At this year’s ISTE conference, I was on a panel focusing on accessible educational materials (AEM). The panel was one of the activities sponsored by the ISTE Inclusive Learning Network, of which I am the Professional Learning Chair. I only had about 10 minutes to share some tips with our attendees so I tried to convey them with an easy to remember mnemonic: SLIDE.
As a follow up to that panel, I created this blog post. I hope you find it helpful and look forward to your feedback.
Note: Document accessibility is a complex topic. This is by no means a comprehensive guide, just a few tips to help educators get started by taking some easy steps toward making their content more accessible.
When it comes to making documents more accessible and useful for all learners, small changes can have a significant impact!
By following these tips, you will ensure all learners can enjoy access to information as a first step toward creating more inclusive learning environments.
- Styles are used to reveal the structure of the information
- Links are descriptive
- Images include alternative text
- Design is clear and predictable
- Empathy and an ethic of care are a key focus
Properly marked up headings are important for screen reader users, who can use a shortcut to quickly access a list of these headings and navigate to any section in the document (saving valuable time). For other readers, headings reveal the structure of the information and make the document easier to scan.
Select the desired heading text and choose from the styles menu in your authoring tool.
Choose formatting options such as making the text bigger and bold. The text will look like a heading but lack the proper markup.
- How to use styles to mark up headings in Microsoft Word.
- How to use styles to mark up headings in Google Docs.
As with headings, screen reader users will often use a shortcut to bring up a list of the links in a document. Links need to be descriptive in order for them to make sense when they are accessed in this way, without the context of the surrounding text on the page.
Select some descriptive text and make that the link (see examples on this document).
Avoid using “click here” and “learn more” as the link text.
Alternative text allows a screen reader to provide a description of an image to someone who is not able to see the screen.
Create a short description that focuses on the information conveyed by the image: i.e. “smiley face with thumbs up.”
Focus on the appearance of the image: i.e. “white circle with eyes and frown drawn inside.”
Note: Creating helpful alternative text is as much an art as it is a science. Much will depend on the context in which an image is used. WebAIM has some great resources that discuss the considerations for creating effective alternative text in more detail.
Through good design, you can reduce the amount of effort it takes your readers to process the information in a document, allowing them to focus on the meaning conveyed by the content rather than its presentation.
Some helpful design tips include:
- Ensure sufficient contrast between the text and its background.
- Use proximity and white space to make relationships clear: items that belong together should be close to each other and separated from other items by sufficient white space.
- Use repetition to highlight patterns and build a cohesive whole.
Even more important than implementing these tips is changing your approach to design so that it reflects an ethic of care. Remember that not everyone reading your content can see, hear or process information as well as you. As you approach your work, try to think about the diversity in your potential audience. Doing so will allow your content to reach more readers and have a greater impact!
According to the U.S. Census:
- 1 in 5 Americans Reports Having a Disability
- For Americans over 65, that figure is 40%
Accessible content will not only benefit other people. As you age, your ability to see, hear and process content may be affected. When you creat accessible content, you are also designing for your “future self.”