SLIDE into Accessibility: 5 Tips for Making Learning Materials Work for Everyone

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.

SLIDE

  • 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

Styles

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.

Thumbs Up
Select the desired heading text and choose from the styles menu in your authoring tool.

Thumbs Down
Choose formatting options such as making the text bigger and bold. The text will look like a heading but lack the proper markup.

Links

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.

Thumbs Up
Select some descriptive text and make that the link (see examples on this document).

Thumbs Down
Avoid using “click here” and “learn more” as the link text.

 

Images

Alternative text allows a screen reader to provide a description of an image to someone who is not able to see the screen.

Thumbs UpCreate a short description that focuses on the information conveyed by the image: i.e. “smiley face with thumbs up.”
Thumbs Down
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. 

Design

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.

Empathy

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.”

 

 

Global Accessibility Awareness Day Resources

Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) is a very special day for me. Without the many advances in digital access there is so much that I would not have been able to accomplish: getting a doctorate; writing a book; doing my work as an inclusive learning consultant (which involves travel, accessing the Web for research, creating presentations and more); being an advocate through blog posts like these,  my YouTube videos and ebooks..the list is long.

Digital accessibility is personal to me, and I’m grateful that people like Jennison Asuncion and Joe Devon took the initiative to not just create a special day, but start a movement. Even big companies like Apple are now getting in on the action. We are making progress!

I’m far from being an accessibility expert, but I try my best to continue learning and doing what I can to make things more accessible not only for other people but ultimately for myself when the day comes that I have lost all of my eyesight. And that’s the point of GAAD to me. You don’t have to be perfect, you jus have to take the first step!

I wanted to create this blog post as one stop shop for the resources I have created for GAAD:

Along with these resources, I had the pleasure of moderating the #ATChat discussion on accessibility in ed on the eve of GAAD. Here is a transcript of our discussion available on Storify. A big thank you to Karen Janowski and Mike Marotta for allowing me to do that.

As you can see, there are many ways you can contribute to the conversation and the work that is ongoing to make the world a better, more accessible place for all learners. The key is to take the first step. As I did during our ATChat, I want to leave you with the following challenge: what is one small thing you can do or try today to improve accessibility where you work?

5 Accessibility Features Every Learner Should Know

On the occasion of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) this week (May 19th), I created this post to highlight some of the iOS accessibility features that can benefit a wide range of diverse learners, not just those who have been labeled as having a disability.

Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 4.02.00 PM

 

It’s built in.

Every iOS device comes with a standard set of accessibility features that are ready to use as soon as you take the device out of the box. Let’s take a look at a few of these features that can benefit all users in the spirit of Universal Design.

Get started by going to Settings > General > Accessibility!

#1: Closed Captions

Closed captions were originally developed for those with hearing difficulties, but they can help you if you speak English as a second language or just need them as a support for improved processing. Captions can also help if your speakers are not working, or the sound in the video is of poor quality.

80% of caption users did not have any kind of hearing loss in one UK study.

Learn how to enable and customize closed captions on your iOS device.

#2: Speech

All iOS devices support built-in text to speech with the option to turn on word highlighting. Starting with iOS 8, it is possible to use the more natural Alex voice formerly available only on the Mac. TTS supports decoding, which frees you the reader to focus on the meaning of the text.

Breathe!: Alex takes a breath every once in a while to simulate the way we speak!

  • Learn how to enable and use Speak Selection on your iOS device.
  • Bonus tip!: Don’t want to make a selection first? No problem. Just bring up Siri and say “Speak Screen.” This will read everything on the screen!

#3: Safari Reader

Safari’s Reader is not really an accessibility feature (you will not find it in Settings) but it can help you if you find that you get distracted by all the ads when you are reading or doing research online. It is also a nice complement to the Speech features mentioned above. With iOS 9, you can now customize the appearance of the text and even change the background and font to make it easier to read when you surf the Web.

Left my heart in…San Francisco is a new system font available in iOS 9. It is designed to be easier to read, and is one of the font options available for Reader.

Learn how to use Safari Reader when you surf the Web.

#4: Dictation

Whenever you see the iOS keyboard, you can tap the microphone icon to the left of the space bar to start entering text using just your voice. This can help you get your words down on the page (or is it the screen?) more efficiently.

Try It!: Dictation can handle complex words. Try this: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Dictation supports more than just entering text. Follow the link for a helpful list of additional Dictation commands.

#5: QuickType and 3rd Party Keyboards

QuickType is Apple’s name for the word prediction feature now built into the iOS keyboard. Word prediction can help you if you struggle with spelling, and it can speed up your text entry as well. Starting with iOS 8, it is now possible to customize the built-in keyboard by installing a 3rd party app. The 3rd party keyboards add improved word prediction, themes for changing the appearance of the keys and more.

17 Seconds: World record for texting. Can you beat it?

Learn how to use QuickType and how to set up and use 3rd party keyboards.

Bonus Tips

Struggling to see the screen? – make sure to check out the Vision section in the Accessibility Settings. You can Zoom in to magnify what is shown on the screen,  Invert Colors to enable a high contrast mode, make the text larger with Dynamic Text, and much more.

Sources:

Media and Interface Options on 4th Generation Apple TV

As I finish out this series of tutorials on the 4th Generation Apple TV, I want to focus on the options for customizing the playback of media and the appearance of the interface. As shown in the video, the captions and subtitles feature makes great use of the Siri remote capabilities on the 4th Generation Apple TV: you can either enable the captions for the rest of the program (“Turn on closed captions”), or you can enable them for a short time if you have missed something  (just say “What did he/she say?” and after the video rewinds a few seconds the captions will come on for a short time to help you catch what you missed).

Of course this feature will only work if the content creator(s) have made the captions available. Ted Talks is one channel that does, making the great presentations on their channel accessible to a wider audience (yay for Ted Talks!).

Apple TV also supports audio descriptions. Audio descriptions provide a description of the action in a video for those who are unable to see. The audio descriptions can be enabled in the same Media section of the Accessibility Settings where Captions and Subtitles are found. As with captions, these audio descriptions will only work if the content creator has made them available.

In addition to the ways in which viewers can customize media playback, the Apple TV watchOS includes a number of options for customizing the interface: bold text, reduce motion,  reduce transparency and focus style, which adds an outline around the currently selected item.

Zoom on 4th Generation Apple TV (Video)

Zoom on the Apple TV provides up to 15X magnification for those who have low vision, but it can benefit anyone who has difficulty seeing the Apple TV interface on their TV.  This accessibility feature should be familiar to low vision users of other Apple products. It has been available for some time on the Mac and on iOS devices, and it is also supported on the Apple Watch. With the release of the 4th Generation  Apple TV, every Apple product that supports a display now also supports magnification for low vision users.

This video provides an overview of the Zoom accessibility feature. You will learn how to enable/disable Zoom in Settings, how to add Zoom to the Accessibility Shortcut for quick access, and some of the gestures supported by Zoom:

  • a light tap near any edge on the Siri remote will move the zoomed in area by one screen
  • dragging on the touch area of the Siri remote will allow you to pan in any direction (a two finger tap will stop/resume panning).
  • double-tapping and holding with two fingers, then dragging up/down without letting go will allow you to adjust the zoom level.

A nice feature built into Zoom is that you can double-tap the Siri remote at any time to hear the currently selected item read aloud. This works even if you are not currently zoomed in (Zoom just has to be enabled).

Overview of VoiceOver on 4th Generation Apple TV (Video)

VoiceOver was already available on  older Apple TV models, but the touchpad on the new Siri remote allows it to be an even more robust accessibility solution on the new 4th generation model. This video provides an overview of the various gestures VoiceOver supports on the new Apple TV, including the Rotor gesture that can be used to change VoiceOver settings such as the speech rate.

 

 

 

4th Generation Apple TV Accessibility Overview

I was already happy with my third-generation Apple TV, but when I read that Apple was expanding the support for accessibility in the fourth generation model I knew I was going to pre-order the device as soon as it became available. Today, my 4th-generation Apple TV finally arrived, and it does not disappoint with regard to its accessibility. This post is not an in-depth review of the new Apple TV (there are plenty of those online already including a really nice one from iMore), but rather my first impressions of the set top box as someone with a visual impairment and a personal interest in accessibility. I will also just focus on the built-in features of the new Apple TV, rather than the apps that can now be installed on the device (that will make for a separate post as I explore the App Store further in the next few weeks and even more apps become available).

Siri remote for 4th generation Apple TV
The new Siri remote.

In Summary

  • Nicely rounds out the support for accessibility across the Apple ecosystem by expanding on the support for VoiceOver in the previous model, adding Zoom and providing many of the same options for customizing the interface that are available on other Apple devices.
  • Major accessibility features such as VoiceOver and Zoom are responsive and perform well, with little lag.
  • The interface is cleaner and works better across the room: for example, it is now much easier for me to tell when an item has focus, something I struggle with on my third-generation Apple TV (especially on my smaller TV).
  • Other than the new Siri remote there are no other options for controlling the new Apple TV, which does have an impact on accessibility for some users. I hope this situation is addressed soon through a software update.

Setup and Interface

Setup for the new Apple TV couldn’t be easier. Once you have your power and HDMI cables connected and your new device has come on, you can triple-click the Menu button to turn on VoiceOver so that it can guide you through the rest of the setup. After you have selected your langauge and country/region, a brand new feature even allows you to place your iPhone (running iOS 9.1 or later) near the Apple TV to provide it with your network and Apple ID information.

Setup screen for Apple TV showing option to set it up with information from iOS device

The rest of the setup goes as expected, with selections for enabling location services and Siri, sending diagnostics data to Apple and developers, agreeing to the terms of service no one reads and so on.

Once the setup is complete, you will notice that the new interface is much brighter than the old one, with light gray backgrounds rather than black throughout.

Home screen on 4th generation Apple TV

Some people have complained about this, and I can see where it can be a problem if you have an Apple TV in your bedroom and want to use it while the other person (roommate or significant other) is trying to sleep. It would be nice to have the option of a dark theme like Invert Colors on iOS devices for those who prefer it.

Overall, I found the interface to be much easier for me to use. The item that has the focus pops out a bit, which is a more pronounced focus indidcator from in the older interface. Whether on the apps grid or in the menus I found this change made it easier for me to quickly know what item I had selected. The interface supports greater customization than on any previous Apple TV, thanks to an entire section labeled Interface in the Settings.

When you go into Settings, the first thing you will notice is that the Accessibility options are now near the top of the General pane. In fact, they are one of the first things you see, right after the optons for the screenreader. On the previous Apple TV model, you had to scroll quite a bit to locate Accessibility toward the bottom of the General pane.

Accessibility options are found under General in Settings.

Of course, you can still use the Accessibility shortcut to quickly enable and disable accessibility features without going into Settings. Whereas on the old Apple TV you invoked this Accessibility Shortcut (it was actually called the Accessibility Menu) by pressing and holding the Menu button, on the new one you do it by triple-clicking that same button (much like you triple-click the Home button on iOS devices to do the same thing). A nice touch is that VoiceOver will read the options shown by the Accessibility Shortcut even if you have it disabled in Settings.

In addition to the Accessibility Shortcut, the new Interface section of the Acccessibiliy pane includes a number of options for cusotmizing the appearance of the display (similar to options already found on iOS and Apple Watch), including:

  • Bold Text: a simple toggle that provides more weight to the text labels. Enabling this feature will require a quick restart just as it does on other Apple devices.
  • Increase Contrast: there are two options. The first reduces the transparency, while the second one changes the focus style by adding a thick outline around the currently selected item.
  • Reduce Motion: another toggle that removes animations throughout the interface for those who are sensitive to the extra motion.

Along with adjusting the appearance of the interface, the new Apple TV has retained the options for customizing closed captions that were available before. These are found in the Media section of the Accessibility pane, where you can also enable audio descriptions for programs that include them. In addition to turning on the captions, you can still customize the style by selecting Large Text and Classic options or creating your own style with many options for both the text and the background.

Siri

Updated 11/5/15: Siri is one of the major selling points of the new Apple TV and I’ve finally had a chance to play around with it as I have started to interact with content on the device.  Apple TV’s Siri allows you to do a number of things using speech: search for movies (“show me movies with Penelope Cruz”), refine your search (“only her dramas from 2012”), navigate (“open Photos” or my favorite – “home screen”), and control playback (“pause this,” “skip forward 30 seconds,” etc.) From an accessibility perspective, it allows you to enable/disable VoiceOver, “Turn on closed captions” while you are watching content, and if you miss something you can just say “What did he/she say?” and the playback will rewind 15 seconds and temporarily turn n the captions. I love this feature because it highlights the usefulness of captions not just as an accessibility feature but as an example of design that benefits everyone (universal design).  My only concern with Siri is that you have to hold down the button the entire time you are speaking your request. That could be an issue for some people with motor difficulties, especially as you start to use Siri all the time. I am hoping that eventually there is an always on feature like “hey Siri” on the iPhone.

VoiceOver and Zoom

These two features in the Vision section of the Accessibility pane are the biggest changes to the accessiiblity of the Apple TV in the new model. Zoom is brand new, and supports magnification up to 15X (the default is 5X). Once Zoom is enabled, you will zoom in and out by triple-clicking the touchpad on the new remote. While you are zoomed in, you can interact with Zoom in a variety of ways:

  • drag one finger over the touchpad to pan in any direction. As you pan, an overlay will let you give you an idea of what area of the interface you are zoomed in on (very similar to the indicator you get with Apple Watch when you use the Digital Crown to zoom by row).
  • stop panning by tapping the touchpad with two fingers. At that point, you will be able to use the usual flicking gestures to move from one item to the next without panning, but you can resume panning at any time with a second two-finger tap on the touchpad.
  • adjust the zoom level by double-tapping with two fingers, holding, and then swiping up or down with the two fingers without letting go. The maximum amount you can zoom will be determined by the value selected in Settings.

Update 11/5/15: In a previous version of this post I noted that I could get the labels read aloud each time I double-clicked the Siri button. The next day, I could not get my Apple TV to do it again and couldn’t figure out why. It turns out that this is a feature of Zoom. If Zoom is enabled, you can double-click the Siri button to hear an item read aloud.

VoiceOver was already available on the older model, but the touchpad allows it to be an even more robust solution on the new one. If you have used VoiceOver on an iOS device (or on a Mac laptop) you will already be somewhat familiar with how to interact with VoiceOver on the new Apple TV. However, if you do need some help, just know that you now have a VoiceOver Practice that is only shown when you have VoiceOver turned on (sound familiar, iOS users?).

VoiceOver practice is available once VoiceOver is turned on.

VoiceOver supports the following gestures on the new Apple TV remote (all gestures are performed on the touchpad area of the new remote):

  • Move your finger around on the touchpad: move the focus to have VoiceOver speak the currently selected item aloud.
  • Flick in any direction with one finger: move the focus in a given direction.
  • Click on the touchpad: make a selection.
  • Flick down with two fingers: read from the current location to the bottom.
  • Flick up with two fingers: start reading from the top of the screen.
  • Two-finger tap: pause/resume speaking.

Again, these gestures should be familiar if you have used an iOS device or a Mac laptop with the Trackpad Commander turned on. Speaking of the Trackpad Commander, the rotor is also supported and, you guessed it, you turn the virtual dial clockwise or counter-clockwise with two fingers to select a rotor option and then flick up or down with one finger to adjust its value.

The rotor can be used to adjust the speech rate with more control (as opposed to the option in Settings that only allows you to select from a few preset values such as “Very Slow” or “Very Fast”). It also allows you hear items read by character or word, to enable or disable Direct Touch (where instead of flicking to navigate in a linear way you can just move your finger on the touchpad to move around the interface with more freedom) and more (I’m still trying to figure out a few of the options such as Navigate and Explore).

You can use Siri to turn on VoiceOver (just say “Turn VoiceOver on”) but for some reason you can’t do the same for Zoom and other settings. When I tried it all it did was open the Settings, but it didn’t take me to Zoom or turn on the feature as requested.

First Impressions

Overall, I like the new Apple TV from my limited exposure to it in the few hours since it arrived at my home. I like the updated interface, which is more cleanly laid out and designed for better visibility from across the room. From an accessibility perspective, I think Apple TV is the best game in town. None of the other set top boxes I have tried have the accessibility support Apple TV had even before the new model came out.

The new model ups the ante with more options for customizing the appearance of the interface, the addition of Zoom for those who have low vision, and an enhanced VoiceOver that is more than ready for use with apps (though how well that works will depend as always on how well developers incorporate accessibility support in their apps). Performance is a lot better too. I almost forgot just how much time I spent waiting on my older Apple TV until I switched back to compare some of the features. The new model is a lot more responsive and just performs better all around.

Having said all that, whether I end up liking this Apple TV as much as I have the previous model will depend on what happens in the next few weeks and months as updates to tvOS are released. As good as the accessibility features and performance of this new version are, there are still a number of issues that need to be addressed:

  • No Podcasts app: The company that basically brought us the podcast has launched a set top box without a dedicated podcast app (and as I write this, there are no Apple TV versions of Downcast or Overcast in the App Store). Aside from renting movies, podcasts are the next thing i consume the most on Apple TV. I can set them to play in the background while I do other things around the house, and I have a number of favorites I listen to on a regular basis. I’m hoping Apple is just taking a little bit more time to make sure the podcast app is done right when it is finally released.
  • No Remote app support: the current Remote app for iOS is not compatible with the new Apple TV. This means that someone with a motor difficulty is not able to use Switch Control on an iOS device to navigate the Apple TV interface through the Remote app. While the built in accessibility features of the new Apple TV do an excellent job of accommodating the needs of those with vision and hearing difficulties, it is important to address this omission to make sure switch users can enjoy the Apple TV along with the rest of us.
  • No support for external Bluetooth keyboards: Probably my biggest annoyance was having to go back to typing in user names and passwords with the onscreen keyboard. I have always used either the Remote app for iOS or an external keyboard connected over Bluetooth for this purpose, but both options are not possible at launch. Especially when entering complicated passwords, doing it on an external keyboaard is much faster and easier.
  • The remote: I generally like the new remote. It is lightweight and feels good in the hand. My issue is that I know there is good likelihood that I will lose the thing and it will cost me $79 to replace it (the previous remote was only $19 for comparison). I’m thinking I may buy a $25 tile and find a way to attach it to the remote just in case. I’m surprised Apple did not build the same Ping feature that is available between the Apple Watch and the iPhone, allowing us to quickly find a misplaced remote by emitting a loud ping sound. For now Tile may be my best bet ($25 is much better than $79). In the meantime, I have set up my existing TV remote to work with the Apple TV.

Most of these issues are easily fixable with a software update and as I went to publish this post I read that Apple had released a beta of tvOS 9.1, the first update for the new Apple TV. It is unclear whether this update will bring back some of the features listed above, or if it is just a bug fix release. Time will tell.

Are you planning to buy an Apple TV? If you already have it, what do you like about it? What do you think can be improved?