Students have different learning styles and a range of academic, cognitive and physical abilities. Universal Design benefits all students and limits the adjustments required to accommodate disability-related needs. Also see specific information about making adjustments for students with print disability.
Using plain English and inclusive language
Many Australians have difficulty reading a standard printed document. This may be because they are not native English speakers, or because they have a learning disability such as dyslexia, difficulty with visual processing, age-related reading difficulties, minimal formal education, an intellectual disability or, quite simply, a personal preference for simpler documents. The aim of writing a document in plain English is to make it clearer, more inclusive and more user-friendly. To write plain English:
- Use simpler words and shorter sentences and paragraphs
- Use point-form for key ideas
- Prioritise key points on a need-to-know basis
- Be specific and direct
- Avoid jargon
- Use examples where helpful
- Use a larger font and plenty of space
Making Word documents more accessible
- Use Word style sheets for titles, headings and paragraphs to provide structure to a document. Word styles allow you to pre-set all formatting options such as the font, spacing, bold and italics.
- Create a linked table of contents to enable easy navigation.
- Avoid text boxes, which are inaccessible to screen readers.
- Create linear tables which use headings for columns and rows – screen readers read across the page, a line at a time.
- Avoid multi-column layouts. This can be difficult for people with cognitive impairment or who use screen magnifiers.
- Use footnotes rather than endnotes.
- Add a text equivalent to all graphs, diagrams and images. Use relative positioning to ensure that they stay with the appropriate heading/paragraph if the text is resized.
- Use Rich Text Format (RTF) as an alternative to Word, as it preserves formatting features but, unlike PDF, doesn’t require the receiver to use specialised software to view and edit the file.
Making PDF documents more accessible
There are two types of PDF files: text and image. The former uses standard text format to preserve layout and formatting, and the latter are images of documents packaged as a PDF file. Sighted users read these files using Acrobat Reader, but people with limited vision may encounter difficulties.
Screen readers cannot read PDF image files and will require Optical Character Recognition (OCR) processing in order to convert them into text (with varying degrees of accuracy). However, most screen readers versions will read PDF files. If these are not available, RTF is usually a better alternative.
Making on-line material more accessible
- Use graphics consistently and include a text equivalent
- Use features provided by WebCT to organise and structure course content
- Make PDF and other read-only files accessible
- Be aware of the limitations of screen readers for interpreting unusual text, characters and abbreviations
- Ensure that tables are used carefully and appropriately
- Use appropriate colours and contrasts in screen design
- Provide alternative sources of information for video or audio