Following a few design principles can make your content more accessible and inclusive to all learners
What is Digital Accessibility and why does it matter?
Digital accessibility is about making better design and content choices for all your learners; it is also something we all need to be doing.
The concept of accessible design and content ensures that everyone can access online content easily - be it unassisted, or via assisted technologies (such as screen readers and electronic braille). Further, when websites and content (such as MS Word and Powerpoint presentations) are digitally accessible, all learners can benefit from finding and processing information more easily, making the learning experience richer, deeper and more engaging.
Why it matters for everyone (including yourself)
Imagine, for example, you are designing a new lecture hall. You might spend a lot of time thinking about the layout of the seats, the lighting and the latest presentation software to install. However, no matter how beautiful or technologically innovative the structure might be, if users struggled to access the building (because there is no ramp), or could not find their way around (because there are no signs), the building would not have met the needs of all the users, and might lead to a frustrating experience for everyone.
Imagine now that you are creating a new online course (for example, a Moodle course) and are populating it with lecture notes (MS Word files) and lecture presentations (MS Powerpoint files). You will spend a lot of effort and time thinking about which resources to share with students, and writing the content of the documents. Yet, what if the students can not find your lecture notes (because the file is not labelled meaningfully), or the colours and font you have used makes it difficult for them to read? What too if a student who uses a screen reader has to listen to a Powerpoint document being read aloud which contains lots of images, but because they do not contain good alt-text (alternative text), the images do not make any sense? The students will most likely be left confused and frustrated; and not only will you have spent your valuable time creating a resource that has limited value, but most likely you will have to spend more time responding to student e-mails requesting alternative formats of the document! In short, everyone gets frustrated.
A quick video introducing accessibility
Although this video focuses on web accessibility, it provides a clear introduction to accessibility generally, and why it matters.
How do I prepare or update my content?
To make content accessible can take time, effort and will require you to familiarise yourself with help and guidance. Further information and guidance will be coming shortly, and there are links to further resources on the right-hand side of this page, and below. You can also book a place on any events that are running, either by the CLT (on the Teaching Hub), Digital, Data and Technology Group or IT Training. There are also a number of specialist teams in the University, including Assistive Learning Technologists, Learning Technologists (who can provide general advice and specifically about making Moodle courses more accessible), Curriculum Development Officers (who can discuss inclusive teaching), and the Mathematics Resource Centre.
In our experience, there are a few main (and simple) changes which staff can make which can have a really big impact on the digital accessibility of their content:
- Provide alternative text (such as descriptive captions) for images. Note: decorative images should not have alt text
- Create clear and consistent headings in MS Word that are easily navigated
- In HTML, use one HTML Heading H1 per page, and arrange the rest hierarchically
- Include headers and captions for illustrative tables
- Make sure any PDFs that they upload are structured probably (but organising them hierarchically using headers) and ideally created from Word documents using PDF software
- Avoid garish colours and anything use sufficient contrast levels between background and text
- Check your documents' accessibility by using MS Office's Accessibility checker
For technical content including equations, diagrams and plots etc., please see the Writing Accessible Technical Content page.
To help get you started, here is a brief guide providing a good overview of accessibility:
What about Moodle?
Moodle as a web-based service uses the latest technologies. However, the overall course format, structure and content of individual Moodle units is the responsibility of individual unit owners, and any additional staff who have "teacher" access on a unit.
Format and Structure
There is an excellent resource produced by Birkbeck University, Birkbeck for All – Moodle & Turnitin Tutorials, which provides comprehensive guidance on using Moodle in an inclusive and accessible way. They have also produced a Moodle Checklist; following this guidance will also ensure compliance with the Bath Baseline, and help you use Moodle to better engage with and support your students. If you are struggling with creating accessible content for Moodle, or creating your Moodle course more generally, the TEL Team are always happy to give bespoke training or advice.
Further guidance on Accessibility and the Bath Baseline can be found online.
Creating Accessible Moodle Content: Blackboard Ally
We recognise that creating accessible content will take time, effort and will pose some significant challenges to staff who are already extremely busy with teaching and research. However, notwithstanding the educational value of creating accessible content for all users, we all need to work together to ensure that our students get the best possible experience, and that you have the information you need to be able to create new content that meets the new regulations.
A new tool has been integrated into Moodle called Blackboard Ally. The tool is designed to:
- Provide teachers with clear reports and automatic feedback on the accessibility of your content (MS Word, Powerpoint, PDF etc) on Moodle. More information can be found on the Ally website
- Help improve content with easy-to-follow step-by-step guidance, hints and tips
- Offer students an easy way to request alternative formats of documents that are automatically generated
To see what the tool does, and how it can help you, watch this short video below.
Video Introducing Blackboard Ally
Specific advice on Ally, and how to create accessible documents, presentations and other content can be found in the "Advice for Students" link on the right-hand of this page. A basic guide produced by Blackboard can also be found online.
What are the pros & cons?
- It can make learning accessible to students with learning difficulties, disabilities, or English as an additional language
- Avoids discrimination and legal complaints
- Helps to foster a more inclusive learning environment
- By making your content more accessible, you are making the content easier to access and use for everyone
- It can take time to create accessible content, and might require learning new skills or understanding what accessibility means in your particular context
- The law is evolving, and the sector as a whole is grappling with what the new regulations will mean in a learning and teaching context
There is lots of useful guidance and support available from other websites: