File” tab in the main software ribbon
- Choose “Export"
- Then, select “Create a PDF/XPS Document”
- Make sure to name your document and select Publish