Creating Accessible Documents

Accessibility week – Day 2

In learning and teaching, it’s crucial to ensure that everyone can access and engage with the materials we share. In this post, we’ll guide you through the fundamentals of document design that apply to various platforms such as Microsoft Word, Adobe PDF, and even Canvas pages.

Document Design Fundamentals

There are some key points of accessible document design that are true across all platforms, be it Microsoft Word, Adobe PDF, and even Canvas pages.

1.      Text Headings

Use a hierarchy of headings such as:

  • Title
  • Heading 1
  • Heading 2
  • Heading 3 etc.

This enables ease of navigation for all users, as well as allowing screen readers to identify and describe the structure of a document.

2.      Font and text

Use a minimum of font size 12 and 1.5 line spacing for Microsoft Word documents. When using lists use bullet points for items that aren’t sequential or numbered lists for sequential items.

Use Sans Serif fonts (e.g. Arial, Calibri) as they are more accessible. These fonts are well defined and regular in shape and size and display better on computers and mobile devices. Most popular font styles, like Tahoma or Arial, are accessible; opt for the most popular fonts rather than decorative ones.

It’s also best to keep your use of bold and italic text to a minimum.

3.      Colour and Contrast

Do not use colour alone to convey meaning. If someone has a visual impairment, including colour blindness, the emphasis you’re trying to create by using colour will be lost. Additionally, when you use colours, please be mindful of the colour contrast. This means the colour contrast between background and foreground content should be great enough to ensure it is legible.

If you want to check if you contrast, you can visit WebAIM’s Color Contrast Checker website. (Links to an external site)

4.       Alternative Text (Alt text)

Always use alternative text (or ‘alt text’) to provide a meaningful description of an image. Alt text allows screen readers and text-to-speech tools to read aloud the content of an image to the user.  

Alt text should be clear and concise (1-2 sentences) and explain the relevant content of an image. Alt text is limited to 125 characters, so use that wisely and try to describe the key elements of the image.

If your graphic has text in it, this should be added to the alt text also.

If an image is there only for appearance, you can mark it as decorative. For example, In Microsoft Word, select the “Mark as decorative box” when the image is selected.

5.       Use Tables for Data – Never for Layout

Tables can be great for organising information. However, if used incorrectly, they can be difficult for people to navigate using assistive technologies.

If you add a table to your document, be sure to use it for data and not for layout or document design.

It’s important to ensure that your table has a header row that repeats itself when the table extends beyond a single page. When deciding on a structure for tables, remember they are read from left to right and top to bottom.

6.       Hyperlinks

Use hyperlinks to describe where the link will take the user. It is recommended that you create descriptive text about where the URL will take the user so it can be easily read by a screen reader. For example, the “Semester 1 – Assignment Brief” details can be found in the Assignments section of Canvas, where “Semester 1 – Assignment Brief” is the hyperlink. Avoid using ‘click here’, ‘read more’ or ‘for more info’. Also avoid underlining text for emphasis, but rather use the bold function.

For printed documents, it’s advised to use the full URL or you can use bit.ly or other link shortener if the hyperlink is very long

7.       Use an Accessibility Checker

Use built-in accessibility checkers to identify any accessibility issues in a document. Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat and Canvas all have built-in accessibility checkers. These tools can help identify any accessibility issues in your documents, ensuring they meet the necessary standards. They will guide you, step by step, on how to make your document more accessible.

Software Specific Guides

Microsoft Word

For specific guidance on how to make documents accessible in Microsoft Word visit the Good Practice Guide for Microsoft Word.

Portable Document Format (PDF)

For specific guidance on how to make documents accessible in Adobe PDF visit the Good Practice Guide for PDFs.

Conclusion

By implementing the strategies and recommendations outlined in this article, we can collectively make a significant impact on the accessibility of our documents, creating an inclusive environment for all students and educators.

Let’s get started!

Visit our blog tomorrow for more tips on digital accessibility.

Further Resources

For more information on accessibility please visit our webpages for Digital Accessibility and Universal Design.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Global Awareness Accessibility Awareness Day logo
Thursday 18 May 2023

What is Global Accessibility Awareness Day?

Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) is an international event intended to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital accessibility and inclusion. This year the event will be held on 18 May 2023, but in the run up to the big day, we’ll be posting tips and techniques to help you improve the accessibility of your own teaching materials.

Every user deserves a first-rate digital experience on the web. Someone with a disability must be able to experience web-based services, content and other digital products with the same successful outcome as those without disabilities. This awareness and commitment to inclusion is the goal of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, a global event that shines a light on digital access and inclusion for people with disabilities (from https://accessibility.day).

At Newcastle University, accessibility is about ensuring that things can be used by as many people as possible, working towards equality of opportunity. Our commitment to inclusion is underpinned by both the Equality Act and the more recent Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations.

This week

In a nutshell, it’s our collective responsibility to design out any barriers to engagement that may occur in our digital content, teaching materials, learning activities and assessments. Fortunately, it’s quite easy to do, and we have a range of resources, guides and tools to help.

To mark Global Accessibility Awareness Day, we will be posting a series of daily articles here on the LTDS blog covering a wide range of topics related to digital accessibility and inclusion:

Day 1 – An introduction to accessibility and inclusion
Day 2 – Creating accessible files (including PDFs, Word and PowerPoint)
Day 3 – Creating accessible pages in Canvas
Day 4 – Creating accessible videos in Panopto
Day 5 – Using Ally in Canvas

Can’t wait? Get a sneak peak of what’s coming this week on our new Digital Accessibility and Universal Design pages.

Announcing the University’s new Digital Exam System: Inspera Assessment

In September 2021 we will be launching a new system for centrally supported digital exams, called Inspera Assessment. Implementing the system will enable the Digital Exam Service to: 

  • Deliver secure locked down present-in-person exams on University computers and students’ own laptops, monitored by University invigilators 
  • Ensure that digital exams are accessible to all our students, and enhance the student experience of exams 
  • Increase the University’s digital exam capacity in the long term 
  • Enable more authentic exams by introducing new functionality

New exam types possible with Inspera will include:  

  • Students taking written exams online, by typing their answers on computer, and incorporating drawings or written calculations done on paper into their online answers where needed. 
  • Allowing access to specific online resources or applications during a secure exam, using allow listing functionality. 

Introducing Inspera is a big step forward for education, assessment and feedback at Newcastle University.  Adopting a specialist digital exam system allows us to do much more than would be possible if we continued to use the Virtual Learning Environment for digital exams.

Choosing a digital exam system 

Inspera has been selected as our digital exam system following a rigorous procurement process, which began with requirements mapping workshops in February 2020, attended by over 60 academic and professional services staff.  The procurement was postponed for a year as a result of the global pandemic, and restarted in semester 2 2020/21 when colleagues had the opportunity to feed in any new or updated requirements via an online survey.   

Once the tender was issued key digital exams stakeholders contributed to a rigorous evaluation process to decide on the system that best fit our requirements.  Students and staff were invited to volunteer for usability testing in each system that met the mandatory technical requirements. The team are very grateful to the 36 colleagues, and 13 undergraduate and postgraduate students, who completed a total of approximately 150 hours of usability testing between them! 

Inspera scored the highest overall for both usability, and for technical and functional requirements. 

Rolling out Inspera 

As standard all 2021/22 modules that have a present-in-person digital exam in MOFS will use Inspera.  If the public health situation requires, it will be possible for these modules to use the system for open book take home exams.

Numbas maths assessment system remains an option digital exams that need specialist mathematics functionality.

The system will be available for additional new digital exams from 2022/23 onwards.  There will be opportunities in the coming months to see demonstrations of the software, and learn more about the new types of assessment that it makes possible.  If you would like to learn more now, please contact digital.exams@newcastle.ac.uk

How to get started  

The Digital Exams Service team will contact all 2021/22 module teams with a digital exam in their MOF at the beginning of September, with details of the process for preparing their exam. 

Training will also launch in September 2021, and all colleagues who will be using Inspera in the new academic year are encouraged to sign up.   

Online resources to help students prepare for a digital exam will be published in September, and students will also be able to try out a demo exam in Inspera to help familiarise themselves with the system. 

If you are interested in introducing a new digital exam using Inspera in future, or if you have any queries about a 2021/22 digital exam, please contact digital.exams@newcastle.ac.uk

Getting the most out of Synchronous Online Sessions

Like the rest of the University, our colleagues from the Academic Practice Team in the Learning and Teaching Development Service (LTDS) have redeveloped their face to face small group teaching sessions for online delivery.   Their learners are postgraduate research students taking  the Introduction to Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (ILTHE) and academic staff new to Newcastle University who are engaging with Newcastle Educational Practice Scheme (NEPS) Units en route to UKPSF fellowship.   

“In order to make a session engaging online, you have to think about what it is that you’re trying to achieve.”

Dr Rosa Spencer, Professional Development Manager

I met up with Dr Rosa Spencer, Emma McCulloch and Chris Whiting to ask about their top tips on how they planned these 1-2 hour sessions, how they used them to build community, and what they did to keep these Zoom teaching sessions engaging and accessible.

Helpful Hints and Tips

  • Keep group sizes relatively small, 20 people max.
Continue reading “Getting the most out of Synchronous Online Sessions”

Making it accessible: Benefits of the Accessibility in Practice Course

The Accessibility in Practice online course is designed to provide you with some of the core skills and techniques for embedding accessibility into your teaching and learning practice, and in making your digital resources accessible to everyone.

Tom Harrison recently completed the online course. He shares the parts of the course he found most useful and how he has changed his practice resulting in real benefits to students.

Hi, I’m Tom Harrison; I work as a Student Recruitment Co-ordinator at Newcastle University and also teach English Literature. My roles involve designing lots of activities and presentations for a wide variety of students, so I was interested in using the Accessibility in Practice course to develop my awareness of how to adjust my materials to accommodate different learner needs.

Tom Harrison

One of the most revealing sections was an exercise to simulate difficulties that dyslexic students could have reading slides in lectures. The team presented a simple story (Aesop’s ‘Tortoise and the Hare’: a classic!) and changed the text a bit to give an idea of how reading speeds can differ.

Even with such a simple, familiar story I found the text difficult to read, and although I managed a couple of lines I got nowhere near finishing the full paragraph in the two minutes allotted by the presenter. The experience was confusing and frustrating, and made worse when the presenter spoke while the text was onscreen: at this point my attention was split between the audio and the visuals, which meant I wasn’t paying attention to either.

The manipulated text, the short reading time, and the over-talkative presenter were of course all part of the team’s cunning plan to show how difficult it can be for dyslexic students to read large blocks of text in a lecture setting. I have to confess that previously I’ve assumed that students can multi-task as I rattle through text-heavy lecture slides, and that highlighting key words and phrases in bold or in different colours was enough to focus students on what they need to know. Those visually-enhanced techniques work fine for some, but of course are no help at all to students who are colour blind, or who are accessing lecture materials through specialist software. I looked back over my old PowerPoints with fresh eyes and realised that, to some students, my beautifully colour-coded, quote-heavy slides would have just been a big blocky mess.

The biggest change the training has made to my practice is that I now appreciate that students need more time to process on-screen text, and that they may be accessing this text in a different way to how I’ve previously assumed. I now make a point of reading out any text that I include on slides to help keep students focused and avoid unnecessary distractions. As an added bonus, I’ve also learnt to cut down the size of my on-screen quotations: no one, not even me, wants to hear me reading out huge chunks of text!

If you are delivering information to students in any capacity I recommend having a look at this resource: the course is full of useful, practical tips that will help you modify what you already do rather than change it to something completely different. Well worth an hour of your time, I’d say, and your students will thank you for it!

All Newcastle University colleagues can complete the Accessibility in Practice online Canvas course.

Accessibility and inclusion update

Four students accessing electronic resources together

This blog post is to provide an update on the work that has been undertaken over this academic year to raise awareness of the need to create digitally accessible content. The aim is to support staff to develop the skills required and helping them to make simple changes to their practice that will result in more accessible resources to enable all our learners to take part in their learning without having any barriers in their place.

Visits to academic units

33 presentations to academic units have either taken place, or are scheduled to take place in the 2019-20 academic year. The reception from staff to the information in the presentation has been extremely positive with colleagues keen to find out how they can engage with the work to improve accessibility for all. The team are very happy to present at all appropriate forums so if we haven’t visited your area, please get in touch with LTDS and we can arrange this.

Accessibility in Practice Workshop

The “Accessibility in Practice” workshops ran in academic units, and centrally and is always well received. In this workshop we focus on quick wins to create accessible documents. We support staff to use accessibility checkers on documents and, they experience how learners adapt and work with digital content. We explore how SensusAccess can empower students and staff to make the inaccessible accessible. This is a hands-on workshop, staff will take away ideas, check-lists and tools that support inclusive practices. Feedback from staff to the session include:

  • “Great for someone new to the topic but also still valuable to someone who is aware of the basics.”
  • “Super practical. Learnt about loads of features I had no idea about.”
  • “I enjoyed learning about the resources available within Newcastle University and on software such as Office 365, an often ignored topic in teaching training I’ve attended in the past”

Accessibility and Inclusion on the Digital Learning website

An accessibility and inclusion section has been added to the Digital Learning Website that highlights how inclusive teaching practices can support all learners, not just those with particular learning requirements. The site covers the requirements and deadlines from the most recent accessibility regulations, the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018.

There are useful links to many of the resources across the University that will help you make your content more accessible including updated NUIT Guidance, and SensusAccess. Further resources relating to the University approach to accessibility and inclusion are available, including a screencast of the presentation we have been providing to academic units.

Accessibility in practice, workshop feedback

Do you want to hear about quick wins to create accessible documents, use accessibility checkers and experience how some of your learners adapt and work with digital content?

The Accessibility in Practice workshop covers this and more. You can book your place now from a range of dates over the next couple of months.

Victoria Rafferty, Learning Development Officer in the Writing Development Centre came along to one of these workshops. Find out what she thought below.

‘The accessibility training sessions provided the timely opportunity to become more aware of issues and techniques when making resources accessible.  By working with techniques demonstrated and discussed in the workshops, we’ve constructed a new range of study guides.  These sessions were important as we need to ensure that our study guides are suitable for students across the university’.

Victoria Rafferty, Learning Development Officer, Writing Development Centre

Victoria Rafferty

View an example of one of the study guides developed following the workshop, demonstrating good practice in designing accessible documents.

If you need further information about accessibility take a look at the LTDS website or get in touch at LTDS@ncl.ac.uk

The new accessibility regulations – what does this mean for the University?

By Graeme Redshaw-Boxwell, Learning Enhancement and Technology Team Manager

What are the new requirements?

In September 2019, the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No.2) Accessibility Regulations 2018 comes into effect in the UK. These regulations attempt to ensure that all students have equal and fair access to learning opportunities without any barriers as a result of a disability. This covers websites, services and content.

The University recognises that compliance with the Regulations will not happen immediately. A staged programme of work will embed training on compliance for new learning and teaching websites/service and content within the existing Learning and Teaching Development Programme which will be available both as open workshops and bespoke school/service based sessions. The trajectory for compliance is detailed below.

What is the University doing for the start of 2019/20?

Each website/system requires an accessibility statement, providing information about the accessibility of individual websites/systems. The Learning and Teaching Development Service will co-ordinate the creation of accessibility statements across all central University learning and teaching systems. This includes Blackboard, MLE, ePortfolio and others. All centrally supported teaching and learning systems will have an accessibility statement by September 2019.

What do academic units/services need to do for the start of 2019/20?

No specific actions are required for the start of the next academic year. Individuals should consider how they can make any new learning and teaching content accessible, and to start to change practice when creating content in readiness for 2020/21.

What will happen in 2019/20 to make us more compliant for 2020/21?

  •  The new Learning and Teaching Development Programme has Accessibility in Practice workshops that support academic and professional services staff in how to create accessible and inclusive learning and teaching resources. There are some simple tools built in to familiar desktop tools, such as Microsoft Office, that will help to create and check the accessibility of resources.
  • There are some small simple changes staff can make that will help all students on their programme, not only students with a disability. LTDS will prepare a range of online how to guides that will support staff in the creation of accessible documents.
  •  As part of the rollout of the new VLE, LTDS will run a large number of training sessions. The creation of accessible content will be embedded within these sessions.
  • The Newcastle Education Practice Scheme (NEPS) is the replacement for the CASAP programme. Accessibility and inclusion will be a core element, and the creation of accessible resources will be part of the programme.
  • We will renew the University site license for Sensus Access which enables staff and students to easily convert documents into an accessible format. Many file formats are supported, including the main Microsoft Office document types. Use of this tool will be built into the workshops detailed above.
    For further information please email ltds@ncl.ac.uk

The Art of the Possible

Dr Chris Graham, School of Mathematics, Statistics and Physics

Thank you to everyone who took part in the launch of the Education Strategy Series ‘The Art of the Possible’ on 1-5 July 2019. It was excellent to see so many staff from across the campus engaging with this first week of activities under the theme Technology Enhanced Learning.

Throughout the week we explored The Art of Accessible and Inclusive Digital Content through interactive practical workshops, lightning talks showcasing some excellent approaches to creating accessible and flexible resources, and video case studies. We also welcomed Alistair McNaught, Subject Specialist in  Accessibility and Inclusion on Thursday 4 July. Alistair delivered a mixture of practical, strategic and collaborative sessions to raise awareness and confidence in digital accessibility, and the new public sector web accessibility legislation.

Feedback from all of the events was really positive. Some of the most valuable aspects were: Continue reading “The Art of the Possible”

Introducing ‘The Art of the Possible’

Professor Suzanne Cholerton, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Education, introduces this brand new series of Education Strategy focussed events, showcasing ‘The Art of the Possible’.

This first week focusses on Technology Enhanced Learning given our commitment in the Education Strategy to an educational experience supported and enhanced by technology.

Find out more from Professor Cholerton in the video below.

All events and activities will be delivered in a light, fun and adventurous way and we are looking forward to engaging with colleagues from across the University. Take a look at the programme and find out how to register.

If you are interested in future ‘The Art of the Possible’  events and other learning and teaching news, events and case studies sign up to the learning and teaching newsletter.

#nclpossible