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10 ideas for creating accessible content for everyone in itslearning

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Cartoon image demonstrating accessibility

Frøydis Hamre, Product Owner, itslearning

The 2020 coronavirus pandemic has forced education to leap into the digital sphere with unprecedented speed and the key phrase now is creating accessible and inclusive content.

Many teachers and schools had already been experimenting with tools like blogs, wikis, apps, flipped learning with video lectures, various tools for chat interaction, and so on. Some have made it a comfortable part of their established practice. But suddenly this year, it was not a choice anymore. Teachers around the globe took on the massive challenge of continuing to deliver teaching remotely. But with new tools and methods come new challenges.

The results of a survey (June – September 2020) by the European Commission showed that:

  • Over 95% of respondents (citizens, institutions and organisations from the public and private sectors) consider that the Covid-19 crisis marks a point of no return for how technology is used in education and training.
  • Respondents say that online learning resources and content need to be more relevant, interactive and easy to use. (Source)

Additionally, the European Digital Education Action Plan is an initiative starting next year for high‑quality, inclusive and accessible digital education. In line with this plan, educators across Europe now need to think about becoming digitally competent and creating inclusive learning, teaching, and assessment.

Accessibility – essential for some, better for all

A trusted and quality digital education ecosystem needs to have quality learner-centered materials, user-friendly tools and features hosted in a secure platform that is GDPR compliant. Additionally, this ecosystem must be accessible to all students.

The World Wide Web consortium Web Accessibility Initiative, WAI, has developed guidelines for accessible digital content known as WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). They describe in detail how digital solutions should behave to allow access for everyone, and are adopted both by the EU WAD (Web Accessibility Directive) and the US Rehabilitation act (section 508).

WCAG is based on four principles governing content:

  • Perceivable
  • Operable
  • Understandable
  • Robust

The guidelines have criteria set to three different levels: A, AA and AAA. Learning management systems (LMS) like itslearning, and the content you as a teacher create, should meet levels A and AA.

Practical tips for creating inclusive teaching materials in itslearning

Creating content in itslearning mostly means adding elements in courses. The functionality of those is pre-defined, so what you need to think about is the content you enter in the rich text editor.

WCAG guidelines emphasize the need for consistency and predictability. Keep this in mind when working with itslearning to create courses. If all teachers at your school use a similar structure in their courses and plans, students will find it easier to access content, because they will all have the same structure in any course. They will know where to look for information, and they should be able to find the same type of information in all courses.

Discuss with the teachers in your organization, to agree on synchronizing file and folder names, folder structure, which fields to use in the planner tool (and in what order) and so on.

Working in the rich text editor

If you want your content to be as accessible as possible, use plain text – however, you can still work using the rich text editor.

Here are 10 helpful guidelines:

  1. Keep it simple. Simple, plain language helps everyone understand what you are trying to say. Avoid jargon or long complex sentences.
  2. Do not copy formatted text into the editor. If you want to grab text from another source such as Word, use the “Paste from Word” or even better: “Paste as plain text” options. This will remove any formatting and hidden HTML from your text.
  3. screenshot paste as plain text and paste from word

  4. Colors can be a challenge. Make sure the contrast of text against background is good enough, and that color is not the only element conveying meaning. You can use a contrast checker like WebAIM color contrast checker.
  5. Want a list? Use a list. Don’t just put an asterisk or number in front of the text, but use the list buttons to properly format the text as a list.
  6. screenshot numbered and bullet list

  7. Links are an important part of an online world. Make sure the link text describes what the link is for, and not the URL. If the link is to a document, it is good practice to indicate the document type in brackets at the end of the link text.
  8. Examples

  9. Use alt text on images to aid those who are visually impaired. This can be added in the editor by right-clicking the image and selecting ‘Image Properties’. (Helpful hints on alt text.) If the image is purely for decoration, consider removing it completely, as our editor currently does not have an option to identify it as a ‘decorative’ image.
    screenshot how to add alt text

  11. Videos need captions, preferably closed captions, or alternative text. You can do this with various tools for creating videos such as Camtasia or directly on YouTube, and then embed the video into your content in itslearning. We recommend that you add an alternative text/transcript. This also makes it easier for everyone to “scan” the content of a video.
  12. Audio content must be available as text, so if you record audio, remember to also include a text version/transcript.
  13. Tables are tricky and should be avoided if possible. If you are using tables, remember to add row and column headings and a caption to put the table and its content into context. This can be set up when you create a table in the editor. There is also an option to enter a summary to describe the content of the table.
  14. As many of you are aware, it is also possible to integrate 3rd party applications in itslearning via LTI. We do not control the accessibility of such applications, and we recommend you evaluate these integrated tools before use.

The itslearning mobile app

Our mobile app underwent a total renovation in 2016 and has had continuous improvements added since. The app is thus quite modern, and all native parts comply with WCAG 2.1 level A/AA where applicable. The actual itslearning elements like assignments will often give a better accessibility experience if opened in browser.

Immersive Reader

The Immersive Reader from Microsoft is another great tool that helps students with learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, develop reading competency through features like Line Focus and Picture Dictionary. Currently you can find the Immersive Reader in itslearning:

  • Announcements (reading the announcement text)
  • Assignments (reading the description text)
  • Notes (reading the text content of the note)

It is also available in Word documents embedded in itslearning.  Immersive Reader displays the text content in a clean interface. It provides tools for formatting the text in any way the user prefers and even contains a picture dictionary to help explain words the student does not understand. There is also a read-aloud feature and a translation option available. You can find more about the Immersive Reader in this link.

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