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Tips for Making Online Course Material Accessible

April 12, 2017

By Emily Keener (Instructional Design & Learning Technologies)

At last week's faculty development workshop on online course accessibility, we covered several formatting issues with online content that could pose an accessibility issue for students. We also talked about some solutions to these problems (and got a little into the principles of Universal Design for Learning), which are summarized below. We hope you find these useful as you continue to prepare, edit, and revise your course materials. If you have any additional tips for making your online course accessible - and they don't have to be related to content - please share them in the comments below!

  1. Use Headings (and other formatting styles)

    Use the “style” options in your text editor to differentiate titles from first-level headings, from second-level headings, from body text and so on. Students using screen readers rely on style tags to navigate text quickly and sighted learners benefit from the organized design, as well. Read more about styles in Microsoft (Blackboard has similar styles in its text editor). Consider running the Accessibility Checker built into Microsoft and other software to see where your instructional materials might need a formatting adjustment.
  2. Add Alt Text

    When using images to convey meaning, be sure to provide a text equivalent. Blackboard, Microsoft, and other software allow you to enter “Alternative Text” wherever you have an image (in Blackboard, Alt Text is called “Image Description”). Consider avoiding images just for decoration; but if you do, using a “null” Alt Text will tell students who are unable to view the content that they aren’t missing anything essential.
  3. Make Links Descriptive

    Avoid “click here” or “more info” links. Instead, use descriptive wording, such as “National Geographic Photo Essay.” Not only will students have a better idea of where the link should be directing them, those with assistive technologies can more easily access your materials via link-only keyboard navigation.
  4. Use Actual Numbered Lists, Bulleted Lists, and Tables

    Insert numbers, bullets, and tables from your word processor's text editor rather than using the keyboard. For example, rather than hitting the tab key and spacebar to give visual white space to elements on the page - or entering a number "1," hitting return, and then entering "2" - use the pre-formatted number lists, page breaks, tables, indentions, and other styles usually found above the body text in your word processor. Red flag moment: when you find yourself doing a lot of manual work to make a piece of content look the way you want it - for example, spacing or tabbing - you might be inadvertently making your content inaccessible for people using a screenreader or for those viewing content on different browsers or devices. If you are unsure, you can always contact an instructional designer for help.
  5. Simplify Navigation

    The fewer clicks, the better. Consider keeping your content, activities, and assessments for each week together in one folder (Week 1, Unit 1, etc.).
  6. Apply Captioning and Transcripts

    As a general rule, start your media projects with text. Then, you will have a starting point for captioning. For captioning services, check out 3PlayMedia and SpeechPad. A DIY method might be to upload your video to YouTube, use auto-captioning there, and then clean up the auto-captions with a little editing.
  7. Be Mindful of Color

    Color shouldn’t be the sole way of conveying meaning. Make sure your supporting text gives enough context to any color-coded items. Use high-contrast colors in course navigation and materials (dark against light, or light against dark) to ensure readability.
  8. Include an Accessibility Statement

    An SIUE sample statement for can be found at the Disability Support Services webpage.
  9. Check for Readability

    Divide up large pieces of text into smaller chunks. As a general rule, use sans-serif 12-point font (sans-serif fonts such as Ariel, Verdana, and Calibri are better for students who use screen magnifiers; in general, sans-serif fonts are most readable online).

Have questions? Need assistance? Contact an ITS instructional designer at 618-650-5500.

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