One of the best ways to ensure accessibility to your course materials is to think about Universal Design -- a concept in which things are made as accessible as possible to as many people as possible without requiring additional accommodation.

 

The Principles of Universal Design

The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University has set forth the following Principles of Universal design:

  1. Equitable use
  2. Flexibility in use
  3. Simple and intuitive
  4. Perceptible information
  5. Tolerance for error
  6. Low physical effort
  7. Size and space for approach and use

These principles represent ways in which we might make the environment more "user" friendly from both a physical and psychological points of view. While some of these principles are more intended for the "live" academic setting, some do apply to the online setting, as well. This is especially true for numbers 1-4 and 6.

 

LCCC Recommendations for Web Page Accessibility

Shel McMahon and Joe Querin who do a majority of the web design for the LCCC webpage provided a list of "best practices" for web design, which have been incorporated into some of the ideas below. Many of these recommendations are easy to incorporate into your online course materials.

 

Navigation

In Module 8 of this training series, we discussed some of the important principles of navigation for the online course materials. Good navigation is important for all students who will be maneuvering through the online course materials. Being sure that your course navigation is simple and intuitive will be even more critical for your students with disabilities. This means that you need to think about:

 

Page Design

When creating your course materials, think about visual design of your pages.

In addition, you should minimize "mixing and matching" of fonts and font sizes:

Students with visual impairments often will use an electronic screen reader to assist them with reading the textual materials in your course. When the screen reader encounters an image, it will have difficulty "interpreting" that component of the document unless there is additional information provided. You should use alt tags on all of the images found in your course materials. You can find the alt tag line under the Image Properties for your pictures. You can use your "descriptive file name" -- you might title the picture file as "reports page.jpg" which will show in the alt tag line -- and then provide a specific description of the picture in the long description line -- maybe say "Image showing how to access student grades in ANGEL".

Those students who are using the electronic screen reading software will get this "additional" information provided (both the alt tag and the long description) when the software encounters the image. Others (i.e. those who are not using the screen reader) will only see the alt tag line as they scroll over the image. They will not be able to view the long description.

 

Tables and Charts

Charts and tables can be a good way of organizing information. When students use an electronic screen reader, numerous issues with accessibility can become apparent. Screen readers process material on the page from left to right. Therefore tables should be arranged for horizontal reading not vertical reading:

Incorrect Table Format

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

8 am to 4 pm

closed

8 am to 9 pm

8 am to 9 pm

8 am to noon

Lunch from noon to 1 pm

 

Lunch from noon to 1 pm

Lunch from noon to 1 pm

 

 

Correct Table Format

Monday

8 am to 4 pm

Lunch from noon to 1 pm

Tuesday

closed

 

Wednesday

8 am to 9 pm

Lunch from noon to 1 pm

Thursday

8 am to 9 pm

Lunch from noon to 1 pm

Friday

8 am to noon

 

You should use horizontally arranged tables for presenting your material whenever possible. Unfortunately, not all information will work well in the horizontal table format. For example, if you have 12 characteristics that you want to look at for 3 different processes, turning that table "sideways" is going to make it very difficult to view on the computer screen. One solution for this would be to create the table for best viewing on the computer screen and then create a "second version" as a PDF document with the table turned the other direction for those who will be using an electronic screen reader.

You can also add descriptions for your charts and tables by adding captions or descriptive sentences before or after the table in your document to help provide context for your students.

 

Moving Elements

It is best to avoid use of moving elements in your online materials unless they are needed to convey information. The movement can be very distracting for some learners (e.g. those with attention deficit disorders or those with visual impairments). You want your students to focus on the actual content of the course rather than that decorative moving element.

 

So in conclusion, keep your design simple. Make the content easily readable and limit the distractions. Keeping these important key features in mind as you create your course content will really help make your course truly accessible to your students, no matter what their capabilities.


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