7 Things You Can Do to Make Your Online Course More Accessible
The following suggestions are recommended in meeting the Americans with Disability Act (1990) for distance education.
“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability …shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance… (Section 504, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 794). ” Follow these basic guidelines for compliance and to improve learning for all:
- Provide a hierarchy in the headers of your documents, course pages, and websites.
- Describe images and hyperlinks with an alternative text.
- Do not use coloring as the sole indicator of meaning.
- Use san serif fonts for online text.
- Check and repair all portable document formats (PDFs) for accessibility.
- Caption all video and provide transcripts for audio.
- Provide students with disabilities the prescribed accommodations.
Persons with visual impairment use screen readers to hear the content on your online course or website. They can also tab through the headers to get an overview or to find specific content. To distinguish headers from paragraph within the text, use the Paragraph tool in the rich text editor to create Heading 1, 2, 3, et cetera. Avoid creating headings from paragraph delineated text by making it bold and increasing the font size.
Alternative (alt) text helps students that use assistive technology (e.g., screen readers) as their learning accommodation. For example, screen readers such as Microsoft’s JAWS (Job Access with Speech) read the description aloud to the user with vision impairment. Make sure you concisely provide alt text for each image in your online course so that students will hear and learn about the images shared. This includes images on a course page or within a document or multimedia presentation (e.g., PowerPoint, Word, or PDF). For Schoology, currently, you cannot add the description for the image during upload. Add it afterward by selecting the image in edit mode. For PowerPoint 2016, follow this pathway to add alt text: Right-click image > Select Format Picture > Select Alt Text. For PDFs, use Adobe Acrobat Pro XI to add alt text to images. This software allows you to edit PDFs and is available in the Faculty Development Center.
When you add links to Schoology, it asks for the name of the link to display and the URL. Provide the specific name of the website instead of a confusing web address, also known as the URL (Uniform Resource Locator). The exact name of the website will aid all learners in understanding where the link will take them. Additionally, assistive technology (e.g., JAWS) will read aloud the long URL if you do not give it a name. Imagine listening to an entire URL reading: “h-t-t-p-s-semicolon-forward slash-forward slash-shc-period-schoology-period-com-forward slash-home.” This would cause extra cognitive load on the listener. Here are good and bad examples:
Use of Color
Color-coding presents a problem for visually impaired students, as they will not be able to access the meaning of particular coloring of text for emphasis (e.g., red text conveying importance, etc.). Simply add the word or words to convey the meaning such as Important.
Sans serif fonts are recommended for online text to provide accessibility. Sans serif fonts do not have the ‘hats and shoes’ on certain letters that serif fonts include. Fortunately, Arial, which is a sans serif font, is the default for Schoology. Avoid using serif fonts because they may waver and become difficult to read on low bandwidth or poor Internet connections.
Are your PDFs readable? Conduct a word search within the Find box of a PDF for a word you see in the document. Type Ctrl+F if you don’t see a Find box. If you receive the message, “No matches were found,” then the document is a scanned image, which cannot be read by persons who use assistive technology. Use Adobe Acrobat Pro XI to repair unreadable (scanned image) PDFs. Remember that this software is available in BL12. Here is the pathway to fix your PDFs with Adobe Acrobat Pro XI: File>Action Wizard>Create Accessible PDFs> Action Step #5 is the Accessibility Checker.
Ensure your Word documents are accessible before you save them as a PDF. Microsoft has accessibility checkers that will highlight any issues in your document. Within Word 2016, select the following pathway: File > Info> Check for Issues > Check Accessibility. Then fix issues such as missing alt text for images. See Adobe Accessibility Quick Reference Card for information on earlier versions of MS Word that you may have at home. Currently, our campus has MS Office 2016 on its computers.
Caption video files and transcribe audio files. Closed captioning is the preferred format (instead of open captions) so the user can turn it on or off according to their needs. If you do not have your media captioned, at the very least, provide a script until you caption the video. However, transcripts do not provide equal access to media files because the words and images from the video are not in sync to enhance meaning. Audio files or podcasts must include a transcript. For narrated PowerPoints, transcribe the audio in the note’s section of each slide.
UDL. Learn how making your course accessible benefits all learners in my blog post on the Universal Design for Learning (UDL).
Sandra Annette Rogers, Ph.D.