Accessibility Best Practices
At Bryn Mawr we value the participation of everyone. This page lists best practices for creating accessible educational experiences.
Guidelines for Creating Accessible Materials
To ensure that the books you assign are also available in accessible formats, please use the Access Text Network Accessible Textbook Finder. Simply enter the title of the book, and it will show you whether an accessible version(s) of the book exists. If your title does not have an accessible version available, consider using a different edition or book, a different text, or contact Grace Cipressi for additional ways to find an accessible solution.
Readings and Handouts
To build accessible materials from scratch, use the accessibility basics listed here. All these elements are important in making sure you are creating files everyone can access.
To understand accessibility, it is helpful to understand how people who use assistive technology navigate elements on the computer. For example, some people with limited functional vision use a tool called a screen reader. A screen reader reads aloud all the elements on a screen and allows the user to navigate through these elements using keyboard commands.
Since screen reader users often cannot see the screen, to skim through a document or webpage they navigate by headings, listening to each heading to get a gist of what the article contains. If headings are not programmed correctly, the screen reader will not be able to detect them, and the user will need to listen to the entire webpage read aloud in order to know what is on the screen. This process can be very time-consuming and confusing.
To best support people who navigate by headings, there are two main things to remember.
- Make sure that you have correctly programmed the headings in your documents. To do so, highlight your heading, click Styles, and then click the appropriate heading type. Read this article for more information about how to create headings.
- Make sure your headings are stacked in the right order. There should only be one Heading 1, and that should be the title of your document. The rest of the headings should be labeled in an appropriate sequence without skipping over a heading type. (For example, don’t go from a Heading 2 to a Heading 4, always go from a Heading 2 to a Heading 3 to signify a subheading below the Heading 2 level heading.)
When you create proper headings, you will see a little triangle appear when you hover the mouse over the text. This means that the heading has been programmed. Once the heading is programmed, if you don’t like the automatic font of the heading, you can change it by selecting a new font under Font Name and Font Size.
People who might have trouble reading print often use text-to-speech programs or screen readers.
A text-to-speech program is any program, app, or extension that reads text aloud. These programs only read text and will not read out buttons, navigation instructions, or alt text for pictures. Many people use text-to-speech programs including people with low vision, dyslexia, learning differences, and concussions/TBI. Additionally, there are many people without particular accessibility needs who enjoy using text-to-speech to be more productive and streamline their workflow. On the other hand, screen readers are programs that read out every element on screen and give navigation instructions, with the assumption that the user cannot see anything on the screen. Screen readers are primarily used by people who are blind.
When creating your files, it is important to create them in such a way that people who have varying levels of visual acuity and people who listen to text are able to access all the written information.
Color Contrast, Font, Size and Plain Language
When creating a document, it is important to be mindful of how your text appears. The color, font, and size all make a difference in whether someone can read the text or not.
It’s important that there is sufficient color contrast between the color of the text and the background so that people with low vision conditions can read it easily. Generally, black text on a white background is a good option, because it is readable by a large population. If you are planning on using different colors, please use a color contrast analyzing tool to make sure that there is sufficient contrast.
Font and Size
It is best to use a san serif font when writing, as these fonts are most accessible. Please avoid any overly ornate fonts that can make it hard to distinguish letters. Additionally, underlining text or using italics can make it difficult for some people to distinguish letters. If you must emphasize a portion of text, using bold letters is the best choice.
It is recommended that font size is above 11-point font to ensure accessibility.
Its important to write content that everyone can understand. Highly intelligent people can struggle with reading comprehension for a variety of reasons, ranging from having a learning difference to reading a text in their non-native language. Following plain language guidelines in your writing will ensure that text is as accessible as possible.
Sometimes people make text bold or a different color to signify important information. However, this is not a good system to use since people who access documents by listening to a screen reader or text-to-speech program will not be able to hear “bold” or “color.”
For this reason, if you need to signify important text, it is important to do so in more than one way. For example, if you write the word “important” and then write the information that is important, a person will be able to hear that read aloud. Likewise, if you write a note that important text will be signified by an asterisk and then use an asterisk to note important text, a person listening will be able to hear the asterisk read aloud. In conclusion, it is okay to use bold font or colored font to signify importance, but if you do so, you must also have an additional way of noting its importance that a text-to-speech program or screen reader will be able to speak aloud.
For people who cannot see pictures well and rely on screen readers to navigate on the computer, it’s important to program the pictures in such a way that the screen reader can explain the content of the pictures aloud.
In order to make images accessible to screen reader users, you must add alternative text descriptions, commonly known as “alt text.” Alt text should be a concise description of the relevant information in the image. Try not to make alt text longer than two sentences. The shorter the better.
For decorative images that don’t have significant meaning in relation to the document, don’t write a description. Instead, click the checkbox that says “mark as decorative.” This way, when the screen reader encounters this image, it will skip over it, preventing “verbal clutter” for the listener to weed through.
When a person who uses a screen reader approaches a list, the screen reader will announce that there is a list and will announce what kind of list it is- a bulleted or numbered list. For this reason, it’s important to use the in-built bulleted list and numbered list formatting options in Word to make lists. If you try to manually make lists by using hyphens for bullets or by writing your own numbers, the screen reader will not recognize the list and instead will read everything out like a paragraph, which can be confusing for a listener.
Bulleted lists should be used when the order of the items is not important. For example, if you were listing items on a shopping list, these items would be listed using bullets.
Numbered lists are for when items must be in a specific order. For example, steps to follow on a recipe card would be listed using numbered list.
Just as people who use screen readers can skim pages by navigating via headings, so too can they navigate through a document just by links. This picture shows someone using the router feature in VoiceOver (a screen reader). On this webpage the user has used the router to isolate all the links, so then they can use their up and down arrows to go through the list of links to see which link they would like to navigate to.
If links have vague titles like “click here” or “link” then the screen reader user does not know what the link means, because they cannot see the link in context. Similarly, if links are non-descriptive, long URLs that can be confusing to listen to also.
To create a hyperlink, write the descriptive name for the hyperlink. Then right click on it, click link, and copy and paste the URL in the appropriate box.
When using a table in your document, it’s important to create an accessible one. To create an accessible table, you must use the in-built table tool for it to be accessible. Do not draw a table!
Screen reader users do not see the entire table at once, but instead navigate tables cell by cell. For this reason, the table must be programmed correctly so that the headings are read out when someone enters a cell. In the example table “Dogs’ Age and Weight” when a user navigates to the cell that reads “30 lbs.” the screen reader will announce “Fluffy, weight, 30 lbs,” so the person will understand the data in context.
If a table is not programmed correctly, a screen reader user will just hear “30 lbs” and will not know what it is in reference to.
Similarly, tables should be simple and logical.
Simple: Don’t use split cells or merged cells or merge two tables together. An accessible table should have one header row across (Dog’s Name, Age, Weight) and one header row vertically (Fluffy, Spot) and a simple grid layout. Anything beyond this will be difficult to make accessible to a screen reader.
Logical: Sometimes people use tables to create a specific look or layout to their document rather than to display data. Here is an example:
This table is “illogical” because it is not a true table. This table is used to layout information, but not to display data. A screen reader would read the cell that says “C= 74-70″ as “B =84-80, B+=89-85, C =74-70.” In short, it would not make sense to the user. In a case like this, it is best to list these grades out using a list.
PowerPoint has the same accessibility checker as Microsoft Word. All of the same accessibility principles for documents also apply to PowerPoints. However, in addition, there are a few extra things you must check for regarding accessibility in PowerPoints.
Each slide must have a slide title that is unique from the other slides. This lets a screen reader user identify one slide from another. If you do not want to have a title on your slide for whatever reason, there are ways to work around this.
- Make the title very small.
- Make the title white (or whatever color your background is) to fade into the background color.
- Cover the title with a picture.
Each slide title must be unique. So instead of using the same title on two pages, write something different, even if that means just adding a number at the end. For example:
- Classroom Procedures
- Classroom Procedures (2) or Classroom Procedures cont.
Avoid GIFs, Animations and Special Effects
Sound effects, animation effects, auto playing, and other moving features like GIFs should be avoided. These can be distracting for people, especially people with certain learning disabilities and vision conditions, and can be triggering for people with neurological conditions, like vertigo, migraines, or a seizure disorder. Similarly, sound effects can make listening to a presentation difficult for people who are hard of hearing.
Check Reading Order
Your accessibility checker might prompt you to check reading order. This will ensure that a screen reader or text-to-speech program will read the elements of the slide out in the proper order. Follow these instructions to check reading order.
When choosing a background or theme for your slides consider accessibility. Does the color contrast make text easy to read? Is there too much visual busyness with the elements? A plain background is best since textured, multicolor, or picture backgrounds can make text hard to read. Additionally, sometimes the flow charts and styles that PowerPoint suggests for slides are not fully accessible and do not pass the accessibility checker, so this is something to be mindful of when choosing these templates.
Microsoft Accessibility Checker
Inside Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook, there is a tool called the Accessibility Checker. This tool helps you proofread your document, presentation, spreadsheet, or email to make sure it is accessible. To access it, go to Review and then click Check Accessibility. A box will pop up on the right side of your screen and list any accessibility issues found. To learn more about Microsoft’s Check Accessibility read this article.
Scans and PDFs
It's best not to use scans as reading material, but if you must, there are steps you can take in order to make accessible scans to ensure that the scan will be as readable as possible.
PDFs by their nature are not accessible. Whenever you can, it is best to use a Microsoft Word document instead of a PDF. However, in the case where a PDF is your only option, there are steps you can do to make it as accessible as possible.
Create an Accessible PDF from Scratch
The best way to create an accessible PDF is to create a Word document and then convert it to a PDF using the appropriate steps. If you realize there is an error in the PDF once you make it, it is best to then delete that PDF, go back to the original Word document, correct the error in Word, and then make a new PDF.
This step-by-step guide on making accessible PDFs leads you through the process of creating accessible PDFs.
Make an Existing PDF Accessible
To make an existing PDF accessible you need to follow a two-part process.
- Run a PDF through the Make Accessible wizard.
- Check reading order.
- PDFs rely on tags to be accessible to screen readers. Tags indicate how a certain element of the PDF is programmed. For example, you must tag a header in a PDF as a header in order for screen readers to recognize it. Secondly, you must make sure that all the tags are in the proper order so that a screen reader or text to speech program can read out the elements in the right sequence.
The Document Converter allows you to upload files and convert them into an accessible version. The tool runs the conversion process automatically and sends the new file directly to your inbox. This tool works best on files that have not been previously remediated. The Document Converter may not be able to convert poor quality scans or complicated files with tables, figures, and charts.
Magnification and Enlarging
Some people need to use magnification in order in order to access materials. To ensure that people who use magnification can still access your materials consider the following points:
Test your material by magnifying to 200%. Do all the same features remain? Does anything become too blurry or pixelated to read? Is any information cut off?
Common culprits include: images and poorly designed websites
Someone with accommodations might have a specific accommodation for either enlarged or large print materials.
Large print materials: Generally the person will have a specific font size they need text enlarged to. Make sure that all meaningful text on the page is enlarged to at least that font size. If there are meaningful images on the page, enlarge them appropriately as well.
Websites, Apps and Software
Before using a third-party website, app, or software as a resource, run a brief test to make sure the product has basic level of accessibility. (Please note, the suggestions below are easy tests for people untrained in web accessibility to use to gauge a baseline level of accessibility. These tests will not ensure that the website is completely accessible, as professional testing is needed for that).
Enlarge the page to 200% and check to make sure all elements are still visible, available, and useable
Use a text-to-speech extension, like Natural Reader, to see if the text on the page can be read aloud
Check for color contrast issues with text
Check for flashing and moving images
Use the tab key on your keyboard to see if you can move around to the different elements on the page
Contact the company and send the Vendor Bidder Accessibility Questionnaire to see if the company can send information about the accessibility of the product.
Please forward any responses you get from vendors to Grace Cipressi at email@example.com. Also, feel free to contact Grace before contacting the company in case our school already has the accessibility information for the product you are interested in on file.
Images, Videos and Audio/Podcasts
If you are going to use an image in class or for an assignment, it is best to have a text description available as well as have alt text for the image.
Make sure the image is high quality with good resolution
Do not use pictures of text (for example, a picture of a verb conjugation chart.) Text in images cannot be read aloud using traditional text-to-speech or screen reader programs. It is better to write out the text or chart in a Word document than use a picture of text.
When showing a video in class, it is best to turn on the captioning. Most DVDs and streaming services have captions available. However, older or more obscure films may not. Here are some solutions:
Ava: Ava can generate desktop captions in a variety of languages for any audio coming from a computer or tablet. Use the Ava desktop app feature when showing a video on screen.
Send the video clip out for professional captioning.
Audio description is a feature that provides a spoken narration of meaningful action in pauses between dialogue in a movie. Audio description is a helpful accessibility feature for people with visual impairments, vestibular disorders, neurological conditions, and neurodiverse individuals. Audio description is often found as an accessibility feature in recent mainstream movies and TV shows available on streaming services and DVD.
Audio Description Project has a database where you can search to see if audio description exists for a particular movie or TV show title.
When requiring students to listen to an audio clip or podcast, it's best to make a text equivalent available. To do this you can use these tools:
You can use Ava to provide captioning for a podcast while listening to it using the desktop app feature or you can use Ava to make a transcript before class and then make the transcript available to your students.
You can use this tool to make transcript before class. Otter.ai is only available in English and is better at creating transcripts than providing captioning in the moment.
When giving a presentation, there are a variety of ways to provide in-person captioning. It is a best practice to provide captioning in order to support the comprehension of your audience.
PowerPoint captioning: PowerPoint has an inbuilt feature that allows you to include subtitles and translations in your presentation.
Microsoft Translator: This free app allows your audience to have your spoken presentation captioned in their individual languages on their personal devices.
Ava captioning: You can use the Ava desktop caption feature at the bottom of your presentation screen as captions for everyone or you can set up captioning so that it is available to anyone who wants to access it on their personal device. For help with broadcasting captions, please contact Grace Cipressi.
Professional captioning: When a person identifies with needing captioning due to an auditory disability, professional captioning is required. Please reach out to Access Services for assistance with this.
Implementing Universal Design for Learning
As you design your course lectures, activities, assignments and assessments, keep the guidelines of Universal Design for Learning in mind in order to maximize participation and minimize barriers in your class.