Making Learning Accessible Part Four: How do I make my content accessible?

In the last post, we discussed how to make sure the software you use is accessible. Now we’re on to the final step that puts the power back into the hands of the user.

How do I make my content accessible?

After a whole lot of years in learning management, this is a question that comes up a lot. You’ve been mandated by your department, dean, HR team, etc to make your content accessible to users. Assuming you have an idea of what that means, where do you start?

The first thing I often recommend once we get over the hurdle of defining the what and why of accessibility is to run an accessibility scan. Find out where you stand with your existing content.

One note: Remember that if your content is behind a login, for instance a course in a learning management system, the free scanners may be not able to access your content.

Use the results of the scan to see where updates need to happen. If you follow this list of tips from UC Berkeley you can knock out some of the most common problems around headers, graphics, and tables.

Don’t have a course yet? That’s ok, let’s think about the sort of content that you need. This could include videos, graphics, text, uploaded documents, slideshows, and content that you create in the content or learning management system like quizzes, polls, surveys, and assignments.

The goal is to always have multiple methods of sharing information. Have a great graphic that shows an important process? Write a text caption to go with it.

That video with great narration? Provide a copy of the transcript. I am a hearing person, but I love having transcripts when I need to refer back to a video or if I want to access content but am not in a space where playing the audio would be welcomed.

What If I’m ready to go further?

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a leader in Accessible Technology and has a great website filled with advice and tutorials to take your knowledge even further, ranging from creating accessible PDFs to avoiding interactions that require mouse movements.

They also host community of practice meetings regularly to discuss accessibility issues. While theirs might not be the right place for you, seek out communities of practice, whether they are specific to the content management software you use, the development language, your region, or any other niche that makes sense for you so that we can inform and practice more inclusive design and development together.

Here’s my two cents, in shorter terms:

We all have to start somewhere.

  1. Find out where your software and content currently stand accessibility-wise.
  2. Set measurable, reasonable goals for your accessibility-friendly -focused development and/or seek out products that are designed with accessibility in mind.
  3. Develop your content for multiple modalities.
  4. Find communities of practice to share expertise.

 

 

Making Learning Accessible Part Three: Is my software accessible?

In part three of this series on Making Learning Accessible, we take a look at what you need to do to make your web content accessible. Today’s post focuses on the tools used for content delivery and what to do if you’re not a software/web developer.

Do you manage your own content through someone else’s software?

Awesome, start with UC Berkely’s ten tips on web accessibility here. Your goal is two-fold:

  1. Make sure the software you use is designed with accessibility in mind.
  2. Make sure you setup your content to be accessible.

How do I make sure my software is accessible?

First, ask. Check with your helpdesk, IT team, site administrator, or the vendor to see if the software meets Section 508 accessibility requirements. If you are the Site Administrator, see if your vendor has a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) completed for the release of the software you use. The VPAT requires the vendor to explain what parts of the software don’t meet Section 508 requirements, what workarounds exist, and if they are working on a fix.

If you can’t get a clear answer, you can do some testing on your own. There are tons of free resources and tools out there to help. A good place to start is to run an accessibility scan of your site. There are lots of free accessibility scanners available that will give results for free like this open source accessibility scanner. You input your URL, run the scan and will receive a report with any issues that can be corrected technically. Some of the items the scan will check for include:

  • Are headings (H1, H2,…) defined as such in the site display so that a screen reader user can quickly skip through sections and find what they care about? Are there missing headings? Does a user have to go through the full site top to bottom and listen to every single word to navigate your site?
  • Do all images that provide context within your content have alternative descriptions (A.K.A. alt text) that help someone who can’t see an image to understand what it shows and what context, if any, it provides?
  • Are tables used inappropriately to format the site layout instead of displaying data?
  • And a whole lot more. If you’re not in the U.S., have a look at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)  Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

If you find issues with the site accessibility, talk to your administrators, helpdesk, and/or the vendor to get those issues corrected. Once issues are corrected, then it’s up to you as a content creator to use those tools appropriately.

In the next post, we’ll talk about making content that is accessible.