Accessibility of content is critical; The word "Accessibility" refers to making things available and usable to anyone, regardless of differences. Assuring users to access the content and experience the course regardless of developmental or cognitive differences is crucial in education and allows for inclusivity.
Course content can be delivered through a variety of methods. It can be delivered through an LMS such as Brightspace, Blackboard, Canvas, or Moodle; through many different file types (i.e., Word Documents, PowerPoint Presentations, and PDFs); as well as audio and video platforms, popular platforms would be Kaltura, Collaborate Ultra, and Zoom for example. Each of the tools and formats available should provide some guidance on making the content accessible, but it is on the author to assure the accessibility of the content.
Where to Start
Institutions may already have accessibility policies in place, which may prioritize some accessibility issues over others. For example, many schools focus on providing closed captioning for video/audio content before tackling document accessibility. Check with Disability Services first to make sure your efforts are aligned with the institutional policies.
There are several best practices tips to keep in mind when developing/using digital content to increase accessibility; here are some of them:
- Text: use headers, avoid unnecessary bold, avoid abusive use of uppercase characters.
- Images: add alternative/descriptive text.
- Videos: add close or open captions.
- Audios: provide a transcript.
- Tables: use headers, add descriptions, avoid merged cells.
- Color: achieve an accessible contrast ratio, avoid the use of color to convey meaning.
- Links and URLs: embed links and URLs within the text (if not in citations).
Accessibility Tools for Learning Management Systems
Learning Management Systems (LMS) usually have features within text editors that will point out some of the possible accessibility concerns in a page or lesson and walk users through the steps required for the issue to be fixed. Some of the elements those features look for are: alternative text for images, accessible color contrast between font color and background, correct use of header and tables, and sometimes misspellings.
Text Editor Accessibility Tools:
Aside from text editor resources, many Learning Tools Interoperability (LTIs) are available by multiple vendors to be integrated and enabled within the LMS. Those will go beyond checking lessons or pages and may have a deeper approach to the accessibility concerns.
Universal Design Online content Inspection Tool (UDOIT) for Canvas, and Blackboard Ally for LMS (Ally) for Blackboard, Brightspace, Canvas, and Moodle; These tools will generate a Course Accessibility report and again guide how to address any potential concerns.
The tools available inside the LMS will often not check the content found inside a document or the validity of hyperlinks.
Developing Accessible Digital Documents
When presenting or distributing content, files are often used. Similar to LMS's, these tools typically have accessibility features and guides provided by the vendors. Microsoft products have an Accessibility Checker and provide video guides and written directions for each application. Adobe has an Accessibility Checker and written documentation on the accessibility concerns available.
Microsoft (MS) Resources:
The steps and resources provided will help instructors get to start thinking about how to approach accessibility. Some concerns go beyond the approach presented, and more resources may be needed.
ATTECS offers training and hands-on help with improving the accessibility of digital content in online courses. Here is a free, self-paced course that addresses accessibility of content: Creating Accessible Digital Content Course.
For more information, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.