by Karen Nichols

Just a quick note about Global Accessibility Awareness Day.  CAT + has posted often on the topic of accessibility and the importance of design features in our courses that benefit ALL learners.  But I think this organization has really good intentions--"The purpose of GAAD is to get people talking, thinking and learning about digital (web, software, mobile, etc.) accessibility and users with different disabilities" so I thought I would share the web address with you.

In 2011 blogger John Devon posted on accessibility issues, especially in technology, and his blog sparked enough interest to create GAAD.

Take a look at their site, join in some of the activities and like them on Facebook if you appreciate their efforts.  Thank you, merci, gracias (their site is not only accessible, but is multi-lingual!).

various accessibility icons

The Quick Links tool allows users to quickly locate any heading or section within any page in Blackboard and jump directly to the link.

Blackboard Quick Links pop-up window

Quick Links work by pulling all headers and important web page landmarks into an easily accessible screen. This accessibility feature improves Blackboard's navigation experience for all users, but especially sighted keyboard only users.

Follow these steps to do it.

To access Quick Links:

  1. Click on the Quick Links icon located on the top left near the Home tab (or press the SHIFT + ALT + L keys on the keyboard).
  2. A pop-up window that displays the landmark and navigation links on the page will open. Any available keyboard shortcuts for the page are also displayed.
  3. Press the TAB key to move between the links.
  4. Press the Enter key to go to the highlighted link.

Want more information?

About Quick Links
Quick Links video [01:24]
Explore Blackboard’s On Demand Learning Center.
Check out help for instructors at help.blackboard.com.
Try these Blackboard How-To documents.
Visit the Blackboard FAQs for additional blackboard information
or schedule a one-on-one session, email, or
call Janice Florent: (504) 520-7418.

1

by Janice Florent

the word inaccessible type written on a page with the first two letters crossed out to indicate the word should be accessible

One of the reasons hybrid and online courses appeal to students is when a course is well designed the student has the opportunity to playback or review a concept until they have mastered it.

In order for course materials to be accessible for all learners the course material should be provided in multiple formats. Having the material in multiple modes allows the student to choose the mode that works best for them.

If your course material is visual provide an audio version as well. If your course material is auditory, make it visual too. Incorporating transcripts, subtitles, closed captioning to audio and visual content in a course is invaluable for students with disabilities, diverse and/or preferred learning styles, and English as a second language (ESL) students.

Designing your courses with accessibility in mind will save you some time in the event you do have a student with a disability. Remember accessible content is not only for the impaired. Students without disabilities will find having accessible resources within your course a bonus.

Here are a few simple steps, from my previous blog posts, that you can take when creating content and setting up your course that will make it more accessible:

As we start a new year and a new semester it is a good time to start to make your courses accessible. Here is a link to a 10-Step Guide to Making Your Course Accessible for All Students.

1

by Janice Florent

Computers can read text on a screen but images, graphs, and charts are meaningless to visually impaired users. Alternative text (alt text) is an alternate method for supplying information about images, graphs, and charts to users who are visually impaired.

Adding alt text to images, graphs, and charts is an important part of making them accessible. Most images, graphs, and charts can be made accessible using alt text descriptions. However, complex images, graphs, and charts require more detailed description than the limited one or two brief sentences that are used in the alt text.

complex scientific images

Examples of complex scientific images

What should you do when you have a complex image, graph, or chart whose meaning cannot be conveyed with alt text alone? There are several ways to handle complex images where a short description is not possible. The best solution is to include a thorough description of the complex image in the content of the page, immediately before or after the image. If you don’t want to add more content to your page, another preferred alternative is to create another web page with the thorough description of the complex image and link to it near the image.

You may be wondering what exactly should you include in the thorough description. The Diagram Center (Digital Image And Graphic Resources for Accessible Materials) is an excellent resource that provides comprehensive guidelines to make it easier for you to make complex images accessible to all learners.

Here are a few additional resources to help you with describing complex images:

It is extremely important for students with disabilities to have access to accessible course content. Describing complex images utilizing these tips is good course design. Even though you may not have a student with a disability currently enrolled in your course, you will find students without disabilities will take advantage of accessible content as well.

3

by Janice Florent

mobile phone with the caption accessibility is not only for the impaired

Although there are legal mandates requiring institutions of higher education to make educational materials accessible (e.g., the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act), accessibility is fundamentally just good design. Content that is accessible is better organized and therefore more usable by all. Accessible content renders properly on a wide variety of devices, it is easier to navigate, and it conveys information in a consistent, logical manner. Moreover, changes in how we view the content are occurring. More and more content is being displayed on mobile devices. For content to appear properly on all devices, it must be well designed.

In my recent series of accessibility tips, I identified some things you can do now to design with accessibility in mind as you are creating content and setting up your courses. Designing with accessibility in mind will save you some time in the event you do have a student with a disability. Remember accessible content is not only for the impaired.

Just in case you missed my accessibility series of blog posts, I provided links to them here:

1

by Janice Florent

The sixth tip in my series of accessibility related blog posts will focus on tables. A table is a means of arranging information into rows and columns. Tables are very useful for displaying data in an organized manner. Your course schedule and office hours are examples where formatting this information in a table could make the it more accessible.

Tables should be avoided when you want to simply format other content (i.e., just to line things up neatly.) Using tables just for layout purposes is not the best practice for accessibility and may make it nearly impossible for people who use assistive technologies to access the information. If you do choose to use a table to layout text on the page, make sure you lay it out so it will make sense when read from left to right. Text-to-speech software by default will read the information in a table left to right, cell by cell, and row by row.

Follow these tips when creating tables to make them accessible:

  • Do not use tabs or spaces to create tables. It may look like a table; however it will not be recognized as a table and can be confusing when read by assistive technologies.
  • Add Row and Column Headers to tables to distinguish the heading text from the data area of the table. Screen readers read simple tables efficiently when the column or row headers are clearly defined.
  • Repeat Row Headers if the table spans more than one page. Tables that are contained on multiple pages should have the header row repeated on each page.
  • When you use tables for the presentation of data, summarize the table to aid reader comprehension. This helps all students to know the high points of a table.
  • Break up complex tables (nested tables and merged or split cells inside of tables) into a series of simple tables. Simple tables are more usable for everyone.
  • The information in each cell should make sense if read without the column heading. For example, instead of entering 1, 2, 3, in a "Chapter" column you should enter Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, in the cells to make it clearer when read by a screen reader.

Here’s an example of two accessible tables:

example of accessible tables

This video shows how a screen reader reads information in tables. There is an example of a good and a bad table layout. The video demonstrates how reading order AND the information in the columns are important considerations when creating accessible tables.

In the bad example in the video, the use of the dash and abbreviations for the months can be confusing when read by a screen reader. The abbreviated months would have been less confusing if the year had been included. The use of 1,2,3 in the "Week" column in the bad example can be confusing as well. A better option is to use Week 1, Week 2, Week 3 in the respective column.

When applying structure to documents and web content, you should use the appropriate built-in formatting structure tools to do so. Doing so will make content accessible to everyone, including users of assistive technology.

Creating tables in MS Word:

  1. On the Insert tab choose Insert Table and select the appropriate number of rows and columns for your table.
  2. Select the header row in the table and press the right mouse button. A Table Properties window will open.
  3. Select the Row tab and check the box next to Repeat as header row at the top of each page. Press Enter key or Ok button. This header row will be repeated at top of each page.

Creating tables in PowerPoint:

  1. Use the Insert Table function in the Slide layout select the appropriate number of rows and columns for your table.

Working with tables in the Content Editor:

  1. In the Content Editor, click the insert/edit table function (example of accessible tables) and select the appropriate number of rows and columns for your table to begin adding a table in the text area.

You will remove significant barriers for users of assistive technology if you take these suggestions into consideration when creating course content. An added bonus is that if you include properly structured tables when creating your course content you will be ahead of the game in the event you do have a student who requires the use of assistive technology. Remember a properly structured table is good design and can benefit everyone.

Additional information about tables can be found at:
WebAIM: Creating Accessible Tables
Create accessible tables in MS Word 2010 (PDF) (Video [05:31])
Working with tables in the Content Editor

1

by Janice Florent

This blog post will continue my series of accessibility related tips that are intended to provide you with things you can do now to make your course accessible even before you have a student with a disability.

My fifth tip in this series focuses on lists. A list is a set of items that share a purpose and/or have common characteristics. Lists are great from an accessibility standpoint because they provide structured order to content in a linear fashion.

bulleted list

Properly structured lists help to identify order and hierarchy in documents and web content. Lists that are properly formatted allow all users, especially those using assistive technology, to identify and navigate through a related group of items. List items that are not properly formed or grouped may not be translated properly by assistive technology.

Unordered (bulleted) lists should be used when there is no order of sequence or importance. Ordered (numbered) lists suggest a progression or sequence.

Compound lists contain multiple levels of classification. For example, a compound home improvement list would have items organized by category (e.g. electrical, hardware, flooring, plumbing.) With compound lists, relationships are shown visually using indents and different item markers (i.e., bullets, numbers, letters, etc.).

Compound lists may be difficult for visual users to decipher if the visual cues are insufficient. Also, compound lists may be disorienting for nonvisual users. Use a simple list structure whenever possible.

As with headings, lists should be used correctly and for the right purposes. Lists should never be used for merely indenting or other layout purposes.

When lists are formatted using asterisks, hyphens or images to create the look of bullets in a document, users of assistive technology are not able to detect the hierarchical structure and relationship of the list items. You should never rely on indentation to provide a visual list, use the proper structure instead.

Lists should be created using the built-in tools for ordered (numbered) and unordered (bulleted) lists. Without using these tools, a list is not really a list, which makes the content more difficult for assistive technology users to fully understand.

Creating lists in MS Word and PowerPoint:

  1. Select the text that you want to add bullets or numbering to.
  2. On the Home tab, under Paragraph, select the appropriate bullet from the list.
create list in MS Word

Creating lists in the Content Editor:

  1. In the Content Editor, select the text that you want to add bullets or numbering to.
  2. Select the appropriate bullet from the list.
create list in Content Editor

You will remove significant barriers for users of assistive technology if you take these suggestions into consideration when creating course content. An added bonus is that if you include properly structured lists when creating your course content you will be ahead of the game in the event you do have a student who requires the use of assistive technology.

Additional information about lists can be found at:
Creating bulleted and numbered lists in MS Word and PowerPoint
Working with lists in the Content Editor

Photo Credit: bulleted list by ijustwanttobeperceivedthewayiam / CC BY SA 2.0

3

by Janice Florent

blind male student listening to screen reader describe information on his computer screen

The fourth tip in my series of accessibility related blog posts will focus on alternative text (alt text). Computers can read text on a screen but images, graphs, and charts are meaningless to visually impaired users. Alt text is an alternate method for supplying information about images to users who are visually impaired.

Alt text is important for screen reader users because a screen reader cannot describe an image. Since screen reader software cannot interpret images, it relies on alt text to communicate image information to the user. When an image does not have alt text the only information the screen reader can relay is that there is an image on the page and provide the file name for the image.

Alt text should describe an image so it makes sense in context. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a short alt text description may be a poor substitute. While a concise alt text description is important, the alt text should be less than 125 characters. You want to think about what is the most important information you are trying to get across with the image and stay within the 124 or less characters. If the image requires a lengthy description, you should describe the image in the content of the page.

There are several ways to handle complex images (e.g. charts, data, statistics, etc.) where a short description is not possible. The best solution is to include a thorough description of the complex image in the content of the page, immediately before or after the image. If you don't want to add more content to your page, another preferred alternative would be to create another web page with just a description of the complex image and link to it near the image. Additionally, text descriptions of graphs and charts can help all students understand difficult concepts.

How alt text is written will vary depending on the type of image. Most screen reader software announces the presence of an image by appending a word such as "graphic" to the alt text, so using words such as "image" "graphic" and "photo" are unnecessary in the alt text, unless it helps to convey further meaning important for a user to know.

Consider this example which uses “Guide Dog and Man” as the alt text:

example of incorrect use of alt text

The alt text “Guide Dog and Man” is not effective if the intent is to show the dynamic action of guiding in the picture. In this situation a better alt text description is “A guide dog leads the way with her handler holding the guide harness in his left hand” as shown in the following example:

example of correct use of alt text

There is no need to include "image of," "picture of," or "photo of" in the alt text in this example because the screen reader will announce the presence of the image.

Additionally, images that contain text (as in a logo) should generally be coded to just include that text as the alt text.

Many images are used only for visual interest, they aren't meant to convey any meaning or important information. In this case, it is best to use what is called NULL alt text or empty alt text. This is done by entering two quotes ("") with no spaces in between in the alt text box.

So, how can you add alt text to images? Listed below are instructions on adding alt text in MS Word and PowerPoint documents as well as in Blackboard.

Add Alt Text to image in MS Word and PowerPoint 2010:

  1. PC users: right-click on an image
    Mac users: press control key and click on the image
  2. Select Format Picture
  3. Select the option for Alt Text
  4. Type your alt text in the description field
  5. PC users: Click Close
    Mac users: click OK
example of alt text in MS Word and PowerPoint

Add Alt Text to image in Blackboard:

You will find the Alt Text box in various places in Blackboard depending on what and where you are adding the image. Here are some examples:

1. Create Image in Bulid Content:

example of alt text in Content Editor

2. Insert image in the Content Editor:

example of alt text in Content Editor

You will remove significant barriers for the visually impaired if you take these suggestions for adding alt text into consideration when creating course content. An added bonus is that if you take the extra step to include alt text when creating your course content you will be ahead of the game in the event you do have a visually impaired student.

Additional information about alt text can be found at:

by Janice Florent

The third tip in my series of accessibility related blog posts will focus on descriptive links.

Links are like sign posts. They should tell you what you will find when you follow them. When using a computer, people are generally skimming pages for links. They tend to skim pages to quickly find what they are looking for.

Text links on a page are easily identifiable to persons who are not visually impaired because they are normally colored and underlined, and therefore stand out from the other information on the page.

Persons with a visual impairment using screen reader software are presented with a “links list” with all the available links found on the page. Screen reader users and persons using text-to-speech browsers often navigate websites going from link to link using the tab key, so providing descriptive links is extremely important.

Link text stands out in the same way that bold text does. If all your links have non-descriptive link text like "click here" or "more information" users are forced to read the text around the link to understand the context of the link and where it will take them. Therefore "click here" and “more information” are more of a hindrance than a help.

image of non-descriptive link text

For effective skimming, both visual and non-visual users benefit from link text that can stand on its own without the surrounding context of the page. Good link text provides a clear description of the page that will load when following a link. With good descriptive link text, users can skim links and make quick informed decisions about the path to take to accomplish their task. With non-descriptive link text, users cannot ascertain where the link will take them from the link text alone. Therefore, you should avoid non-descriptive link text such as:

  • Click here
  • Here
  • More information
  • Read more
  • Continue

These types of non-descriptive link text offer no explanation and require users to expand their focus to the surrounding context or follow the link to discover its destination.

Consider this example of a list of all the links on a page that a visually impaired user has pulled up for quick access.

image of links list

As you can see, the list of "click here" links is meaningless. Descriptive links as shown in the image below are far more useful.

image of links list

When choosing descriptive links the link text needs to be long enough to convey the purpose of the link and no longer. Make link text clear and self-explanatory to support quick and effective navigation.

image of descriptive link example

When scanning links, the first words in the link text are the ones most likely to grab the user’s attention. Link text that begins with keywords is easier to scan efficiently and works better with software features like "link lists" that visually impaired individuals use to get an alphabetized list of links on a page.

Links beginning with non-descriptive words are not very helpful. Consider these two examples "All about ocean acidification" and "Learn more about global warming." Scanning these links will be slower and the alphabetized links list is not going to be very useful. A better approach is to use only the keywords for link text. For example those two links could be improved if they were formatted as "All about ocean acidification" and "Learn more about global warming."

image of descriptive link example

Some users make links out of entire sentences or entire paragraphs. These long links are probably unnecessary and are not user-friendly for screen reader users. Remember that screen reader users cannot visually scan through lengthy links. They have to listen to the entire text. Some screen reader users get frustrated with long link text and move on to the next link if they cannot understand the purpose of the link after the first few words.

URLs are not always human-readable or screen reader friendly and therefore using URLs as link text should usually be avoided. Exceptions are when the document is intended to be printed or if the URL is relevant content.

In most cases, it is better to use human-readable text instead of the URL. The human-readable link Pocket Guide to Colour Accessibility is more user-friendly than the link to purchase the ebook by the same title on Amazon.com, which consists of this 131-character link full of letters, numbers, slashes, and text that is not very human-readable (http://www.amazon.com/Pocket-Guide-Colour-Accessibility-ebook/dp/B00EPJBN30/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1439306713&sr=1-1.)

Additionally, links don't always lead to web pages. It is equally important to make this clear in your link text. Users appreciate knowing in advance, for example, that if they click on a link on their mobile device they will download a 20Mb PDF. In this case, the link text should indicate that it is a link to a file, including type and size of the file. Here's an example: Getting Started with Assignments (PDF, 20MB).

Writing good link text isn't difficult. If you take these tips for creating descriptive links into consideration when creating course content, you will remove significant barriers for the visually impaired. An added bonus is that there will be students without disabilities, as well as those who have chosen not to disclose their disability to you who will find your use of these tips helpful as well.

If you are interested in getting more information about descriptive links refer to “Link Text” at webaim.org.

1

by Janice Florent

The second tip in my series of accessibility related blog posts will focus on text formatting. Here are a few suggestions for making text legible for persons with a visual impairment and that work for nearly everyone.

Contrast – Use the highest possible contrast for text image showing contrasting text that is effective and text that is not effective

Point Size – The relationship between readability and point size differs somewhat among typefaces. image showing font point size that is effective and point size that is not effective

Leading – Spacing between lines of text, should be at least 25 to 30 percent of the point size. image showing leading that is effective and leading that is not effective

Font Family – Avoid complicated, decorative or cursive fonts. When they must be used, reserve them for emphasis only. image showing leading that is effective and leading that is not effective

Sans-serif or standard serif fonts with familiar, easily recognizable characters are best. image showing difference between serif and san-serif fonts

Font Style – Roman typeface, using upper and lower cases, is more readable than italics, oblique or condensed. image showing font style that is effective and font style that is not effective

Some additional points to consider:

  • Color should not be the only method used to convey information
  • Avoid red or green text or text decoration, such as Word Art, Shadows, 3D, etc.
  • Use bold or italic to display emphasis
  • Do not underline text (screen readers interpret underlines as links)
  • Avoid writing whole sentences in capital letters
  • Avoid moving or blinking text
  • Keep the number of fonts used to a minimum
  • The reading order should be the same as the visual order

You will remove significant barriers for the visually impaired if you take these suggestions into consideration when creating course content. An added bonus is that there will be students without disabilities, as well as those who have chosen not to disclose their disability to you, who will find your use of these tips helpful as well.

If you are interested in getting more information about text formatting refer to "Making Text Legible" at Light House International.