Online Teaching & Technology Blog

Center for Online Learning, Research and Service @ Illinois Springfield

Category: PowerPoint

Remote teaching and accessibility: things to think about

In the last week we have seen immense change to our daily lives, and change which continues or of which we are reminded with every email, from every possible source down to how your gas station perks program is handling the virus. From a teaching and learning standpoint there have been varied reactions as veteran online educators and those who have never taught online are now required to teach remotely. So one let me say, to myself and you, relax we will get through this. And two let’s remember accessibility as we make these remote changes.

Accessibility? Yes, accessibility. About 25% of the population has some form of disability, physical, learning, or cognitive. Typically, about 10% of our students register with their office of disability services regarding one of these disabilities. This means as we move to remote teaching, many of these students will experience issues related to accessibility which they may not have in our face to face classes. So thinking about accessibility as we make these changes will not only help these students, but all students who are making this move.

So here are a few things to think about.

  1. Don’t use or limit use of pdfs. Typically in higher education we see 2 types of pdf usage, items “saved as” pdf and article scans. If it is a Word or PowerPoint file, do not save as pdf, just post the doc or ppt. If it is an article scan, see if you can find an .html version of the article or contact someone at your university to see about making this accessible (if possible).
  2. If you are creating new PowerPoint or Word files, open the accessibility checker as you are creating them to see any issues and correct them as you go, eventually you will probably not make any issues as you go. The biggest culprits will be improper hyperlinks (www.something instead of these nice blue, underlined links describing the link) or merged table cells in a Word doc. In a PowerPoint it will probably be missing alternative text.
  3. If you are creating a video, speak slowly and make the video short. Speaking slowly will help all listeners understand better. You will need to caption your video and provide a transcript. Or you can write a script and record your video from it. In most instances this will involve leveraging some sort of AI such as that used by YouTube or the one in Kaltura. This autocaptioning is about 85% accurate, the rest needs to be done by a human. A video with clear, slow speaking will autocaption with a higher accuracy rate, and a shorter video takes less time to caption overall. Equally, as I’ve discussed before students in an online class or newly exposed to remote learning are not going to watch a long video.
  4. For UIS faculty in Math, remember we have Equatio, which is helpful for accessibility, but also very useful for doing math, remotely. And for those in math and science this writeup and link to the NWEA Image Description Guidelines for Assessments may be useful for thinking about how to write alt text.

Finally, I know this adds an extra layer of things to think about, however I think we can all agree that making something as clear for our students to understand the first time makes it easier on all of us. I’ll close with a link to something I wrote a few weeks ago about how students expect a certain behavior from their digital files, a user experience, and when they don’t encounter that it is very frustrating.

Update on Office 365 v Office 2016

About a month ago, I posted about an issue with the accessibility checker within Office 365 v the one in Office 2016. After a few weeks of meetings and testing we’ve come up with a path forward, currently for UIS, and this can be applied within the UI system.

Office 365 by default has some of the accessibility checker functions disabled. However, they can be enabled. Most of those who are currently using 365 at UIS are doing so on their own laptops or at home. For these individuals we recommend doing final accessibility checking on an Office 2016 machine. If it is your laptop, IT can help you install a registry key which will enable the 2016 level of checking in 365.

IT will ensure this is enabled on new machines which receive Office 2019 which are maintained by them. It is possible to do a global push of these settings, but this is not currently what we will do at UIS since most of the machines with 365 are not university owned.

Office 365 v Office 2016: When it comes to accessibility let’s stick with 2016, for now.

I have a team of student workers who remediate a lot of files in Word, PowerPoint, PDF, and videos. Many of these files come from faculty as we work on their classes, but we’re working on a growing number of files from campus offices. I too, work on some specific, special cases.

Recently, I’ve had several instances where a file had known issues, but the faculty member or office staff swore that they had used the accessibility checker and there were no issues. With some very low level sleuthing I figured out that everyone with these issues was using office 365. This led me to copying or recreating some of these issues, checking them in Word or PowerPoint 2016 and Office 365. Sure enough the issues were not caught in 365, but they were caught in 2016. I used NVDA to read these test documents, and as expected they were still issues. I contacted several colleagues and they too noted that these were issues.

Since most people are not experts in accessibility, and using the built in checkers is the safe guard that many faculty and office staff are learning and using, it is my recommendation for faculty and staff at UIS and within the UI system, to do their final accessibility checking in Word or PowerPoint 2016.

I am confident that Microsoft will remedy this in Office 365 in the future, but until that date, for accessibility, let’s stick with 2016.

Using slide layout in PowerPoint: for accessibility and time savings

Over the past two years the student workers at UIS have worked on a little over 400 PowerPoint files with over 10,000 slides in those files. PowerPoints account for about 17% of the files we work on overall. In that time I have posted on how to use the accessibility checker in PowerPoint, proper use of lists, checking for color issues, a primer on alt text, and specifically alt text for math and science. In many cases, such as adding alt text, making the file accessible can add time overall. However, using proper slide layout can not only help make a PowerPoint more accessible, it can help save you time in the long run.

I must confess when I began using PowerPoint about 19 years ago, I would right click on a slide and paste an image, then resize it. I believe back then I could also right click and create a textbox to add a title or content, and resize it as well, let’s call this the “outdated method” . With many of the PowerPoints we see today I think that same thing is occurring. However, let me introduce you to using layouts.

In PowerPoint 2016 for PC you can access this feature on the insert tab, on the far left there is a new slide option with a drop down menu. This will give you about 9 different options for slide layouts. My guess is the two most commonly used are the “title and content” or the “two content” options.

In PowerPoint 2016 for Mac you can access this from the home tab, on the near left there is a new slide drop down menu. From there you will have the same options as for the PC.

If you select the title and content, you have a pre-made box which you can enter the title of the slide. You also have a content box, which will allow you to enter text, a table, a graph, smart art, a picture, or a video, just by clicking in the box for text, or clicking on the corresponding icon within the content box.

By using this layout you have solved one of the common accessibility problems, reading order. This means that a screen reader can intuit, from your use of the pre-made layouts that you would like the title read first, and the content text, image alt text, or table read next. If you use a two content layout it will know which order to read as well, title, content box one, and content box two. If you create slides using the outdated method, a screen reader will not be able to read the content in a necessarily logical order. As an added bonus if you use the layout features and need to convert the PowerPoint to an outline format, the titles and content text will transfer. If you use the outdated method, none of the content will transfer over.

What about slides where you just want a large picture, or you cut and past the same title over and over, perhaps “Civil War”? From a universal design standpoint, a unique title per slide will allow students to reference the slide on discussion boards, in class, or with classmates. Referencing the “Pickett’s Charge” slide is more precise, and helpful, than referencing that “Civil War slide, in the middle somewhere”.

And I promised this would save time, right? Using slides that already have these title and content boxes built in will save you several extra clicks per slide. If we think about 2 clicks per slide for the 10,000 slides we’ve worked on (estimating 1 second per click), that would save about 2 hours and 45 minutes, enough to enjoy a film in the theater.

And finally, if you use the layouts, and decide that you would like to change the design or look of the slides, using the built in layout will allow that to occur more fluidly, with less resizing and moving on your part. An image placed on a blank slide with “insert picture” will not move based on slide design, one placed in the content box will move with different design templates.

PowerPoint and the accessibility checker

Just like with Word, PowerPoint has a built in accessibility checker.  This link to Accessibility at the Microsoft website can show you how to run it for Macs or PCs.  It also lists some of the most common issues and fixes for PowerPoint.  Typically, those are alternative text and reading order.

Alternative text is what is read by a screen reader to describe an image in a presentation.  If there is no alternative text a screen reader will read there is an image and the size of it.

Reading order is the order in which a screen reader reads the information on a page.  And while it may seem intuitive to read from top to bottom and left to right, PowerPoint reads in the order which the information was added to the page originally.