Accessibility regulations – what do they mean for us?
Author: Caroline Carlin, TELT
New Government legislation has come in to effect which requires that all public sector website meet certain accessibility standards. The aim is to ensure that websites (and other platforms such as VLEs and intranets) are accessible to all users, particularly those with disabilities. The legislation doesn’t just cover the platform though, it also includes any content hosted on the platform, for example Word documents, PDFs, PowerPoint presentations and so on.
What does this mean for us?
We need to start working to make our files accessible. The good news is that small changes can make a big difference. And often, those small changes will benefit everyone – including you as content creator.
Take a Word document which has headings. You might work through it selecting your first heading and applying bold formatting, adjusting the font size, possibly changing the colour. Then you select the next heading and redo it all over again, and so on until you’ve got all your headings covered. Then you need a contents list which you painstakingly type out, checking your page numbers are correct. If you use Word’s in-built Heading styles instead, you can quickly apply consistent formatting (of your choice) to each heading. Anyone who’s using a screen reader can then use those headings to quickly navigate through your document, rather than scroll through page after page. And the contents list you need? Three clicks will give you a perfectly aligned table of contents, with all your page numbers, based on those heading styles. And it doesn’t stop there – you can apply multilevel list numbering (1.1, 1.1.1 etc) in just two clicks – and if something changes, Word will automatically update it all for you. If you create a PDF from your Word document, you’ve also got an accessible PDF as the headings will carry over.
Everyone’s needs will be different, so there’s no ‘one size fits all’. There are a few general guidance rules we can follow though to make content more accessible, regardless of format:
- ensuring good colour contrast between text and background
- avoiding certain colour combinations such as green/red, blue/purple and light green/yellow
- using a solid colour background rather than patterns or pictures
- using sans serif fonts (those without the squiggly embellishments) such as Verdana or Calibri
- creating hyperlinks with meaningful text rather than displaying the full link. Write your sentence naturally, and then select the part of the sentence which should be the link. If you are using an Office app, a right click will usually give you a sub menu with the option to add the link.
- avoiding all UPPER case or italics, instead use bold to emphasis a word
- avoiding justified text – this creates unnatural spaces between words which can be more difficult to read
- adding meaningful descriptive alternative text to images and diagrams.
How can the TELT team help?
There are more tips and resources on our TELT intranet pages, covering popular/common apps. Microsoft’s video training centre will also help you get to grips with accessible content in Word, Outlook, Excel and PowerPoint.
Blackboard Ally was recently added to Blackboard. We’ve already written a blog post all about it, but in a nutshell, when you upload a new file to Blackboard it will automatically be checked for accessibility. This will generate an accessibility score, along with a visual indicator (not visible to students). If your file isn’t perfect, Ally will give you detailed feedback about what should be changed to improve the accessibility and instructions on how to fix any issues.
For your students, Ally enables them to choose a format that best suits their needs. This is automatically generated and requires no intervention from you. A student can simply choose the Alternative Formats button and then choose from formats such as electronic braille, audio and ePub. They will also have the option to choose up to 50 translated languages.
TELT run Blackboard Ally sessions which can booked via e3hub.
The Blackboard Ally Help pages also have some great guides to help you improve content accessibility.
Bookable ‘Accessible Office Content’ sessions
We’ve worked with Student Services to develop a short session ‘Creating accessible Office documents’ to help you get to grips with the basics. Over two hours we look at what impact inaccessible content can have on those with a disability. We also look at what we can do in both Word and PowerPoint to make content more inclusive. It’s a practical, hands on session with time to practice, and bookable on e3hub.