How do I Determine if a Resource is Accessible?

As instructional staff, when we choose resources for our classes, we need to be able to make a judgement about the relative accessibility of a resource. This guide is intended to provide a place to start thinking about these issues — if you have questions, please contact the Instructional Design and Access team at ida@wichita.edu.

The basic questions we need to ask ourselves about any of our resources are based on the needs of people in three different situations:

  • A person who can’t see the resource
  • A person who can’t hear the resource
  • A person who can’t operate the resource in an expected way.

(We’re using this general language on purpose — a person who can’t see a resource, for example, might be someone who has a visual impairment, but meeting that need also allows us to serve other users who can’t see it in a universal design way. So, someone who can’t see the resource might be someone who is driving a car and can’t look at the content, but could listen to it. Using this sort of language also ensures that we are not being bogged down with jargon.)

Textbooks

The primary text in your class is probably one or more textbooks.  As a good rule of thumb, to be accessible to people who can’t see the resource, the text needs to be available in some sort of digital way in addition to paper. These might be in ePub format (digital book), PDF, or even an audiobook format, depending upon the text. Being available in an electronic format does not guarantee complete accessibility, but it’s a very strong first step.

The other primary consideration we need to consider when we review the digital version of the text is to be sure that any visual content — images, charts, etc — is adequately described in the text so that someone who is using a screen reader does not miss the important information that the graphics conveyed.

Often you can get the information you need from your publisher representative. We have a sample email you can send to your publisher prepared — just copy and paste that text into your email and send it to the publisher. Publisher Form Letter 

If you’re not sure who to reach out to at the publisher, you may be able to find that information on the publisher’s web site.

Textbook Supplemental Tools

Many publishers include a wide variety of online supplemental tools to go with their textbooks. These might be quizzing engines, homework tools, simulations, and so on.  If you plan to make use of those supplemental instructional tools in your class, you should reach out to the publisher and ask them about the accessibility of the resources, using the form letter above.

These tools most often will run into accessibility problems for people who can’t see the resource and for people who can’t interact with the resource in a typical way.  For example, a quiz that requires users to drag and drop things into a specific order is especially difficult both for people who can’t see the things that are going to be moved and for people who can’t click and drag with a mouse.

So, if you are going to use these supplemental tools, it’s important to have an idea of whether they are accessible or not.  In most cases, it’s a good idea to start by contacting the publisher rep (see the previous section) and asking them directly. You may also test it yourself to see if it’s possible to operate the functionality with only the keyboard as an interface.

PDF

The PDF format can include a lot of different types of resources.  A textbook might be made available by the publisher as a PDF, or perhaps these are articles that have been provided by the library or that we’ve scanned ourselves so that we can share them with the students.

If the PDF is something that was created for you by a publisher, you can ask them about the accessibility of the PDF.

If you have created the PDF yourself, perhaps by scanning an article, you’ll want to review our instructions for working with PDFs.

Also, remember that if you upload the PDF to blackboard, the new Blackboard Ally tool will evaluate the accessibility of your PDF and give you some pointers for improving it.

This site has IDA-created training on using Acrobat to review and improve PDF accessibility.

Video/Audio

When we present video or audio content, we need to make sure this content can be accessed by someone who can’t hear the content and people who can’t see it (in the case of video).

  • Captions are a reasonable solution and more and more videos have them already, if you’re using someone else’s videos.  The standards for captions are that they be accurate, including punctuation.  At this time, that level of accuracy is not possible for automatic captions, so some human editing is always required.  If you’re creating your own video, you’ll need to make sure you review the captions for accuracy.
  • Transcripts are a secondary choice. Since they’re not time-bound the way captions are, transcripts are not quite as useful for video, but can be a good solution for audio files.  Once again, they need to be accurate.
  • A summary is the final option. Often, if you’re using a 3rd party video that has no captions and there’s no reasonable way to provide a transcript, a summary will have to do.  The important standard that this summary has to meet is that it has to be “equally effective” as the original file.  So, it will probably need to be quite detailed, and for sure it will need to include any information that will appear in assessments of student learning.

Check out the Panopto section of this site for instructions on how to use the video tools we provide to make sure you have captions on your own videos.  We also provide instructions on using and editing captions in Youtube.

That’s a good place to start. If you have questions, we recommend that you attend the Blackboard and Accessibility Labs, hosted by IDA.  For more information, contact the IDA team at (ida@wichita.edu).

This post was originally posted on the Wichita State University Instructional Design blog.

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

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