Has a student approached you and asked why you were making it difficult for them to read your digital learning resources?
It happened to me a few years ago, working as an E-learning Designer and Developer. The contact came by way of a telephone call to my desk after a particularly stressful week completing the build of a web based video library. I admit that my immediate reaction was slightly defensive but I was curious to hear how, my well-intended actions, had fallen very short for this user.
We talked on the telephone and he explained to me that he needed to rely on assistive technologies to read web based resources. He was however, enthusiastic about the products I was creating and he thanked me for taking the time to develop resources which he valued highly for his own professional CPD. The problem for him, as he explained to me, was the navigation which he told me wasn’t intuitive. The software that he used couldn’t read the images I had created. As the designer, I had fallen into the trap of designing a product for myself that looked good and worked with a mouse but didn’t function for users who needed to use assistive technology and a keyboard.
Assistive technologies include screen reading software and desktop magnifiers to help visually impaired students read online text and include proprietary and free software such as JAWS, ClaroRead and NVDA.
Recent changes to UK web accessibility law now means that websites, content and applications need to meet clearly defined accessibility standards. Further advice and guidance for educational organisations is available from partners such as JISC.
It may be that you think you don’t have the time or that you don’t have the right skills to make changes. Rest assured even though the field of accessibility and inclusion is large and in places complicated, there are a few things that you can start doing now to make your resources more accessible and inclusive. Anyone can make these changes. You don’t need to be a web developer or an accessibility specialist.
To get you started, I’ve put together my immediate 5 top-tips below which will make your resources more accessible and inclusive. HEFi have also produced the Canvas Guide which gives advice on accessibility as well as other good practice when using the Canvas VLE.
Use an accessible friendly ‘sans serif’ font. For example, Arial or Verdana. ‘Serif fonts’ such as ‘Times New Roman’ have small tails at the bottom of each character which run into one as text gets smaller making them difficult to read so best avoided if possible.
Use alternative text for images. This helps those who are using screen reading technology to understand the image in your resources and why it is important to your text.
Use headings and sub heading to break your content down into readable chunks. Word processing software such as Microsoft Word has the styles toolbar to help with this. You should always have a main heading (H1 heading) for your work when using word processing and other document creation software. For students using assistive technologies this helps to organise the text content.
Try and avoid using different colours of text in documents. If you do need to use different colours, make sure that the font colour has sufficient contrast to the background. You can use an online tool such as the colour contrast checker to help with this.
Use left aligned text where possible in documents and on web pages. Fully justified text creates extra unexpected spaces in documents and sometimes between words making it difficult to read on screen. Left aligned text creates a ragged edge on the right hand side of the body text making it easier to see where the line of text ends and the next begins.
Canvas Guide (Includes section on creating accessible learning content)