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.


  • 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.

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.


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.



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. 


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.”



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?

4th Gen Apple TV is Now Accessible with Switch Control

At launch, the 4th generation Apple TV lacked support for the iOS Remote app. The only way to navigate the interface and enter passwords and other information was through the use of the new Siri remote. An unintended consequence from the lack of support for the Remote app was that Switch Control users were for the most part locked out from using the device. Yes, you can do quite a bit with Siri on the new Apple TV using only your voice, but Siri doesn’t work for everyone (it does not always recognize the voice commands if the person using the remote has a speech difficulty or strong accent, and it can’t be used to enter passwords).

Fortunately, this limitation was addressed with the latest update for the 4th Generation Apple TV (tvOS 9.1). Now it is possible to use the Remote app on an iOS device to control the Apple TV (you must turn on Home Sharing and be on the same Wifi network for this to work). Since the Remote app is optimized to work with Switch Control, this means that switch users can now control the Apple TV just like any other user. In Item Mode, Switch Control will recognize hotspots in the touch area located in the middle of the Remote app interface. By selecting these hotspots the switch user can navigate in any direction and launch apps or interact with any of the controls on the Apple TV.

Screenshot of iOS Remote app interface showing a hotspot for moving the focus on Apple TV.

The addition of Remote app support is not only a great convenience for all users of the Apple TV. It addresses a major omission in the otherwise excellent support for accessibility on the new Apple TV, which I have covered in a number of recent posts.

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.

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.




Now on iBookstore: Supporting Students with Low Vision Using Apple Technology

My new book focusing on accessibility for Apple users who have low vision is now available for download from the iBookstore.

Cover of Supporting Students with Low Vision Using Apple Technology

The book includes more than 25 short video tutorials (closed-captoined) to go along with explanations of the built-in accessibility features of iOS devices, the Mac, Apple TV and even Apple Watch (I was only able to record one video on Zoom by visiting my local Apple Store, since I don’t yet have access to an Apple Watch – more videos on Apple Watch will be added in a future update). The book also has a section on apps for those with low vision as well as some tips for creating more accessible iBooks content for those who have low vision. A final section focuses on accessories that I use as a person with low vision (stands, bone conduction headphones and the like).

I hope you enjoy the book, find it a valuable resource and will provide me with feedback so that I can make future updates even better.

To celebrate the release of this new book, I have made a few updates to my previous book (A Touch of Light), which is now FREE.

Apple Watch Review Roundup and Thoughts

With the Apple Watch finally arriving in stores for trial and then initial deliveries starting on the 24th of April, a number of reviewers have had hands-on time with the device and shared their first impressions. These include Steven Aquino at iMore and David Woodbridge at AppleVis, both of whom have done an excellent job with their reviews. Apple has also created a nicely laid out page describing the key accessibility features that are available on the Apple Watch, which it divides into two categories: vision and hearing. To summarize, the Apple Watch continues Apple’s excellent track record of including accessibility and universal design features on all of its new products. On the new Apple Watch, these features include:

  • The VoiceOver screen reader
  • Zoom screen magnification
  • an Extra Large Watch Face option
  • Large Dynamic Type and Bold Text
  • Reduce Motion and Transparency
  • Grayscale and On/Off Labels for those with color difficulties
  • Mono Audio and balance control for those with hearing loss
  • an Accessibility Shortcut (triple-clicking the Digital Crown) to enable accessibility features such as Zoom and VoiceOver

Features can be enabled or disabled on the device itself or on the companion app that runs on the iPhone. From David’s review it looks like you will find learning the accessibility gestures of Apple Watch fairly easy if you are already familiar with these features on the iPhone or iPad. For example, with Zoom instead of using three fingers to zoom in/out and pan around the display, you use two fingers to account for the limited screen real estate.  The Zoom level can be adjusted in much the same way you used to on iOS before a slider was added in iOS 8 but instead of double-tapping and holding with three fingers and then sliding up or down, on the watch you do it with two fingers. Similarly, for VoiceOver you can flick left or right to move by item, move your finger over the screen to navigate by touch or double-tap with one finger to activate a control or launch an app. This is one of the things I have always appreciated about Apple’s approach to accessibility. What you learn on one device usually translates to the use of other similar devices, reducing the amount of time it takes you to become proficient with the accessibility features even when it is a new product category like the Apple Watch. 

 Surprisingly, there is little mention of any features for those with motor challenges on the Apple page for Apple Watch or the reviews I have read. This is surprising to me given the fact that the Apple Watch relies on the Digital Crown as the main way of interacting with the device. People with poor motor skills may find the Digital Crown to be difficult to operate, though initial reviews indicate that it is much easier to operate on the Apple watch than on traditional analog watches.  Sure, the user can use Siri to control the device with voice recognition, but Siri may not work accurately in environments with a lot of ambient noise, or for people who have speech difficulties. 

 One area that has not gotten as much attention in the reviews I have read is the potential for this device as a communication aid. With a press of the side button, the user can bring up a list of key people (parent, caregiver, etc.) to communicate with not only with a phone call or a message, but with sketches (quick drawings that animate on the other end if the other person also has an Apple Watch). For people with autism and other related disabilities, this more visual way of communicating could be very helpful. Taps are also supported for custom messages between two Apple Watch wearers who have hearing difficulties (the taps are felt on each end of the conversation as a silent tap pattern on the wrist). The true potential for the Apple Watch as a communication device will probably not be known until the app store for the device matures. One app I would love to see is one where the user who has a hearing loss can hold up the watch to another person’s face and have the audio amplified on a Bluetooth headset (similar to the Live Listen feature for hearing aids on the iPhone). 

Then there is the integration of the Apple Watch with environmental solutions Apple has developed: Apple Pay, HomeKit and iBeacons. As Steven Aquino suggests, Apple Pay and Apple Watch will make payment at places of business easier for those with motor difficulties, who will not have to fumble around trying to get the phone out of their pockets or a handbag to pay. The same goes for checking in for a flight at the airport with Passbook. Similarly, an app for Starwood Hotels will let you open your hotel room from the watch. HomeKit could also make the Apple Watch the controller for a number of devices, from lights to the alarm, the garage door and more (such as the Honeywell Lyric app for controlling a thermostat). As for iBeacons, their integration with the Apple Watch could be used to develop educational activities that add a kinesthetic component to learning (hints or prompts that are activated based on the user’s location in relation to a classroom-based beacon and more).

I believe the App Store will be key to unlocking the full potential of this new product, and if the iPhone is any indication the app store will grow rapidly, especially after Apple holds the World Wide Developer’s Conference this summer.

As for me, I will probably not be getting this first version of the Apple Watch. I want to wait to see how the battery life holds up, as this is an important consideration for an accessibility device you need to use for an entire day. Any device, no matter how fancy it is, will be of limited use if the battery dies when you most need it. If history holds, future versions will be better in this area. The Apple Watch is also expensive at $350 (for the Sport version). As a person with a limited tech budget I have to think about which device will have the most bang for the buck for me. As a photographer, that means that for me that device remains the iPhone, which I hope to upgrade as soon as my current contract runs out later this fall. Wouldn’t it be nice if in the future you could get both of these devices as a bundle (with a discount for buying this way). I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one…