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.

3. Creating accessible content

There are a lot of excellent step-by-step online guides to give you instructions on increasing the accessibility of different kinds of content, so here are our top tips for some of the types of content you’re most likely to be creating.

Social media

Social media is one of the places where it’s easiest to forget about accessibility because it’s so personal and immediate. Many of us use social media to share things about our daily lives, to talk with our friends and to upload photos and videos. Depending on how public your profiles are your audience may be much larger than you expect. Practicing increasing the accessibility of your content on social media is an excellent way to get into good habits.

Social media is often image heavy, which can disadvantage people with visual impairments or slow internet connections. One way to provide a better experience with your social media posts is to provide a text alternative, or alt-text, for your photos. This is easy to do, and Twitter and Facebook both have guides on how to do it.

Twitter's accessibility settings page. It has a 'compose image descriptions' box.

Another aspect of social media that can be inaccessible is the use of hashtags. Hashtags can be difficult for people with cognitive or visual impairments to read because of the way the words run together. An easy way to make hashtags more accessible is to capitalise each word in the hashtag to make it easier to read. This type of formatting is referred to as camelCase. For example, #weloveaccessibility would become #WeLoveAccessibility. This also helps avoid accidentally creating hashtags that go viral for all the wrong reasons.

See our social media module for more information on creating social media content.

Documents and assignments

There are things that you can do to make your written work more accessible, whether you using Microsoft Word or another editing platform.

Styling

One of the most important things you can do is to organise it logically in sections with headings.

Most word processors have inbuilt styling features which can:

  • give a clear order to your work which will make it easier to follow
  • create automatic navigation for screen readers
  • generate automatic tables of contents for long assignments.
Styling options in Microsoft Word including normal styles and headings.
 

Optical character recognition

If you are reading or editing documents in Portable Document Format (PDF), there are some barriers to accessibility. Often, PDFs cannot be read by a screen reader, and they can be difficult to read on mobile devices. This is because PDFs are essentially image files meant to preserve exact formatting and not to be edited as text. There are several steps you can take to make PDFs more accessible, the most useful being optical character recognition (OCR).

OCR scans a PDF document and recognises text, turning it into a format that can be edited. This feature is available on Adobe Acrobat Pro DC and can be enabled by using the Recognise Text feature in the Enhance Scans tool tab. There are also free browser extensions such as CopyFish that you can use if you don't want to download documents.

Reflowing text

An additional feature of OCR is that it allows you to reflow text. This means that when you make text bigger, it will change to fit the screen at its larger size, removing the need for annoying (and inaccessible) sideways scrolling. See Adobe's guide to reflowing text in a PDF for instructions.

A PDF document magnified, before and after reflowing (UN CRPD)
 

Accessibility checkers

Microsoft Word has an inbuilt accessibility checker that can highlight problems in your document, tell you why they need to be fixed and how to fix them. You can find the accessibility checker either in the Review tab or in File --> Info --> Check for Issues --> Check Accessibility. For a demonstration, see Running the accessibility checker (LinkedIn Learning, 1m02s).

There are also Word add-ons to help improve accessibility as you work. Vision Australia's Document accessibility toolbar is an excellent example that is used around the world.

You can practice some of these accessibility changes with a PDF document.

Download the chapter PDF Accessibility from the book Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance (UQ log-in required) and open it with Adobe Acrobat Pro.

Use the instructions in the chapter to change the colour contrast, reflow the text, and read the content aloud.

Would any of these accessibility features be useful to you?

Presentations

Sometimes your assignments might involve giving a presentation or creating a video. Presentations are in some ways easier to make accessible because they often contain content in multiple formats. For example, you may give a verbal presentation while also providing Powerpoint slides for your audience to read.

Here are some quick tips to make your presentations more accessible:

  • Include notes that you intend to read from in notes field of your presentation slides - if people can't attend your presentation or have a hearing impairment, this allows them to follow the content more easily.
  • Use simple language in your slides and presentations - you'll get your message across more clearly and have the added bonus of removing accessibility barriers for people with cognitive impairments or different levels of language skills.
  • Record presentations if possible - recordings allow people to go back and catch up on things they may have missed, and removes the physical accessibility barriers to people who are unable to attend your presentation in person.
  • Include a transcript or closed captions for any video content - these features make videos accessible to a much wider range of people.

For more tips see the WAI's guide on creating accessible presentations.

For a step-by-step guide to making accessible content with Microsoft tools, watch this short LinkedIn Learning course on Creating accessible documents in Microsoft Office.

Web content

Creating web content is something you may be required to do for assignments or in the workplace. Many of the features that we have already talked about apply to web content accessibility such as using alt text and arranging information clearly. The Writing for the web module has tips on writing accessible web content.

Other key methods include:

  • Using descriptive links when linking to content outside your website. "Click here" doesn't mean much to a screen reader! Instead, consider stating where the link is going. For example, this website is about creating descriptive links.
  • When planning your overall design scheme, check the colour contrast of text on backgrounds. Poor colour contrast can be difficult for people who are colourblind.

WAI’s Tips for getting started writing for web accessibility is a great introduction to writing accessible content, and the 4Syllables website has lots of resources to help you improve your skills.

Teach Access have an excellent tutorial for creating accessible mobile and web apps, including correct coding practices and design principles.

Duration:   Approximately 20 minutes


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