Make your classroom materials accessible now, not later.

The tenets of Universal Instructional Design suggest that instructors create all course materials in accessible format. That’s exactly what most of us are doing as we develop new content, but many of us have volumes of materials that we have accumulated over the years that we still want to use in our classes. And a lot of those materials are inaccessible.

I recently worked with faculty members at a daylong workshop devoted to creating accessible content. Faculty brought their existing course materials, such as syllabi, tests, and PowerPoint slides, and we helped them convert the documents to an accessible form. I learned quite a bit about the types of errors that accumulate in documents over the years. Many of the inaccessibility issues we addressed that day resulted from the fact that most instructors use Word, but some don’t really know how to use its built-in features. Instructors find ways to make their documents look a particular way, not realizing that their “fixes” make the document inaccessible. For instance, their documents appeared to have headings but they were never set. They may have manually entered question numbers, and they likely used the tab key to position text at the top of the next page instead of using a page break.

One individual had a 75-question quiz. It looked fine, until I asked him to highlight all of the nonprinting characters by pressing the “¶” icon. The picture below is similar to what appeared:


Sample Quiz Question
Sample Quiz Question

Can you imagine a student trying to understand that first quiz question from a screen reader? If you’re not sure what that might sound like, Accessible vs. Inaccessible demonstrates a screen reader voicing accessible versus inaccessible content. Screen Reader Accessibility in Word is a video demonstrating changes you can make in documents to make them accessible.

That instructor really wanted the quiz to appear as he had it, so I was stumped. I showed him how to reset document tabs, but among other things I did not know how to use automatic numbering to put the numbers in that particular location. To keep the document in the form the instructor preferred, our college’s accessibility expert suggested creating a three-column table. The question number would go in the left-most column, students could type their answers in the middle column, and the question text would be in the right-most column. Instead of a table, the instructor could also have used the columns feature in Word.

You might be thinking to yourself that a student with blindness would never take a quiz that would be passed out to sighted students in class. So, why would that quiz need to be accessible? The answer is that if you have a student with a visual impairment in your class, you must provide the quiz in digital format so the student can use a screen reader to take it. And that means there has to be an accessible version. You can imagine how much time would be involved to create an accessible version of that 75-question quiz. That’s why it’s wise to convert documents before a student with a visual impairment enrolls in your class. Here’s a link to help make Microsoft Word documents accessible. My website has numerous links to accessibility information in the Resources tab. If you have any questions, you’re welcome to Contact me. I’d be glad to try to help.

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