Best Practices | 4 Easy Ways to Make Your Course More Accessible
Do you know the difference between a course accommodation and course accessibility?
As an instructor, you may have received a notification from Student Accessibility Services (SAS) that a student in one of your classes has requested an accommodation. Accommodations can include a range of services, such as needing extended test-taking time, a note-taker, an ASL interpreter, video captions or transcripts, or large print materials. These accommodations are strategies intended to level the playing field for students with disabilities by removing barriers for participation and engagement in your course, and these requests typically occur after you have designed your course and the semester has begun.
Accessibility, on the other hand, refers to a proactive set of design standards that ensures online materials are available to everyone, regardless of abilities or disabilities. There are many assistive technologies available to students with vision, hearing, and mobility impairments, and by designing your course materials with accessibility in mind it will be just as easy for a student using assistive technology to navigate the course learning content as it would be for a student with no impairment.
Take a look at 4 easy ways you can make your course more accessible to all students:
- Include meaningful alternative text for all non-text content
The purpose of alternative text (also referred to as "alt text") is to explain the content of an image to someone who may not be able to see it. Alt text for images should be a succinct description of the content and function of the image, and is typically limited to 120 characters. When an image displays complex information or concepts, such as a graph, you should include an explanation of the image within the learning content. When this best practice is implemented, the image no longer requires alt text since the explanation is already included in the learning content. Additionally, alt text is not required for decorative images, which are images that do not relate to the learning content and are only included for aesthetic purposes.
Non-text content can typically be found in: Word documents, PowerPoint document, PDF documents, Tests/Questions Banks, and Canvas Pages/Announcements.
Videos are also considered non-text content. When including a video in your online course, it is important that alternative text, such as captions or a transcript, is included in order for the video to be considered accessible.
- Provide proper formatting and structure
Within Canvas and Word documents, you should use preset styles to structure your headings (Heading 1, Heading 2, etc.). Also, ensure you are using the bullet tool to create itemized lists when the order of the content doesn't matter and the numbering tool to create numbered lists when the order does matter. You should not use the Tab key, spacebar, or the Enter key to create the desired formatting. Additionally, when creating tables, identify row and column headers and avoid using empty columns/rows.
- Use descriptive hyperlinks
Links to websites should have meaningful names that make sense when read outside the context of the sentence. You should avoid using terms like "click here" or "this article" and should not display the URL.
Incorrect Example: Click here to read this newsletter, which includes a Basic Accessibility Checklist.
Incorrect Example: Go to https://www.unf.edu/uploadedFiles/aa/cirt/newsletters/CIRT%20News%20November%20FULL.pdf to read this newsletter, which includes a Basic Accessibility Checklist.
Correct Example: View the November 2018 CIRT Newsletter, which includes a Basic Accessibility Checklist.
- Select appropriate fonts (type, size, color)
Using a sans serif font (e.g., Arial, Courier, Helvetica, Verdana, Tahoma, Trebuchet) with a minimum size of 12pt is ideal for students using screen magnifiers and for students with dyslexia. A serif font decreases reading performance and will pixelate when magnified.
Font color alone should not be used to convey meaning. For example, instead of using a red text color or yellow highlight to convey that something is important, consider making the text bold instead.
Additionally, having sufficient color contrast between your font color and background color is important, especially within PowerPoint documents and Canvas pages. Best practice would be to use a light-colored background and dark-colored text. You can use the WebAIM Contrast Checker to see if your contrast ratio meets the 4.5:1 recommended guideline.
By keeping these four design principles in mind, you will be well on your way to making your courses more accessible.