Creating accessible course materials

Accessibility overview

Accessible course materials are those which can be accessed and engaged with by all students across a wide spectrum of disabilities, ages, experiences, learning environments and other factors. The exact steps you may need to take will depend on the type of content you are creating, but we’ve outlined some general steps, and have links to specific common platforms. 

General recommendations

  • Provide clear and detailed instructions for any activity. This includes information about when things are due, what task(s) should be completed, and what tools are needed. If possible, include instructions for using a platform or tool, so that students are engaging with the content, and not stuck on a tool. 

  • Use a tools’ built in accessibility checker. Most tools and platforms have default accessibility checkers that will help you identify problem areas in your documents. They are not perfect, and they should be used in conjunction with your own knowledge and experience. 

  • Use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to convert images to text.  If you have scanned a document and the file was saved as an image, it will not be accessible to students using many assistive technologies. To make sure they can access the document, you can use OCR available in many platforms to convert the image to a text-editable document. This process is not perfect, and the document may require editing.

Creating accessible documents

Creating accessible documents follow fairly standard rules regardless of the tool used. The most common things to pay attention to:

Use high-contrast colors

High contrasts in colors makes them easy to see and read for everyone. Black text on a white background is the most common. If you plan on adding colors through changing backgrounds or using highlighter colors, make sure they do not obscure or make the text hard to read, such as yellow text on a green highlight. If you are using colors, make sure they are not the only way information is conveyed.

Use headings consistently

Using headings in your document will allow students to orient themselves and navigate through the document. This is especially important for students using a screen reader or assistive technology for navigation. This is different from using formatting such as increasing the size or adding bold for emphasis. 

Use true lists in the document

Use the document’s List features to create a true list. This will allow students using assistive technology to navigate through the list quickly and efficiently. Lists can be customized with formatting, bullets, and numbering conventions. 

Use Alternative text to describe images

Alternative text, also called Alt text for short, is different from a caption for an image. Alt text is only presented to someone using a screen reader, and allows them to hear a description of an image. Alt text should be kept short, but informative, so that students who cannot see an image can still understand the information it conveys. 

Use proper formatting and captioning for tables

Tables are often used for displaying complex information in easy-to-see ways. To make sure students using assistive technology can engage with the content, make sure you follow the proper guidelines for the platform you are using to create and format a table. Tables with headers or fixed columns should use the Header feature. Use the Captions and summary features to provide an overview to the table. This is a chance to highlight significant information that might be lost to those who cannot see the table clearly. 

Use descriptive text for hyperlinks

Make sure any links in your document have descriptive text which informs the students what they will access by clicking the link. If the link destination has a clear and meaningful name, you can use that name. 

 

Creating accessible presentations

Creating an accessible presentation follows much of the same guidelines for creating an accessible document. Clear, consistent formatting and organization of your slides will make them accessible to everyone. Use images when necessary to add context or highlight topics, but avoid too much unnecessary decoration. If you are using slides heavily, considering providing students with access to the slides before the lecture. If students need to use assistive technology, they can follow along. It will also help students with cognitive issues focus and engage on your content. 

Use clear formatting and organization

While you are creating your slides, remember less is often more. Aim for clear, concise slides with a standard layout to present information to students. Consistent formatting and structure will make it easier for students who have cognitive disabilities to absorb and understand information. Avoid unnecessary text and images, and large blocks of text. 

Use large and readable fonts and colors

For presentations, using a simple sans-serif font set to 24pt or large will ensure your slide is easy to read for you students, including those in the back of the room and those students who are low-vision. If you are using colors, make sure you use high-contrast colors so differences can be seen from afar. When using color, make sure it is not the only source of information, so that students who cannot see color or highlights still understand the importance of the content. 

Use Alternative text to describe images

Alternative text, also called Alt text for short, is different from a caption for an image. Alt text is only presented to someone using a screen reader, and allows them to hear a description of an image. Alt text should be kept short, but informative, so that students who cannot see an image can still understand the information it conveys. 

Use proper formatting and captioning for tables

Tables are often used for displaying complex information in easy-to-see ways. To make sure students using assistive technology can engage with the content, make sure you follow the proper guidelines for the platform you are using to create and format a table. Tables with headers or fixed columns should use the Header feature. Use the Captions and summary features to provide an overview to the table. This is a chance to highlight significant information that might be lost to those who cannot see the table clearly. 

Use true lists in the your slides

Use the presentation platform’s List features to create a true list. This will allow students using assistive technology to navigate through the list quickly and efficiently. Lists can be customized with formatting, bullets, and numbering conventions. 

Set the reading order of slide contents

Setting the reading order will allow students to access the content in a logic order that you specify. This way, they will be able to keep up with your description of the slides and information. 

Use titles to orient students

Applying a meaningful and unique title to each slide will allow a student to quickly navigate through your content and find relevant information. 


Creating accessible audio and video

Accessible media usually requires several components, depending on the type of media being produced. Depending on the media that is produced, and the platform that is used, the process for creating accessible media will be different. 

Create a transcript for audio-only content

A transcript provides a copy of the words and sounds from content like a podcast or an audio lecture. If you are using a script to pre-record lectures, it will be easy to produce a transcript. Transcripts should always be accurate, identify changes of speakers, and any noises which are important to the content. Some players and services allow for synchronous and interactive transcripts, but timestamps are not required for audio-only transcripts to be accessible. 

Add captions to video content

Captions are text representations of audio happening in video media. Captions are different from subtitles; captions are in the same language as the original media, subtitles are a translation of the original media’s language into another language. They can take the form of Open Captions (OC) which are always on, and Closed Captions (CC) which can be turned on and off by a user. Unlike transcripts, captions provide text on a screen synchronously with the audio. Captions should follow ADA guidelines to be 99% accurate and be available as soon as the video is available to any students. If you have the ability, captions should be added to the bottom of the screen, and be high-contrast or on a background to make them visible. Caption locations can be adjusted to make sure they do not cover important content on the screen. Note: A transcript of dialogue provided for video content does NOT meet accessibility guidelines. 

Add video descriptions

Video descriptions are an additional audio track that provide description of scenes and actions taking place. The need for audio descriptions can be reduced by ensuring you describe the content you are showing to your students. 

 

Common document platforms


Make accessible content using the Microsoft office (Word, Powerpoint, Outlook) suite

 

Make your Google doc or presentation more accessible

 

Analyze and edit Adobe Acrobat PDF documents

 

Common media platforms

Add captions using Camtasia

 

Author captions with CADET

 

Add and edit automatically generated captions on YouTube

 

Add interactive transcripts and captions with Echo360 ASR

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