How to make learning materials accessible to all and meet ADA guidelines

Accessibility is its own detailed category, even as it is mentioned as an inclusive teaching practice beneficial for all students. As defined by the U.S. Department of Education: “Accessibility is when a person with a disability can acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions and enjoy the same services, in an equally effective, equally integrated manner with substantially equivalent ease of use as a person without a disability.”

  1. An Introduction to Accessibility video by the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials provides an overview of basic accessibility concepts for educators. There are unique UDL strategies and tools for online teaching, where engaging students may be particularly challenging.
  2. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for developing curricula, materials and resources intentionally built to incorporate flexibility, accommodating individual variability. This UDL At a Glance video explains how one-size does not fit all learners. Conversely, eliminating the barriers for those with various disabilities does enhance learning for ALL students, according to CAST, the Center for Applied Special Technology.
  3. Video captioning tools continue to evolve. YouTube provides auto captioning for both uploaded and live-stream videos. YouTube’s NOTE: “These automatic captions are generated by machine learning algorithms, so the quality of the captions may vary.” It is advised to proofread/edit auto-captions before posting the video for accurate and full accessibility. YouTube auto-captioning does provide settings to filter potentially inappropriate words from auto-captioning.
  4. Increasing numbers of apps such as HeadlinerVideo and HeadlinerClip Caption autocaption videos across social media platforms. Designed to caption podcasts, the app can also provide transcripts, audio visualization, and can add in captioned animations, GIFs and images. Headliner Clip Caption auto-generates captions video in twitter threads upon request (similar to Twitter thread reader).
  5. Learn how to add alt text to embedded images in Canvas through online Canvas Community Help or video tutorial.
  6. Accessible Social is a free resource hub from Alexa Heinrich for content creators, teachers and communication professionals. Categories include:
    • Accessibility 101: Features accessibility updates, sorted by social media platform
    • Audio and visual: Including “how-to”s for creating transcripts
    • Copy and formatting: Details on ableism and language, ASCII art, hashtags, alternative characters and more
    • Images and visuals: A deep dive into alt Text and flattened copy
    • Additional learning: FAQ
    • Extra resources
  7. How to write alt text for memes and funny pictures is explained by Veronica Lewis, an expert on vision loss and assistive technology.
  8. Consider tips to incorporate accessibility into teaching materials, provided by Patrick Garvin, certified with the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP):
    • “When creating PDFs, avoid using "Print to PDF." A screen reader user may still be able to access the text of PDFs created this way, but heading structure, alternative text and any other tag structure will be lost. Using 'Save As' or 'Export' can preserve these tags.
    • Hyperlink text should make sense when read out of context. Screen reader users often navigate from link to link by using the tab key, and can listen to links in a list. When navigating this way, only the link is read. So "click here" or "read more" won't make sense.
    • Don't use color alone to convey information (e.g. ‘Click on the green button’). Marking required fields by only using colored labels won't help people who use screen readers or who can't distinguish colors. If using color, also add text like asterisks and/or "required" so all users know what fields are required.
    • Use popular, widely recognized emojis. Emoji meaning can vary across cultures. Interpretation can depend on the reader’s background, so an emoji might mean something to them that you did not intend. This would change your message's meaning and cause confusion. Use emojis that translate well across devices. How emojis are presented depends on device and operating system. To make sure the emoji you choose will display as you intended across different devices and systems, check on unicode.org.
    • When possible, reduce text to a bare minimum. Pages with a large amount of text can intimidate users with reading difficulties. Short paragraphs or lists can be more approachable than large amounts of text.
    • A lot of big breaking news stories involve visuals, such as timelines of events, photos, memes and screenshots. All of those images need alt text. All of them. Don't leave out people who use screen readers.
    • When writing alt text, ask yourself if you would picture an approximation of the image, if it was described to you over the phone using the alt text you've written. Doing that exercise can be a good way to determine if you're on the right track.
    • Don’t necessarily type “image of” in your alt text for users to know it’s an image. Screen readers will announce that it is an image. It can help readers to specify if it’s a hand-drawn image, Polaroid, infographic, screenshot, chart, map or diagram.
    • If you put links or hashtags in your alt text, no one will be able to click or select the link or hashtag. It's just going to be read out loud. If you have a link or hashtag to share, that should go in the written part of your post or your tweet, but not the alt text.
    • For screen readers to recognize headings, heading text can't just be body text or normal text that's been made to look bigger and bolder. It must be formatted as a heading. In Microsoft Word and Google Docs, this can be done in the styles box.
    • Audio descriptions are necessary for making videos accessible. They narrate the crucial visual elements that would be necessary for understanding the plot without the ability to see the screen. They describe non-verbal cues like gestures, facial expressions, or eye contact.
    • For audio-only content like podcasts, provide a transcript. For videos with audio, provide both transcripts and captions. In the transcripts and captions, include the spoken information and sounds that are important for understanding the content.
    • Intentional misspellings of words for cute memes can confuse people, including those with cognitive and reading disabilities and those learning the language. Depending on how much the word is misspelled, screen readers might not pronounce it like the actual intended word.
    • If your data is best presented in a table, try to keep the table simple. If it's a complex table, consider whether it can be broken into multiple, smaller tables. A key to making data tables accessible to screen reader users is to clearly identify column and row headers.”
  9. Tips to improve digital accessibility including for bullets, numbered lists and creating whitespace to improve focus:
    • Bullets and numbered lists help break up content for readers, making it more user-friendly for a variety of people with disabilities, including: attention-deficit disorders, dyslexia and cognitive issues, as they provide smaller pieces of digestible content with more whitespace.
    • For people with cognitive and attention-deficit disorders, whitespace is helpful to retain reading focus. It is best practice to set the space between each sentence to 1.5 relative to the line-height of your type. Within paragraphs, the spacing should be at least 1.5 times larger than the line spacing to clearly define new sections of content.
    • Limit the use of font variations (ex. italic, bold, ALL CAPS) and do not use underlines for items that are not links.
  10. Test your content using multiple screen readers: