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Creating Accessible Materials

About Creating Accessible Materials

An Obvious Statement

I’m going to make a rather obvious statement here: Accessible materials are a must for digital accessibility.  You’re probably thinking: “Well, yeah.  That is obvious.”   

But one of the hard parts about creating accessible materials is that most people don’t know they need to do it.  They have never heard of digital accessibility, and they don’t know that materials can even be inaccessible.  And even once they do, they don’t even know where to start to create or fix their documents or materials to be accessible. 

A Story

I worked in higher education disability services for over eight years.  Most instructors and staff had never even heard of digital accessibility.  When they learned about it, they wanted to help.  They wanted to make sure their students were included in the class and had access to all the course materials.   

The challenge was that these instructors were already into the semester, had myriad duties, and almost no time (if any) to remediate the materials.  So the disability services department helped take care of that.  But remediation takes time, and it is impossible to get materials accessible immediately for the semester.   

A Question (and an Answer)

“Great story, but why does this matter to me?”  It matters because we are much like those instructors.  We create material, move on to other tasks, and don’t have time to go back and fix issues on something that’s already done.  So how do we avoid needing to do that?  The answer is, and always will be, make all content accessible from the start. 

I’ll cover more specifics in future posts about different content types.  For now, here are a few basics to get you started. 

General Tips

From here forward I’m going to assume you intent to create accessible materials, so I’ll avoid saying “accessible” every time in the interest of “It goes without saying…”.  In no particular order, here are a few tips to guide you when creating materials.  

Keep It Simple

Accessibility is about usability.  Simple means materials are more usable by a wider audience.  Creating simple products is often quite challenging.  It makes us think about how best to convey our material in an understandable manner.  So we get to be creative and look at things in a new way, which is always a good thing. 

Use Plain Language

This is the Keep it Simple of using words.  Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”  The better you can explain your material in simple words, the better you and your audience will understand the information.  There are many plain language resources online, and a future Solutions post will explore more about this topic. 

Use a Clear Structure

This is the Keep it Simple of design and layout.  A clear structure makes the material more understandable and relevant, and readers will be more likely to continue reading. As you’re going through the document, take a break and come back to it.  Ask yourself “Does this make sense?” and “Would other people understand this?” 

A Few More Tips

We will cover more about these tips in upcoming posts, but I’m adding them here so you are at least aware of them. 

  • Make images accessible 
  • Use headings as an outline, and only use one heading 1 
  • Use the styles to format the visual appearance of your text 
  • Color contrast is important.  Convey information by more than color alone 

Word Document Tips

Here are a few tips for creating accessible Word documents.  We’ll go more in depth about this in the next post. 

  • The Accessibility Checker is your best friend 
  • The Help button is also your friend 
  • Use the Styles Pane to format your text appearance.  Styles Pane is a really good friend 
  • Use an easy-to-read font size (12pt or larger for the body, 9-pt or larger for footnotes) 
  • Do not use images to convey text 
  • Set the document properties for every document – Title, Subject, Author 
  • Set the language for the document (you can set a default for all future documents) 
  • Add alt text for all images 
  • Give hyperlinks relevant names (not just “click here”) 
  • Keep tables as simple as possible, and always include header row information 
  • Avoid watermarks and floating objects 

PDF Tips

Here are some times about creating accessible PDF documents.  We’ll cover more of this in a few weeks. 

  • Create an accessible source document before converting it to PDF (use the Adobe plug-in or export – never print to PDF for this) 
  • Run the Accessibility Checker.  This is still your best friend 
  • Check alt text and color contrast to make sure nothing got messed up when the document was converted 
  • Make sure tags are included 
  • Check the reading order.  The order in the Reading Order pane should match the order of the tags 
  • Make sure links are named 
  • Confirm artifacts are accurate 
  • Double-check form fields and buttons 

Upcoming Topics (in no particular order)

Here is a list of topics that will be posted in the upcoming weeks and months.  Other topics might also be mixed in before these are all posted, but this will give you an idea of what’s to come.  If you’d like a topic that is not listed here, check in with me via the Contact CPM Accessibility form on this page.  If it is something relevant for CPM, I can add it to the list. W

  • Creating Accessible… 
    • Word Documents
    • PDFs
    • Online Courses
    • Tables
    • Charts
    • Graphs
    • Excel Files
    • Power Points
  • Using Plain Language
  • Making Images Accessible

Check back on March 13, 2019, for more information about Creating Accessible Word Documents. 

Contact CPM Accessibility