By following a few accessible content practices you can improve the accessibility of your learning resources for all students.
Structuring your content can help in delivering information that is more meaningful and easier to navigate. Understanding the order and relationship between information is vital in your content being delivered as intended. Well structured content will also provide consistency for all users regardless of the device they are using to receive your information.
Ensure there is enough white space within your content (i.e. do not cram content to fit on one screen). This assists users who visually navigate your content, improves readability and creates visual groupings of content that appear more organised and less cluttered. Avoid adding white space by entering blank lines; instead, adjust the paragraph settings or the appropriate style to increase spacing between content.
Headings and built in styles
The order of the headings, or as it is known for accessibility purposes, the heading level, defines the hierarchy (order) of the headings. Headings are usually available as styles when developing content. Microsoft Word has Heading level 1 to Heading level 6 in the styles menu and most web applications and online content editors, such as those in learning management systems, will have a numbered list of headings.
When applying headings the correct hierarchy is vital to ordering your information. For example:
- Heading 1 or H1 tag is a vitally important heading, probably a page title.
- Heading 2 or H2 is most likely a section heading, with smaller headings.
- Heading 3 (H3) and Heading 4 (H4) are subheadings of progressively less importance.
Using headings correctly creates a pseudo table-of-contents that allows screen reader users to navigate quickly through content, for example skipping to every section header (<h2>), removing the need to read through pages of information line-by-line.
Visit the LX.lab guide on Structuring your content clearly using subheadings and consistent formatting and using Using inbuilt styles like (following the order 1 to 6), bulleted lists and numbered lists.
Use Clear and Concise Language
When writing materials for students, it’s vital that you are sensitive to the fact that your students may not be expert users of English. You must therefore use language that is direct and easy to understand and avoid ambiguous phrases or terms that may add confusion.
Visit the LX.lab guide on Using clear and concise language , explaining new discipline-specific terms and including instructions to students in plain English.
Alternative Text for Images
Providing alternative text, also referred to as 'alt text', to images and graphics helps students who may have issues accessing them and those who are unable to see them. For images and diagrams that visually convey information, it is essential to provide a text-based alternative so all users can access and understand the purpose of the visuals. Images are often included because they augment the meaning of the text around them. Make sure you consider images carefully and make a thoughtful decision about how you write your text alternative. At the very least, let your learners know the relationship between the text and the image. Images that do not contain relevant information, and are purely decorative, do not need alternate text and should be marked 'decorative'.
WebAim has a great article on techniques for creating alternative text , and the Diagram Centre POET tool is useful in how to describe various types of images frequently found in educational books. For more complex images, such as flow diagrams and charts, visit the Highcharts resource on How to Write Accessible Descriptions for Interactive Charts .
Visit the LX.lab guide on Adding alternative text to images which asks “what is the purpose of this content”?
Captions and/or Transcripts
When preparing and delivering teaching and learning via video, either live or pre-recorded, it is important to consider the ways in which you can improve the accessibility of the resource for students. For video content, transcriptions and captions are an essential mean of conveying visual and audio information in a format that enables all users to access the resource when and how then want and need.
Captions transcribe the audio portion of a video, including descriptions of non-speech audio elements. They are designed for viewers who are unable to hear the full audio track in a video and can be either ‘open’ or ‘closed’.
- Open captions (OC) are always in view and cannot be turned off by the viewer.
- Closed captions (CC) can be turned on or off by clicking a button.
Closed captions are more widely used and accepted in videoconferencing applications, as they give the viewer the alternative to use captioning or not. The designations OC or CC relate to how the captions are ‘seen’ by the viewer and are not
related to the accuracy of the captions. While captions can be automatically created, human-generated captions are likely to be more accurate.
Transcripts are an expanded text-based version of the audio or caption content produced in video. Depending on the software, transcripts can also be interactive, highlighting phrases of text as they are spoken, or allowing the viewer to select a phrase in the transcript and automatically move to that point in the video timeline. Transcripts can also be downloaded and viewed offline without the need to watch the video as it is played back. Transcripts can be automatically generated or the result of human-created captions.
A note on terminology
Do not be confused by the terms ‘live’ and ‘auto’ in relation to captioning. Some videoconferencing programs use the term ‘live captioning’ when referring to ‘automated captioning’. This is confusing, because live captioning can also refer to ‘third-party-generated captioning’.
Visit the LX.lab guide on Adding captions and/or transcripts to video and audio content. The ADCET Guideline: Supporting Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students Online has additional information on creating captions and transcripts.
Providing links to digital resources such as websites and files is an essential means of linking relevant information and provides direct navigation to the information. However, users need to understand the purpose of the link so they can make an informed decision on following it. Links that simply state ‘click here’ or 'more information' contain no information that provides any context for the link. The text of your link indicates where you are directing people to. It is sometimes the only information they will have to understand the purpose of your resource. Note the links on this page have been designed to provide context and meaning.
Visit the LX.lab guide on Providing link text that is descriptive , so that the link destination makes sense out of context (and include file type and size for downloads after the link).
Use of Colour
The use of colour alone to convey meaning and information will limit the effectiveness of your content and will make it inaccessible to some users. Information that relies on colour alone can lose meaning when printed in black and white and relies on the ability of the user to see and interpret colours in the same way.
Not everyone sees things the same way. In many cases, colour blindness and eye conditions can cause information to become invisible or confusing if the contrast between the background and the text colour is too low. There are many colour contrast and vision simulators you can use to test your content. The Contrast Checker from ACART Communications is a useful tool that measures the contrast in compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
Visit the LX.lab guide on Being mindful of how you use colour – ensure there’s enough contrast between text and background, it’s not overwhelming and it’s not used to convey meaning alone.
Use of Tables
Tables are a very useful (sometimes essential) method of displaying tabular data. For example, the data for a series of events or survey responses. Tables can relay a lot of information at once and if structured correctly can help users identify and navigate the information. However, it’s essential to understand that tables require extra consideration because they can be completely inaccessible to screen reader users.
It is important that tables should not be used for the visual layout information only, i.e. for formatting the look of content. This just makes your content harder to be understood, if at all, by some students using assistive technologies and can make you information less responsive an compatible on different devices and platforms.
Visit the LX.lab guide: Don’t use tables for formatting , instead use LMS templates or HTML/CSS (if you’re feeling fancy).
Flashing content is usually contained within videos and GIFs, but can include anything sudden visual changes on the screen. For students who are susceptible to seizures, anything that has strobing, flickering, or flashing effects can trigger an episode. For students with vestibular issues this content can cause dizziness and nausea. If a student has difficulties reading or concentrating it can prevent them from getting the information they need.
These issues can be exacerbated if the student is unable to pause the flashing content.
Visit the LX.lab guide: Avoid or provide warnings for flashing content in your subject site or classes.
Use Accessibility Checkers
Many platforms and some of the common software used to create learning resources come with tools to assist in checking the accessibility of your content. Use them (and consult with your institution’s e-Learning team if you are unsure where to locate them). It is important to understand that automated accessibility checkers have limitations and cannot automatically fix or detect all accessibility issues that may be present and often require manual checking to confirm accessibility.
Visit the LX.lab guide on Using accessibility checkers (mindfully).
File names are descriptive and should be structured in such a way that they help everyone in identifying your resources. This impacts learners in two ways. The first in the discoverability of the file in your learning materials and the second in their ability to locate the file in their downloads – long after they have downloaded that file. Students will benefit from having well named files when it comes to revising and studying for exams. Being able to more easily locate and identify resources by their name helps everyone. How many files have you had to open just to see what it contains?
Get into the habit of referencing this list when you need to create content – it is much easier to make something accessible from the beginning than it is to try and retro fit your content in the future.
Thanks to the LX.lab at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) , for allowing ADCET to adapt their accessible content practices and resources and Deakin University for use of their Everyday Accessibility Basics .
This page also contains information extracted from the ADCET Guideline: Online Access for Tertiary Students who are Blind or Vision Impaired and the ADCET Guideline: Supporting Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students Online.