Accessibility and study hacks

Aims and objectives

This module will:

  • introduce you to the concepts of accessibility and universal design
  • show you how to create accessible content
  • give you examples of study hacks which can help to make your digital life easier.

After completing this module, you will be able to:

  • understand the importance of accessibility online
  • create accessible content
  • find and use productivity tools as study hacks.

2. Being accessible

Accessibility benefits everyone. But how can we tell whether or not content is accessible? And how can we make it more accessible for everyone?

Universal design

'Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.' (Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, 2014)

Universal design is the idea of designing with everyone in mind. There are a lot of things in our daily lives which have been designed for specific groups of people for reasons which may no longer be relevant.

For example, historically many tools used to be designed only for right-handed people - you still might need to buy special scissors if you're left-handed. Universal design principles suggest that scissors are badly designed because of this right versus left-handed problem and because they require you to use repetitive movements to use them.

Some research suggests that design may not be equitable for different genders. Read The world is designed for men by Kat Ely on Medium.

Can you think of anything you've tried to use which didn't work for you because the designer didn't have you in mind?

Another way of thinking about universal design is as inclusive design. This involves thinking about your users and trying to remove systematic barriers which prevent them from using the environments, tools and platforms that you may take for granted.

Experiencing accessibility

While universal design is a great concept, it can be hard to understand what issues you should be considering if you haven't experienced accessibility problems for yourself. If you want to familiarise yourself with some of the access problems experienced by certain groups of people, there are lots of simulators available online, including:

Perhaps the most commonly discussed web accessibility problems are experienced by people who are blind or who have impaired vision. Developers have a greater understanding of ways to make content accessible for people with visual impairments because of the availability of screen reader software.

Screen readers read digital content aloud and allow for navigation of content via keyboard. They are very specialised software, and require a lot of practice to become proficient. The Overview of screen readers (LinkedIn Learning, 2m52s) has a great explanation of what screen readers do.

This video demonstrates the use of a screen reader on an accessible and inaccessible website.

Using a screen reader (YouTube, 7m45s)

How would using a screen reader make your online experience different?

If you like, you could try using Voiceover (on Mac and iOS), TalkBack (Android) or NVDA (Windows) to look at one of your favourite websites. Is the website you chose accessible?

Screen readers aren't the only tools available to help check accessibility. Funkify, a free extension for the Chrome browser, allows you to select different simulators to view the web from different perspectives, including as someone with a visual impairment, dyslexia, or poor motor control. This provides pretty extreme examples to give you an insight into the obstacles many people have to overcome online.

Accessible web content

It is essential that all people are able to access the internet.

The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) identify four key principles of accessibility relating to web content:

  • everyone should be able to access the website and information on it
  • everyone should able to use the website and navigate around it
  • everyone should be able to understand the website and information on it
  • all websites should be consistent across different platforms, so that equitable information is provided whether you are using a browser window or a screen reader.

Read Principles of accessible design from Web Accessibility in Mind (WebAIM).

How many of these principles have you noticed in action on websites that you use regularly?

Checking web accessibility

An easy way to check the accessibility of a website is to analyse it with digital tools. The Web accessibility evaluation tool (WAVE) is a free resource to use for this. WAVE searches websites for problems in the code that can affect appearance and usability of the website.

The check shows 358 errors, 510 alerts, 335 features, 181 structural elements and 1032 contrast errors.
WAVE check summary results of Arngren.net, mentioned in the previous section.

Check a website that you visit regularly with the WAVE tool. What can you tell about its accessibility using WAVE?

Accessibility and the law

Accessibility isn't just part of being a good digital citizen, it's also a legal responsibility.

Accessibility at UQ

UQ is committed to meeting Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 to a AA level on its websites. This means that all online content produced by UQ should be accessible. For more information about UQ web content, see the UQ Web Publishing guide to Accessibility.

UQ Student Support provides access to specialised software and assistive technology, as well as access to information and assistance available at UQ.

The Library offers services to make our collections more accessible to library clients with disabilities. The Assistive technology rooms at Central Library are available to book by students who have been authorised by a Diversity, Disability and Inclusion Adviser.

Duration:   Approximately 20 minutes


Graduate attributes

Knowledge and skills you can gain to contribute to your Graduate attributes:

Effective communication Effective communication

  Ethical and social understanding


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Support at UQ

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