Guidelines for Accessible Materials
Creating materials that are easy to perceive requires a series of considerations. The following practices can be applied across various types of media and platforms, varying slightly depending on whether the primary materials are text-based, audio, visual, or video media.
Use simple language and be mindful of reading level. There are numerous tools and frameworks available to help you analyze your course materials for simple language. By incorporating this practice, you can ensure that your materials are equitable for your students' varying levels of access, background, and ability. If your text-based materials are in a form that can’t be altered, provide additional resources to help students read strategically and comprehend language with which they may not be familiar.
Use headings to organize documents. Most applications have the ability to differentiate between structural elements in text (e.g. body text versus headings). Use these built in features to increase accessibility for screen readers and support careful reading for all students.
Use page numbers and tables of contents. This can help all students navigate directly to the information they need, or when referring students to specific locations within a given text.
Provide alternative descriptions for images as both captions and "alt. texts." This information is the primary information an individual using a screen reader will use to gain access to visual information. This same content can also be included in captions for key figures. For visuals that include text, reproduce textual information in a readable (text-only) format nearby. If an image is decorative, leave the alt tag blank. A resource from WebAIM is a helpful starting point on creating alternative descriptions for visual information. PennState also offers a guide on creating accessibile graphs and charts.
Set equations and formulas using equation editors and typesetting. Use LaTeX to set the type for your equations and formulas. Once an equation is set using LaTeX, it’s easy to use built-in screen reading tools or convert it to more accessible formats like MathML. The vector-based outputs from these tools also help to promote readability in various print and viewing situations. If an equation was not originally created in a typesetting program, use the guidelines for images (above) to make it perceptible. PennState offers a resource on accessibility considerations for equations.
Check your color palette for contrast. If you are using colors for emphasis, ensure colors contrast well against one another. This will help individuals with vision differences to perceive visual information.
Use descriptive links instead of “Click here.” Links within a document or web resource should be descriptively linked to indicate or explain the resource you are linking to. This helps both individuals using screen readers as well as curious audiences who might want to explore resources you share, but want to know what the resource is before they click on it. This guide models this practice.
Only use tables for data that requires it. Consider whether a table is the best way to present your information. If it is, make sure to include column headers and captions describing the table’s contents.
Create and provide accurate closed-captions and transcripts. There are numerous free or inexpensive options for closed-captions. Techsmith Relay at Dartmouth offers the ability to generate a caption with an existing script, auto-transcribe with their machine tools, and delegate caption creation to other users (e.g. student workers). YouTube offers machine-generated captions, time syncing for existing scripts, and the ability to edit your captions by hand. You can also choose to use a fee-based, third-party service for transcription such as 3play or REV.
Present information in multiple ways and formats. For example, if your materials rely on textual information, consider adding visuals as an alternative way to represent information. Or, if you have a news article, consider including a podcast about the same topic or an MP3 machine-read version of the material.