What are the most common accessibility issues that I can fix?

Below we’ve identified five of the most common barriers (and solutions!) to creating accessible instructional materials. Review the materials you use in your course offerings to ensure that they are as accessible as possible.

1. Scanned Documents

What’s the issue?

People who have issues with reading text can use assistive software to translate the text of a document into a more accessible format. For this to occur, the text needs to be in a text format, rather than saved as an image. When an instructor scans a document and saves as a PDF, the text on the file is presented as an image.  Assistive technology can’t read the image, and therefore can’t convert the text to an accessible format.

How would I fix it?

1. Look for an original in accessible format: Check the library for an original in accessible format, such as an accessible electronic copy of an article. Check in with a librarian if you are unsure of what you’re looking for.

2. Convert the document using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software: Follow the instructions on your OCR software. This will convert the image into text. Sometimes software will not translate perfectly, so it is suggested that you spell check and proofread the document afterwards. Note that word processing software typically includes OCR functions (i.e. Google Docs, Microsoft Word, Adobe Acrobat Professional), and there are many free OCR options available online, including options for mobile devices. Here is an example of the OCR conversion tool in Google Docs.

2. Untagged PDFs

What’s the issue?

Tags on a document take the place of visual cues that would regularly denote the logic and structure of a text. For example, one could visually tell two paragraphs apart from each other by a space in between the two distinct texts, however a blank space means nothing to someone who is visually impaired. For accessibility purposes, each paragraph would be distinctly tagged as a paragraph, tables would be tagged as tables, etc. Tags allow the assistive technology to recognize the structure of the text and present the information in a logical fashion. Without tags, the assistive technology would have to guess at the structure (typically inaccurately) or would deem the document as simply not accessible.

The video below shows a quick before and after version of an assistive reading program reading the same PDF. The first version has no tags, while the second has tags.

How would I fix it?

1. Tag the document: If using Adobe Acrobat Professional, visit the Add Tags to the Document page to see if the PDF is tagged appropriately. Proceed to the Examine and Repair the Tag Structure (Basics) if needed.

3. Images without alternative text

What’s the issue?

People with visual impairments would not be able to view images. Alternative text provides a description of what the image is and should be included for any graphic (e.g. clip art, SmartArt, shapes, and pictures). Although the student can’t see the image, they can still understand the meaning of it conveyed through alternative text.

How would I fix it?

1. Add alternative text: If using Adobe Acrobat Professional, visit the Add Alternative Text page for instruction. If using Word, apply alternative text to images. Note for various types of images the pathway to add alternative text is slightly different.

4. Documents with poor contrast

What’s the issue?

As the contrast between items lowers, the visibility and audibility also lowers. Text, images, and sounds should be clearly distinguishable from their background. Also note that roughly 10% of men and less than 1% of women have some type of red/green colour blindness; when contrasted well, these colours should not be an issue, but use caution and avoid them wherever possible.

How would I fix it?

1. Check the colour contrast and alter if needed: There are various Colour Contrast Analyzers available online for free. The minimum colour contrast ratio is 3:1. The information conveyed by colour differences should also be included elsewhere in text, such as a written description of a graphic. If using Adobe Acrobat Professional, Colour allows you to browse or create colour themes. If using Word, select accessible text colours and/or use the Colour Contrast Analyzer cited in the link.

5. Documents without headings

What’s the issue?

Similar to Tags in PDFs, headings in a document aid in providing logic and structure to a text. Headings allow the assistive technology to recognize the structure of the text and present the information in a logical fashion. Without headings, the assistive technology would have to guess at the structure (typically inaccurately) or would deem the document as simply not accessible. Using other simple structures to denote items, such as table headers and ordered lists, will also help with accurate reading.

How would I fix it?

1. Add appropriate headings: If using Office, use accessible features such as built-in headings and styles. You can save as an accessible PDF using the instructions from Create Accessible PDFs.

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