Accessibility is no longer something considered only appropriate for disabled students.Accessible and inclusive teaching and learning can be of great benefit to a large majority of learners, both disabled and non-disabled.Having resources available in electronic form can be a first step in moving towards a more inclusive way of working. Ensuring staff have an understanding of the accessibility benefits built into everyday technologies, such as word processing and presentation software, is imperative in ensuring an inclusive and accessible learning experience.This article highlights just a few of the tips and explanations featured in the publications.
TechDis accessibility essentials series
The JISC TechDis service has produced a series of guides aimed at making everyday tasks and documents more accessible. These are available at no charge to staff working in UK higher or further education.
- Accessibility Essentials 1: Making electronic documents more readable;
- Accessibility Essentials 2: Writing accessible electronic documents with Microsoft® Word;
- Accessibility Essentials 3: Creating accessible presentations;
- Accessibility Essentials 4: Writing accessible electronic documents with Adobe® Acrobat Professional - an article on this new publication will appear in the next edition of 01.
Best practice with font styles
Some quick accessibility gains when using Microsoft®Word
There are a number of good practice techniques which should be implemented when writing any documents. For example:
- use a minimum size 12, and if the document is to be read online, use a Sans Serif font e.g. Verdana, Arial, Trebuchet;
- avoid excessive use of capitalised, underlined or italicised text;
- ensure all text is left aligned, not justified as justified text can lead to some users focusing on the rivers of white space between the words, not the words themselves.
Best practice with structuring documents
Microsoft® Word has an inbuilt structuring system which should be used when creating any document. Heading tags can be used to denote headings and sub-headings thus providing an intrinsic structure. When creating a document use the Styles and Formatting toolbar to create appropriate heading for your document. From the Style box in the formatting menu a user can choose an appropriate heading and style for the structure of a document.
The ability to navigate a document by structural headings will benefit all users but give exceptional benefits to a range of disabled people. For example:
- Visually impaired users may rely on a screen magnifier for reading. A long document can be awkward to navigate through a screen magnifier, requiring much horizontal and vertical scrolling. A properly structured document can be navigated via the Document Map (View > Document Map), which is also accessible to the screen reader technology used by blind learners.
- Clicking the Document Map will allow the user to expand and contract headings or jump to the relevant section of a large document.
- People with poorer English skills (for example, British Sign Language users or others for whom English is a second language), or those with dyslexia who find reading extended passages difficult, can extract the key concepts before negotiating the denser text.
- A motor impaired user can access the whole document with minimal keyboard or mouse movement.
Best practice with PowerPoint
Some quick accessibility gains when using Microsoft® PowerPoint
- Write no more on a slide than you would on a postcard. Placing too much information on a slide will result in the audience not listening to the presenter as they try and follow all slide information. Two slides with 3 bullets on each slide will be more effective than one slide with 6 bullets.
- Ensure images and animations are used appropriately. A continuous animation will only serve to distract the audience from the information portrayed. Any images used for exemplification of concept should be explained by the presenter, for the benefit of anyone who cannot see or interpret the visual image.
- The colours chosen for the text and slide background should provide adequate contrast, dark blues and creams have been shown to be particularly legible. If presenting in a light room, display dark coloured text on a light coloured background. Conversely, if presenting in a darkened room, ensure the background colour is dark and the text light. If using a dark background ensure the weight of text is increased (e.g. use bold).
- If the PowerPoint is to be placed online, always use the inbuilt notes field. The notes field can be located beneath the slide area within the edit view and should carry both a copy of the text from the slide and any additional notes of explanation that you would give verbally if delivering the presentation. Not only will this make the file more usable to learners in general, but screen reading technology can access the notes field, but not the slide content itself.
- Use the inbuilt slide design options within Microsoft® PowerPoint wherever possible. The slide design options can be accessed from Format > Slide Layout. By using these slide layout options all text inserted will appear within the presentation outline and will thus be accessible when the document is exported.
Best practice with presentation technique
When physically presenting a session there are a number of tips and techniques which should be used to ensure that you are able to satisfy the needs of as many members of the audience as possible.
- Face forward at all times when speaking, you may not know whether there are any lip readers in the audience. Avoid giving verbal information whilst the room is darkened e.g. to watch a video.
- If available use a microphone, it may be connected to an induction loop and your voice may not carry as far as you think it does.
- Ensure you vocalise everything which is present on the slides - a visually impaired learner (or one sitting at the back of a large auditorium) may not be able to access the material on the screen. Stating this slide explains the concept is not acceptable.
- When taking questions from the audience, repeat it before answering, enabling all participants to hear the question.
Microsoft® Word and PowerPoint can be very powerful learning and teaching tools when used effectively. Users should be aware of the inherent and intrinsic accessibility benefits of using heading styles and the notes field. When used appropriately, these can make the difference between an accessible or inaccessible document.
TechDis supports the education sector in achieving greater accessibility and inclusion by stimulating innovation and providing expert advice and guidance on disability and technology. TechDis is a JISC-funded advisory service.