Accessibility means that people with a broad range of abilities, including people with disabilities, can perceive, navigate, and understand your content.
The Americans with Disabilities Act led to architectural standards to ensure that elevators, ramps, and other accessibility features were in place. Likewise, we need to put elements are in place that make our online spaces inclusive.
Students who are blind or have low vision may be most likely to struggle with online content, followed by students who are deaf or hard of hearing. But all users benefit from techniques that help those most likely to be marginalized.
If you start with the first three things below, your course will be more accessible for students with disabilities than most courses. Employ all five, and your course content will come close to fully meeting accessibility guidelines.
This guide comes from web accessibility guidelines that help you make content usable by students…
- who are blind or deaf,
- who have physical and cognitive disabilities,
- who have learning disabilities,
- who aren’t native English speakers,
- and, sometimes, pretty much everyone.
These guidelines especially help students who use screen readers. That’s software that reads out loud what’s on a computer, phone, or tablet.
As you can see by the links on the side of this page, there are lots of ways to make your courses more accessible. You don’t have to be an accessibility expert, though, to make a big difference. Start here:
1. Headings Have Logical Hierarchy
Students who use screen readers jump from heading to heading, but only if you make headings right. With headings, they skim a page until they find the information they need. Also, they hear what’s a main heading and what’s a subheading, which helps them make sense of your content.
That isn’t possible if all you do is highlight text and make it big and bold. You have to use heading styles in Word or heading tags in HTML.
The good news: Real headings have one-click formatting. You don’t have to remember what font, size, and color to use every time you make a heading. It’s built into your styles. You save time and make your pages look more consistent and professional.
2. Images, Audio, and Video Have Text Alternatives
A screen reader can’t interpret and describe an image. Include text in your document that describes what a student who’s blind can’t see. Videos may need a special kind of narration called audio descriptions. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing need transcripts for audio or captions for video.
Alternative Text Tutorials
3. Links Have Meaningful Text
A good link tells you at a glance what you’ll get when you click it. That’s helpful for everyone. It’s especially nice for screen reader users. They may listen to a list of links on a page to figure out what’s there and where they want to go next. That only works if links are meaningful, not cryptic URLs or vague phrases like “click here.”
4. Colors Have Good Contrast
Good contrast between text and background makes content easier to read. Students with glaucoma and cataracts may see the world through a haze. That makes it even harder for them to read text that doesn’t stand out from its background.
Also, don’t rely on color alone to convey meaning. Color blindness affects 1 in 12 men. If you refer to something only by its color, you may have students who can’t see what you mean. Of course, students who are blind or have low vision may not see your colors at all. Provide a way for those students to get your meaning besides through color.
5. Reading Order Makes Sense
Screen readers interpret some documents in surprising ways. They may scramble the order in which they read blocks of text. For example, tables with merged or split cells can get confusing. Tables in Word and HTML all need a little finessing. PDF documents mix things up and need their reading order checked, too.
Reading Order Tutorials
Here are a few other ways you can refine your documents’ accessibility.
- Give Word files meaningful names. Then students who download them can recognize the documents by their file names.
- Keep sentences short and clear. The Hemingway App can help.
- Define your document’s language. Mark any passages written in another language. Language in Word. Language in Pilot.
- Use a checklist to remind you of things to look for: Accessibility Checklist, Word 2016.
- Include an accessibility statement in your course. Encourage students to contact you early about accommodations they need.
If you’re a Web developer or designer, see…