General guidance for creating accessible content

Almost irrespective of how you are creating content, the following general guidance will apply to your documents, handouts, notes and presentations.

Using these approaches will enable your content to be used more effectively using assistive technologies such as screen readers. They will also address many of the accessibility issues that will be highlighted by Blackboard Ally.

Alternative text for images

Ensuring that images have text descriptions (or ALT text) that can be read by screen readers is arguably the most important aspect of web accessibility, and is the one that Blackboard Ally most frequently identifies as missing from our learning resources.

As well as providing text that can be read out by a screen reader, it also provides this text in case the image doesn't load properly, and can also be used by search engines to aid discoverability.

Providing good ALT text can be quite nuanced, and there is extensive guidance available from WebAIM. Here are some main points to bear in mind:

  • It should be succinct - generally one sentence should be enough
  • It should be accurate
  • It should not replicate information in any text associated with it
  • It should not say “Image of….” or similar as a screen reader will identify it as an image
Labelling images

If you want to identify parts of an image with labels, these should not overlay the image itself, but should be separate from the image, using lines or arrows to indicate to where on the image they apply.

Creating a document “structure”

Giving your documents a structure will make it significantly easier to navigate using a screen reader, and will also allow someone to navigate through it using the tab key on a keyboard if they are not able to use a mouse.

It is very important to do this when producing documents in either Microsoft Word or Google Docs if you are intending to export these as PDF files. This is a necessary step in creating a “tagged PDF”, which again is much easier to read with a screen reader. These are typically done using the style settings in Word or Google Docs, such as Heading 1, Heading 2, Subtitle, Normal Text.

Additional advantages of styles and headings include:

  • Consistent layout
  • Enables skim reading of longer documents
  • Quickly reformat document design
  • Tables of content and document outlines can be created automatically

You should avoid making the text bigger and using bold to indicate headings and sub headings. Though the text may look like a heading, the underlying code will not be set correctly, and screen reader users will not benefit.

Making text accessible

Text is frequently going to convey much of the narrative and information in resources you provide to your students, so making this as accessible as possible is very important.


Fonts

It’s best to avoid serif fonts (such as Times New Roman). Sans serif fonts, such as Arial, Calibri, Verdana, Trebuchet & TUOS Blake are usually clearer to read. Avoid using very stylised fonts e.g. Comic Sans, as they impede readability for people with dyslexia.

Avoid italics, CAPITALS or underlining to create emphasis, these can be inaccessible for people with a print disability. Bold text is preferred as a method of emphasising content.


Size

RNIB recommends that a minimum type size of 12 point is used. Text in “normal” paragraphs in documents should be no smaller than 12 point.


Colour

Avoid using colour as the only means of indicating important information. Ensure other methods are used, such as text or icons to reinforce meaning.

Ensure there is a well-defined contrast between text and background. Black on white offers the strongest contrast, but the Office Accessibility Checker will flag up any colour contrast issues in your document. The WebAIM Colour Contrast Checker can help you to test different colour combinations. Managed Desktop and YoYo users can also install the Colour Contrast Analyser from the Software Centre to check for contrast issues.

Some people may prefer different colour combinations or backgrounds, assistive technology can help learners adapt documents in this way.


Layout

Text should be left-aligned, not centred or justified, as this this assists readers with a restricted visual field locate the beginning the line.

Items you want to present in a list should always be created as numbered or bulleted lists, to aid screen reader users.

Linking to webpages and documents

Links to webpages and other documents should always be descriptive - so avoid click here, but rather use visit our accessibility pages to find out more.

When attaching files to content items in Blackboard, give the files meaningful names, including the module code and a description of what the file is.

So “lecture1.doc” might not be very helpful, for students whereas “AAP101 Week1 Lecture 1 Introduction to Prehistory.doc” gives a title that is immediately meaningful when downloaded.

Please see our other guidance pages for how to apply these principles in specific programs:

Microsoft Word

Google Docs

Microsoft PowerPoint

Google Slides