In recent weeks, several members of staff have asked for some simple tips on accessibility of learning content. Well, for text-based material on Moodle, the best advice I can give authors is: look at the Ally report that appears next to your document – the report RAG rates your document against accessibility criteria and, where problems exist, states what they are and explains how to fix them. (Accessibility of video and audio content is something different, and will be the subject of a later post.)
If you are creating a document from scratch, however, it is best to avoid accessibility pitfalls rather than fix them later. Refer to creating accessible documents in the eLearning-tools site to find out what are the do’s and don’ts. We know what the commonest problems are at UoP: the Ally institutional report tells us! So, when writing, take note of the following five tips.
1. Ensure there is sufficient contrast between text and background
Text with poor contrast can be difficult for anyone to read, but it might be impossible to read for people with certain visual impairments. Putting red text on a green background, for example, is a really bad idea. Don’t do it! For more information, see the relevant part of the WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines.
2. Add a description to images and graphs
Adding a rich text description to images – often known as “alt text”, “alternative text” or “alternative descriptions” – improves comprehension for all students and is a requirement for students with visual impairments. (Adding alt text also helps students with poor network connections: text might be transmitted when images aren’t.) If you don’t know how to add alt text, check out the help in Ally.
3. If you use tables, give them headers
Tables can be a great way to organise complex information – but use them for data, not for visual layouts. And in order for students to best navigate a table, particularly if they are using a screen reader, add appropriate headers. Again, Ally provides guidance on how to do this. (If you have never used a screen reader before, try doing so on a Word document that contains a table. If that table is not properly structured, you will soon hear how confusing a table can be. In some cases, a screen reader can provide incorrect information because of the way a table has been set up.)
4. Use styles to structure your document
Headings help all students to navigate and comprehend texts; headings are essential for screen readers. So when using Word, for example, use Word’s built-in styles for headings, sections, subsections and so on. If you don’t like how the style appears visually, change the formatting of the style. (If a piece of text has the “Normal” style applied, it doesn’t help to highlight the text and make it 20pt bold: it is still “Normal” text. If the text is a heading, apply a heading style rather than a direct visual format.)
5. Give your document a title
A PDF title is used as the document title for a PDF window or tab. A title makes it easier for a student to navigate to the PDF and to understand the purpose of the file. It is easy to fix the problem of a missing document title at the PDF level – use Acrobat Pro. But the problem doesn’t arise if you add a document title in your word processor. (In Word, for example, select the Summary tab from File > Properties and then add a short, descriptive sentence in the Title field.)
And that’s it! If you follow these tips, your document will be more accessible than the majority of documents on our Moodle (or on the VLEs of most other institutions – these are the commonest accessibility errors people make).