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As a researcher on inclusive education, these are the top tips and resources I’d recommend for creating accessible digital content

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 30 May 2023

Live stream of a talk with BSL interpretation and live captioning.

Live stream of a talk with BSL interpretation and live captioning.

Leda Kamenopoulou.

What is accessibility and why should we think about it? Accessibility is ensuring physical and digital spaces and products are accessible to people with disabilities. It is also a lot more than that, because by making access easier for disabled people, we make access easier for everyone. Moreover, thinking about accessibility is not optional, it ensures compliance with minimum legal requirements, such as the Equality Act (2010) and the EU Directive on Web Accessibility (2018). As highlighted by the Global Accessibility Awareness Day, accessibility is not just ‘nice to have’ or a ‘tick-box’ exercise, so everyone in an organisation must know and be committed to best practices.

So, how do you start making your digital content accessible if you are not an expert on Special Educational Needs and/or disabilities, like sensory impairments, dyslexia or sensory processing difficulties? First, be proactive and search for relevant guidance, there is plenty freely available online. My own organisation, UCL, for example, provides general guidance and in-depth advice for specific types of content, including text, images, audio and video. Here, I summarise some of the most important actions I have seen, drawing on UCL’s Accessibility Fundamentals and my own research on inclusive education for learners with sensory and multisensory impairment. Below are some general considerations that you can use as rules of thumb.

When writing documents, use styles for Headings and descriptive text for hyperlinks, instead of using the full URL or ‘click here’, to allow navigation for people using screen-readers. For easier visual access, choose sans serif font types; font size minimum 11 and 24 in PPT; bold for emphasis (and not italics or underlined text); do not use ‘justified’ text. Share an editable version (not a PDF) and clearly state how it can be accessed in alternative formats (e.g. Braille or Large Print).

When using colour, aim for good contrast between background and text (or figures), and do not use pattern or white in the background. Avoid colour combinations that can be problematic for people with certain vision conditions, such as green and red. To allow access to those using screen-readers and/or who have visual and other sensory processing difficulties, do not rely on colour only to express meaning.

Always provide captions and transcripts in audio and video. If you think that these only help people with disabilities, it might surprise you to know that 40% of Netflix users globally have subtitles on all the time.

Multiple photos of art in a tweet with alt text describing the bottom left photo.

Multiple photos of art in a tweet with alt text describing the bottom left photo.

For images, always use alternative text (labels and descriptions for images, for those using screen-readers or for when an image does not show up). When an image contains text, you should provide that in alt text. Alt text should be used on all images, including those posted on social media, for example, pictures, event flyers, maps, tables, infographics. GIFs also need alt text because they come with generic descriptions that are usually not helpful. Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook all have the alt text function. You can find instructions on how to add alt text to images for iPhone, Android and desktop users on Twitter and Facebook; LinkedIn does not have the alt text option for mobile devices, but a good solution is to include the image description in the post. There are many useful resources about writing good alt text, but the general advice is to be descriptive yet concise. Ask yourself, what would I like to know about this image if it did not show up?

If your organisation does not provide any resources or training, look for other support available. For example, for Microsoft Office, you can use the Accessibility Checker; for colour choices, you can use a Colour contrast Checker. If you are a Twitter user, you can follow tips shared by @TwitterA11y. It is also a good idea to set up a Teams channel/chat to share information with your colleagues, because accessibility is a constant learning journey.

Remember that learning and implementing best practices on accessibility will require some time, if you are a beginner. But once you embed the fundamentals in your practice, once you learn to create everything with access in mind, accessibility will stop being an added extra or a problem that needs to be fixed, because it will simply be there by design. Besides, what better way to spend our time than being truly committed to equity and inclusion, and making everyone feel welcome?

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