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4 Alternative formats

As you have seen this week, some learners might have difficulties with any type of media used in learning materials. If content is provided in a variety of alternative formats, users will not have to do their own work to transform it into something suitable before they can engage with the material.

If there are images or diagrams in the original resource, someone with some understanding of the subject can determine which of these need to be described and can provide the descriptions. In the case of complex images (whether you are creating an online document or a paper copy), it may be necessary to produce a tactile diagram for blind people. Tactile diagrams require technical skills and some specialist knowledge. See the video ‘How to make a tactile diagram’ [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (Art Beyond Sight, 2009), which provides an overview of the requirements and production of this alternative format.

Described image
Figure 9 Reading mathematical symbols can be problematic for a screen reader.

In some fields, such as mathematics, music and chemistry, there are substantial difficulties in providing an accessible format that includes the symbolic notation. Most of the guidelines for accessibility skip over this or assume that the amount of notation is small and can be dealt with by supplying descriptions. Communicating these kinds of complex notation to people without vision is a highly specialised area and beyond the scope of this course.

Some online materials are offered in ebook formats such as EPUB and MOBI (for Kindle). These formats are not aimed specifically at people with disabilities, but have included accessibility considerations, so may be beneficial to individuals who choose to use ebook readers.

Human voice recordings of text are often preferred by readers to the kind of computer-generated speech produced by screen-reader software. Computer-generated voices may also have difficulty in reading out complex notations correctly. This includes fields such as mathematics, music and chemistry, as well as those with a high number of technical terms. Recordings may be delivered in a variety of formats, but MP3 is likely to be the most satisfactory to obtain a balance of sound quality with a manageable file size. If you do not have time to make the recordings yourself, or you do not wish to do so, there are tools available that will convert a text document into a computerised spoken-word audio file. The free web resource Robobraille will permit you to upload a text document and have it converted into a computerised voice recording or an ebook.

For audio, a transcript is the standard alternative format, and these can be beneficial to everyone, not only those who are deaf or hard of hearing. It is, however, very difficult to follow a visual medium like video and attend to a transcript at the same time. It is not the same task for a deaf person as it is for a hearing person who can listen and read at the same time. If learners need to make notes while watching a video, this increases the difficulty. So be aware that this alternative may not provide equity of experience for all.

Activity 3 Accessibility in your online material

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes

You have already made notes in previous activities on what you want to achieve in online education, and what the role of OER might be in achieving these objectives. Now consider accessibility – what will you need to do with your existing materials or reused OER in order to deliver optimally accessible education online?

Make a list of six initial steps you could take fairly easily (for example ‘review my PowerPoints for added text boxes and explanation of images’, or ‘check colour contrast in reused OER’).

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This activity is designed to help you to think about the needs of your audience and how your online materials might work for them. Accessibility should not be viewed as an additional burden, but as an element of quality control, ensuring your online material is fit for purpose by not excluding people with particular impairments or needs.