Here at Queen’s University, staff and students produce digital content for a variety of reasons. This can be assignments, posters, learning materials, video or web-based content, to name a few. It is important to make digital content accessible to users of the content (i.e., the intended audience).

By content, we are referring to information presented digitally whether it’s a word document, web page or other digital object (audio / video, etc.).

What is Accessibility?

A broad definition of accessibility when creating digital content includes the design of services (i.e., online forms), products (i.e., video/slides) and environments (i.e., Canvas/share point). If content is accessible, it means consideration has been given to people living with disabilities (as defined by Disability Services at Queen’s) and a larger audience can access the content.

In today’s world of technology, there is no excuse for digital content to be inaccessible. Consideration regards navigation, usability, clear use of text, colour, space and size, etc., are good practices to incorporate in to your digital routines, resulting in a better user experience. It widens the audience that can use your digital content.

Why do I need to make things accessible?

As humans, we typically view the world from one view point: our own.

When this happens and digital content is created, the content may not provide the best experience for people living with disability. People living with visual impairment may not be able to view small text in print. People with colour blindness may not be able to differentiate certain colours (i.e., red/green), language like “See the text in red/green” may appear as grey tones and disadvantage that person.

What one may consider as good and accessible design may limit another person’s experience and/or understanding of the contents message. It’s important to consider how others view and experience the world. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Here’s a few questions.

Is anyone in your intended audience visually impaired? Would the option of larger text be helpful? Would it help visually impaired audience members to know how to magnify text or use a screen reader? Do you know if your digital content can be used by a screen reader? Another option is to provide an alternative format, i.e., podcast.

Does anyone in your intended audience living with a hearing impairment? Text in documents and on screen may be fine, but audio content would be a disadvantage. Captions should be provided on video to help improve this audience members experience and understanding of the content. People with hearing loss may hear some content but extraneous background noise may impair their experience. Simply having a choice of using captions (or subtitles) is a great advantage.

Try to improve accessibility so digital content can be navigated more easily, it is better understood by more people and is more inclusive as a result of good practice. Accessibility is a big area of interest and it covers everything we see and do.

Look at the world around you, some multilevel buildings only have stairs. In this example, could everyone access the upper floors? Is that access easy? Do lifts in buildings benefit everyone?

Other accessible features you will have experienced on-campus at Queen’s include automated doors, accessible entrance routes to and around buildings, electro-magnetic fire doors, handrails, etc.

Indeed, when you travel in and around Belfast (or other city/town), how many times have you thought, “If I designed that, I would have done ….?” This may be lower kerbs, graduated kerbs, hearing induction loops, column-free parking spaces in carparks, automated doors that stay open longer, etc. Why not incorporate these thoughts in to your digital practices?

Accessibility benefits everyone.

How do I make things accessible?

Digital content that adheres to best practice (regards accessibility) increases the audience whom are able to use your content whether people living with a disability or not.

Here’s a few quick tips to get you started, these include:

  • Use a sans-serif font, i.e., Arial, Helvetica, Calibri
  • Avoid ‘fancy’ fonts, they’re hard to read
  • In Word Documents
    • Text should be minimum size 12
    • Line spacing should be 1.5
    • Left aligned text is easier to read
    • Consider contrast and use colour with care, i.e., colour of text on background (https://contrastchecker.com/)
    • Use an accessibility checker

Albeit, these tips refer to text, think about how much digital content you produce with text. This is just the tip of the iceberg. How text is presented can advantage or disadvantage many users (i.e., people living with dyslexia, visual impairment, anxiety, etc.). Future DigiKnow blogs will touch on specific groups accessibility needs to raise awareness of best practice.

Widen the audiences whom can access your digital content, be inclusive and design well.

Over the coming weeks, DigiKnow will highlight best practices for accessibility using different software applications which you can incorporate into your work and study lives. These will touch upon:

  • Word
  • PowerPoint
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Use of imagery / diagrams
  • Internet Browsers
  • Assistive Technologies


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