Welcome to our Intro to Accessibility tutorial!
Here, we will discuss the what, why, and how of accessibility: what it is, why it’s important, and how we do it.
What is accessibility?
Accessibility is providing equitable access and experiences to everyone.
Digital Accessibility is providing digital content that everyone can access, understand, navigate, and interact with in some way or another. In our context, it is providing students with what they need to succeed in a course.
Equality vs. Equity
- Equality: Providing the same thing to everyone in your course. Barriers will likely exist, thus making it difficult or impossible for some students to succeed in your course.
- Equity: Providing what is needed to reduce barriers so all students can access, navigate, and interact with the content to help them succeed in your course.
On Figure 1‘s left, we see an example of equality. Three children (tall, middle-height, and short) are provided the same-sized pedestal, regardless of their height. The short child still cannot see over the barrier, while the middle and tall children can. Therefore, only the middle-height and tall children can see and experience the soccer game beyond the barrier.
On Figure 1‘s right, we see an example of equity. The same three children are provided what they need to see over the barrier to watch the soccer game. The tallest child can already see over the barrier, so they are not provided a pedestal. The middle child is given a short pedestal to raise them to the same height as the tall child. The short child is provided a taller pedestal to raise them to the same height as the other two children. Because each is provided what they need, all three children can see and experience the soccer game beyond the barrier.
Again, accessibility helps us provide equitable access and experiences, thus helping students succeed in your course. Different students need different things to succeed, so we provide multiple means and let them choose what they need to pass your course.
Why is accessibility important?
Firstly, accessibility helps increase access to content and an education in an equivalent manner (see Figure 1).
Secondly, accessibility reduces barriers to whatever you’re trying to do or access. Barriers can exist everywhere, and they’re different for different people.
Where barriers can exist:
- Entering a building with a heavy door
- Trying to buy groceries or order a pizza online
- Attempting to watch a video or listen to a podcast
- Trying to read a text on your phone or listen to a voicemail
- Trying to do anything while you have a migraine
More contextually for us, barriers exist for students when they’re trying to graduate college or trying to pass a course.
Participating in a course involves many things that have the potential to create barriers, like:
- Watching lecture videos
- Participating in class in Zoom or on a discussion board
- Reading an assigned PDF document to then do a multiple-choice quiz or write a paper
- Taking a timed exam in Canvas
Course materials can raise or lower the barriers for students to graduate and participate in society, not just pass a course. Thus, our goal is to lower potential barriers as much as possible by using accessible elements throughout our digital content.
Thirdly, accessibility is about inclusion. Inclusion helps us go beyond accommodating for one or two people; it’s how we can benefit everyone. Making accessible content benefits way more than those with permanent disabilities. (See the curb cut effect.)
Ultimately, increasing access, reducing barriers, and inclusion help ensure we’re providing an equitable opportunity for all students (a truly diverse group of people) to succeed in your course.
Closed Captioning – An Example
Closed captioning, for example, was created for those who are hard of hearing. However, we have found there are many benefits to captioning, such as being able to read them in loud areas or silent ones, like the library.
Captions also help improve reading comprehension, accuracy, engagement, and content retention. They also help 2nd-language learners and can aid in teaching children how to read.
For more information, see: A Rising Tide: How Closed Captioning Can Benefit All Students
How do we make accessible content?
There are many things we can do to help make our content more accessible to a broad audience. We’ll focus on six elements in particular.
6 Elements of Accessibility
- Contrast & Color – Text and its background color must have enough contrast (4.5:1) to ensure the text is clear for all users. Never use color alone to indicate information or instructions.
Contrast & Color Accessibility
- Headings – Headings organize content into a hierarchical structure. This structure helps everyone navigate content either visually or with a screen reader.
How to Create Accessible Headings in Microsoft Word
- Alt Text for Images – All non-textual content (e.g., images, graphs, illustrations) presented to a student must have a text alternative (“alt” text). This means equivalent info is provided to a student when the original info is not text-based.
How to Create Accessible Images
- Tables – Tables should be used for data (not formatting). Every table should include a table caption and header columns and/or rows. Tables should not include merged, split, or empty cells.
How to Create Accessible Tables in Microsoft Word
- Closed Captions – All video content must be captioned, and audio content must be transcribed.
Editing Captions with Mediasite & YouTube