What is accessibility and why is it important?

Accessibility is about designing courses and developing a teaching style to meet the needs of people from a variety of backgrounds, abilities and learning styles. It is a way to make documents, presentations and content easier to navigate, read, transform, as well as make it user-friendly, interactive and collaborative. While the most common way staff present information during lectures, tutorials, seminars and labs is through PowerPoint Presentations, the learner experience can be very different. When developing content, material and resources it is best practice to think about Accessibility and how everyone benefits when barriers are removed for learners. Accessibility is underpinned by Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principals that are about catering for all learners.

These Top Tips were developed to support staff in thinking about Accessibility when developing content through a variety of media platforms and make them more interactive and collaborative. While the focus here is mainly on presentations, it can also be used for all course content such as word documents, excel and web design.

For further information, please see the Course Content Accessibility Checklist

Tip 1. Text

Text is the most common form to present information when developing course content. It may be obvious to many but large blocks of texts, too many images and colours can be a barrier to many learners.

So where can I start?

Use a readable font Sans Serif (Arial and Calibri), minimum size 12. Provide structure and navigation using headings to ensure key points stand out. Write content in short, clear and simple language. Consider a glossary page if there is a lot of technical language. Try to avoid large pieces of text and complex language, instead space text out (1.5) and include white space. The text needs to be clearly read left to right, so use left align only.  Where there is sequential information, instead of a large amount of text, it could be displayed in bullet points or visually using a flow chart to make it easier to follow the instructions one by one. Do not underline text, as it would be assumed it is a hyperlink. If you want to emphasis text, use bold.

Tip 2. Colour

Colours serve a critical function in highlighting critical points, making your slide deck look consistent, guiding students to in a certain direction, conveying emotions and making your message memorable. There is no universal ‘best practice’ colour contrast usage, only user preferences.

So where can I start?

Use high contrasting colours to differentiate between the text and background. Think about lightness as well as colour contrast. In a dark room use a dark background with light text. In a light room use a light coloured background with dark text. Ensure there is a decent contrast between background colour and text colour. Dark Blue and cream have been shown to be a good combination. Use more than colour to represent meaning, such as colour and text/shape. For example if you say click the green button to start and the red button to stop, it would be more accessible to also have the words ‘start’ embedded in the colour green and ‘stop’ included with the colour red, or instead of text use two different shapes.

Tip 3. Hyperlinks

Hyperlinks are a great way of guiding learners to other related content or websites. When using Hyperlinks, keep text to a minimum rather than having too much content included as text.

So where can I start?

Instead of using ‘Click here’ for hyperlinks include a meaningful text description so it is clear for the user to understand where the hyperlink is taking them. Search your site for the words ‘Click here’. This link text is ambiguous for all users, but is particularly difficult for screen reader users. It always adds additional, unnecessary text. Change the link text to be more descriptive of the content or function of the link. Links: All links should be descriptive. So instead of Click here provide some contextual information, make the links the title of the topic.

Tip 4. Add Alternative Text to Your Image/Logo/Video

Alternative text is presented to blind screen reader users in place of images they cannot see. Every image that conveys content or has a function on your website should be given alternative text. Right click on the image and select ‘Edit Alt Text’.

So where can I start?

ALT (alternative) text is the little block of text that pops up when you point your cursor at an image on a Web page or in an Office document. To someone who is blind or partially-sighted and using a screen reader, ALT text is what describes the image for them so they too can experience it. ALT text has a limited number of characters, so make sure you use the most apt and informative text you can to describe any images in your documents. Applying alt text to a shape, picture, chart, table, SmartArt graphic, or other object is a simple way to make your document more accessible.

Tip 5. Images/Videos

Ensure all non-text content e.g. images have a text equivalent. Where an image conveys a message, use the ‘ALT’ attribute in Canvas to provide a text equivalent and describe what the image represents. Provide enough detail to convey the meaning. For images or charts that have an image where the image is not important, but includes some text, it is important for the text to be included within the ‘ALT’ attribute. However, it is better to avoid text on an image as it can be difficult to read.

Videos: All videos need to be captioned with subtitles and where appropriate descriptions of other relevant sounds. If you are using Podcasts, a summary fo the key points.

Tip 6. Accessibility Checker

Use the Accessibility Checker to ensure all course content, resources, PowerPoint slides and web content is accessible for all users and you are adhering to all accessible regulations. Microsoft, Android, Mac and most software have an accessibility checker installed.

So where can I start?

Testing the accessibility of content developed allows you to identify any usability issues that may have been missed. All MS office application and Adobe apps come with an in-built accessibility checker. It is a good first point of call and the tool gives feedback on how to make adjustments to content.  

CED and the Canvas team would be delighted to hear how you are using this checklist and if you wish to give any feedback, further suggestions or write in our Canvas blog post on how this checklist informed your practice, please contact us at: ced@qub.ac.uk