Online Teaching & Technology Blog

Center for Online Learning, Research and Service @ Illinois Springfield

Category: Word

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.

A strong rule

In Word 2016, for Mac or PC, when using bold or italics for emphasis in a document, consider using the style “strong”.  It is in the styles group along with normal, heading 1, heading 2….  A screen reader does not add emphasis to bold or italics, but will if you use strong.  In appearance, strong is set to a default bold.  However, you can modify the styles to whatever you would like.  To learn how to modify your styles go to this page, scroll down to “to modify a link” and use the instructions to set the styles to your preferences.

As a general rule, if you add color, bold, italics, or underline for emphasis in a document, consider selecting just one method of conveying emphasis.  Around 5% of the population is color blind, and around 2.3% of the population has a visual disability.  The color can be problematic for a color blind individual, and none of those methods of emphasis are conveyed through a screen reader.

Use headings in Word, and modify them to fit your style

When creating Word documents use the built in styles such as heading 1, heading 2, heading 3…to layout your document.  This makes a document more navigable for people using a screen reader.  And while Microsoft has odd font and color choices for their default heading styles, you can modify the styles to whatever you would like.  To learn how to modify your styles goto this page ,scroll down to “to modify a link” and use the instructions to set the styles to whatever you would prefer.

Update your version of Word

In preparation for the spring semester, make sure that your version of Word is up to date, Word 2016.  You can download it for your personal use at the webstore.  By having the most recent version of Word you can update all old Word files to the most recent version, and use the built in accessibility checker to make your Word documents more accessible.