2.1 Ensuring clarity of navigation and appearance
Do not use colour alone to convey meaning. For example, if a completed task has a green dot beside it, and uncompleted tasks have red dots, that is going to be problematic for a person with red-green colour vision deficiency (colour blindness). Changing this to a green tick and a red cross may resolve this issue.
Headings and structure
Structure headings and subheadings using style features built into the tools you use. These exist in learning management systems, Microsoft tools such as Word and PowerPoint, and other common tools for creating content. Using heading styles when creating text documents enables screen-reader users and dyslexic individuals to navigate materials more easily.
Using the built-in slide designs in PowerPoint ensures that all text content is accessible to screen readers. Text displayed in the ‘Outline View’ of the presentation is normally accessible to screen readers, but text added via additional text boxes is generally not accessible. This means it is good practice to copy all text from each slide into the 'Notes' field (which can be accessed by screen readers) and to add descriptions of any visual elements of the slide to the Notes field as well. PowerPoint slides read by a screen reader are read in the order the content was added to a slide, which sometimes is not the proper reading order. The reading order can be changed in PowerPoint [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] to fix this issue.
If saving your slide in PowerPoint or a similar program, ensure you save as a true slide format (PPTX, PPT, ODP) rather than a slideshow format (PPS, PPSX). This allows users to make whatever changes they need to the display format of the slideshow (e.g. text and background colour). These options are not available if the slideshow format is used.
Where possible, ensure text is left-aligned (meaning the right edge is uneven) rather than justified (where both left and right edges are uniform). If text is left-aligned, the letter and word spacing are optimal for readability. However, if text is justified, uneven spacing between letters and words can significantly reduce readability, especially for some people with dyslexia, who can find they ‘slip’ up and down in the ‘rivers of white space’ that appear in justified text. If you wish to know more about accessible text, you can check Accessibility of eLearning.
Avoid using PDFs in which the text is saved as an image – these cannot be read by screen-reading software. You can test whether the text is saved as an image by trying to select a few words with your cursor – if words are not individually selectable, then the text is probably an image. Screen-reading software therefore cannot detect any words and will not be able to read the contents. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software can be used to attempt to extract text from an image, but the process is rarely completely accurate and so you need to check the output of the OCR software and correct any errors. PDFs generated from accessibly structured Word or PowerPoint documents (see ‘Headings and structure’ and ‘Presentation slides’ above) are usually fairly accessible (Devine et al., 2011). The University of Washington has produced some useful guidance on creating accessible PDFs from Word documents.
Layout and organisation
Use clear, consistent layouts and organisation schemes to present content. Post regular announcements explaining how to get started. Orient readers by directing them to key areas such as contents/overview sections, schedules/timetables and assessment guidance. Organise materials in a linear fashion so learners know that if they navigate from the first page of the content to the last they will have covered all the required materials.
In text documents (Word, PDF, etc.), content needs to be laid out in a very linear fashion to be accessible, so do not use text boxes (in MS Word, Insert > Text Box) or tables to lay out a document. Tables should only be used for tabular data.
If tables do not have an approximately equal number of rows and columns, they should be oriented ‘tall and thin’ and not ‘short and wide’. This is because screen readers read a table linearly, row by row.
If a table has more than two columns and more than ten rows, it is good practice to repeat the column headers every 10–12 rows, to remind screen-reader users what they are listening to.
To see a few more examples and guidelines about accessible tables, see ‘Creating Accessible Tables’ produced by WebAIM.
Use descriptive wording for link text to make each link distinct and the destination clear. Avoid the meaningless ‘Click here’, or having several links called ‘Read more’. This is because many screen-reader tools offer users an option to quickly scan all the links on a page so that they can rapidly navigate through to the page they seek. This functionality becomes useless if all the links have generic names or if there are several with the same name.