Teaching & Learning

Designing Accessible Learning Content

What is accessibility?

Web accessibility refers to the practice of making online content available to a diverse range of users. Accessibility guidelines such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) are designed to consider the needs of people with barriers to access. This includes individuals with physical or cognitive impairments, and other groups who may not identify as having a disability (e.g. older people). Providing access to content on a range of devices can also be a factor in accessibility.

Users with disabilities may use assistive technologies to access content. Visually impaired people may use screen reader software to listen to, and navigate through onscreen items. People with motor impairments may have limited ability to use their hands, so may use other assistive technology devices. Most users of assistive technologies cannot use a mouse or other pointing device. For this reason, users must be able to navigate all content with keyboard functions for that content to be considered accessible.

Why does accessibility matter (to University teaching staff)?

Accessibility is a legal requirement. The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and The Disability Standards for Education 2005 require that people with disabilities are provided with equal access to learning experiences. In addition, the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy mandates that from 2015, all Australian Government websites – including universities as defined by the Act - are specifically required to meet the level of "Double A" standard as specified within WCAG 2.0. Designing accessible content within MyLO ensures that the online component of your unit meets these requirements.

There may be low numbers of people with disabilities within your unit. This can make the perceived workload of designing accessible content seem high. However, once you are familiar with a few key principles, integrating accessible practice into your unit design is a small investment for a broad positive impact. By integrating universal design principles into your teaching practice, you can make the learning experience more user-friendly for all students, and increase opportunities for engagement. These principles are also useful in the design of resources, assessments and learning activities within the on-campus environment.

You may be interested in professional development courses to support and evidence the quality of your practice. Learning more about accessible learning design is a great way to improve the learning experience for a broad range of students. Refer to the Learn More section below for some suggested pathways.

How can you make content accessible?

It is important to keep in mind that accessibility is not a feature to be added after the design of your content. It is a set of principles to be considered throughout the design process.

When using MyLO to deliver a unit, the technical accessibility success criteria (e.g. compatibility with a range of assistive technology devices) are met by the design of the system. MyLO provides tools and features that enable the creation of accessible content. However, these tools and features do have to be used in the design of your content to ensure it remains accessible. For example, an important aspect is making content easy to navigate. The HTML editor in MyLO enables text to be styled as Headings, which communicates the document hierarchy to screen reader users and allows them to quickly jump between sections. If Heading styles are not applied to a document, then the document structure is difficult to understand, particularly for users of screen readers and other assistive technologies.

Addressing the full WCAG 2.0 success criteria can be overwhelming, however, all the individual recommendations are applications of just a few key principles, i.e. content must be Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust.

The table below presents a few of the key guidelines to remember, why they are important, and some practical examples of how to apply them.

Requirement Why this is important Examples of how to achieve this
Text alternatives are provided for non-text content
icon representing text alternatives for non text media such as images, audio, and video
Text content can reliably be accessed and navigated using screen readers and other assistive technologies.

Captions and/or transcripts provided for videos.

Inclusion of Alt-text (short descriptions) for images that communicate information.

Tables provided as an alternative to communicate information presented in a visual graph.

A text based explanation of a diagram. Here's an example which provides a link to a text alternative.

The content is easy to navigate

Icon depicting clickable parts of a web page

Create a better and more engaging experience for everyone, especially users of assistive technologies and people with low digital literacy skills.

Consistent and logical structure for content

Heading levels applied to documents to reflect hierarchy

Succinct and clear titles for content items in MyLO.

Provision of context for linked items e.g. a description on Quicklinks in MyLO.
Readability of the content is good
Eye icon with READABILITY written in the eye
This is especially important for students with low vision, or cognitive impairments, but actually helps all students work through and understand the content.

Good contrast on text and images

Choice of simple and clear fonts

Appropriate text size, scalable

Consistency of visual styles

Use of clear and simple language, with avoidance of jargon and acronyms
Reasonable time is provided for access to content 
clock icon

People with barriers to access often need extra time to access content, especially if they are using assistive technologies.

Providing the ability to revisit and work through content is also important, and can be useful for all students, especially for individuals with learning difficulties.

Ensure that time time-based media (audio and video) can be controlled (paused, played, etc. Delivering this content via popular tools such as YouTube will fufilfulfil this requirement as long as the defaults remain.

Break long recordings/videos into shorter sections where possible

Consider whether time limits within MyLO quizzes (and other interactive tools) are necessary, and if so allow a buffer beyond your expected time to complete.

Learn more about accessibility

Writing for the Web (MyLO unit)

Writing for the Web is a small MyLO unit available to all staff. The content provides a concise overview of considerations in writing online content, including how to apply relevant accessibility guidelines. The unit contains a quiz that must be passed in order to gain permission to edit University of Tasmania websites, and the content is also highly relevant to the creation of written content to be delivered to students through MyLO units.

Inclusive Toolkit for Staff: Supporting Students with Disability (MyLO unit)

The Inclusive Toolkit was created by a group of UTAS lecturers and staff supporting students: by UTAS staff for UTAS staff. The Inclusive Toolkit provides advice on supporting students with different abilities in your teaching and explains Universal Design for Learning. The module provides information to staff to help guide them in meeting their legal obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act (1991) and the Disability Standards for Education (2005).

All University of Tasmania staff are provided with access to these online resources through the Inclusive Toolkit MyLO unit. The unit is accessed by self-enrollment through the Discover Course Catalog in MyLO.

Quality Matters (external) courses

Addressing Accessibility and Usability is a fully online short course available from Quality Matters. Quality Matters also offers  other relevant courses  including Applying the QM Rubric, which had a broader focus on the design of quality online and blended units, incorporating some information about accessibility.

Email Quality.Matters@utas.edu.au for more information about how you might enrol in these courses through the University of Tasmania Quality Matters membership.

Other Resources

The above courses are a useful way to gain an overview of accessibility. You may also have specific questions about aspects of accessibility that the following sources might be able to answer:

  • The Web Accessibility page provided by the University's IT Services is designed to inform staff editing University web pages about accessibility requirements, but the practical tips are also highly relevant to the design of online learning materials (e.g. MyLO content).
  • WebAIM is a web accessibility consultancy company based in the US. Their site contains a range of useful resources, tools, and articles.