What comes to mind when you hear ‘accessibility’?
For many people accessibility is associated with supporting students with special needs. However, accessibility is important for all students, as it provides a better browsing experience, especially on mobiles and tablets, which are rapidly gaining in popularity.
This post will give you 5 high-impact practical steps to improve the accessibility of your unit.
The post is inspired by a recent presentation by Michael Grant (a Senior Learning Designer from FSE). If you don’t know Michael, he is our ‘go-to-guy’ when it comes to accessibility. So, over to you, Michael! What are those 5 practical steps that we could make our units more accessible?
Headings allow users to easily understand and navigate your unit content.
Using appropriate headings will also help content to display well on devices of any size, e.g. mobiles. Moreover, correct headings provide a consistent and professional look.
Finally, heading styles act like major signposts for screen readers (software that allows visually impaired students to use web pages).
How do you get to a heading structure?
Easy! Just click on the second icon from the left (see below).
– Note that the headings must be assigned hierarchically (e.g. Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, etc…), otherwise the screen readers will get confused, and users will be frustrated.
– Don’t go overboard with headings, try and only only Heading 3 and Heading 4, unless you have a page with a large amount of text e.g. over 1000 words.
A few things.
- Hyperlinking ‘click here’ makes it difficult for a screen reader user to understand what the link is, as screen readers can navigate content using links only.
- It hides what is actually clicking, resulting in students not knowing what or where the link is going.
- It makes links indistinguishable from each other, resulting in revisiting links difficult
Fixing it is easy: hyperlink the key information (see the example in the take-away).
Instead of click here for a great course for learning about accessibility and the web use A great course for learning about accessibility and the web.
Don’t you hate the way supermarkets rearrange items just to make you walk through more isles? You have no idea where honey is located, or where you can get your favourite coffee. A similar effect happens when units (especially ones from the same program/department) have different layouts, or, even worse, have different layouts for each section within the actual unit.
Getting used to a new unit layout adds to cognitive load of all students, especially those using assistive technologies. It also adds to questions that convenors receive about materials (Where can I find lecture slides? Where is information on assessment?).
While we are sometimes quick to label students as having a short attention span or not looking properly, the reality is that students have to get used to so many different unit layouts that it is not surprising that students get confused.
It is therefore a very good practice to adopt a consistent lay-out for your units, and many programs at Macquarie are already doing exactly that (get inspiration from the story of this program).
– Use consistent layout in your unit
– Talk to your program team about adopting a shared template/layout
Once you click on the button, you’ll see additional formatting options.
Using these functions will ensure that a screen reader can interpret them properly. It will also keep a consistent and predictable layout throughout your unit.
– Use in-built functions for bullet points, etc., instead of creating your own ‘version’.
Whenever possible, use high-quality clear graphics. Not only do these look amazing on a projector, but they can also be magnified without losing clarity.
A word of caution: Be mindful that some students might not be able to see the images that you include. It might be due to disability, slow internet or student’s’ device settings).
A solution to this problem is using alternative text (alt text) for images.
How does it work?
When inserting an image, write a short description in this field:
What can I write?
Alt text should provide contextual information that describes the image (for example, an image of happy students or a diagram that shows a steep decline in sales in 2015). For more information about writing alt text, have a look at the ‘Alternative text web page’ on the WebAim website.
By adopting the points outlined above, you will improve the accessibility of your unit, and will improve the overall unit experience for all your students.
Make some accessibility tweaks to your unit today! Getting started is the biggest step!