Maggie McCarthy BA (Hons), PGDT
Product Training Executive
Dolphin Computer Access Ltd.
In a classroom environment, there are many learning resources which are available in a standard print format, such as classroom handouts, worksheets and textbook chapters. These learning resources are the foundations of the school curriculum, yet for students with dyslexia or a visual impairment, they are often inaccessible simply because of the format they are presented in.
An essential part of creating an accessible school environment is providing learning resources which all students can easily access and read.
In this article, Dolphin's Product Training Executive and former teacher, Maggie McCarthy, identifies some very simple changes which you can make to the layout of your learning resources to make them accessible to all students.
Accessible documents can be productively read by anybody who struggles to access standard printed information, including people with visual impairments, dyslexia, low literacy levels and people learning English as an additional language.
A great example of an inaccessible learning resource is a standard page from a textbook. What might you want to do with a textbook page to make it accessible for your students?
Well firstly, your students may wish to use their assistive technology to read it. For example, a dyslexic student may want to read the information using a read and write toolbar, such as Dolphin SaySo. A student with a visual impairment on the other hand may wish to read the document using a screen reader, such as Dolphin SuperNova.
To enable your students to read it using their assistive technology, you need to make the book available electronically, preferably as a Microsoft Word file.
Secondly, your students may prefer to read the book in an alternative format. You can use a document conversion tool such as Dolphin EasyConverter to quickly and easily scan in and convert your learning resources into Braille or large print versions, or convert it into an audio book format, such as an MP3 file or DAISY talking book.
Don't worry. Once you have made your learning resources "accessible" then it is really easy for students to read them with their assistive technology, and for you to convert them into an alternative format version. What's more, there are some very simple changes you can make to your documents to make them accessible.
Microsoft Word provides a familiar and easy to use document format that all students will be able to access and interact with. So a first tip is to make sure that you have a Microsoft Word version of your learning resources available.
Many teachers use Microsoft Word to create learning resources such as handouts and worksheets. But for resources which are only available in print, I recommend scanning them into your computer.
You can scan your learning resources and make them available as Microsoft Word docs using document conversion software such as Dolphin EasyConverter.
Microsoft Word includes some brilliant features for helping you to structure your learning resources. Below are some of the features which can help you make your learning resources more accessible:
Any documents which are more than a few paragraphs long require structuring to make than more straightforward for readers to navigate through. One of the easiest ways to do this is to add "true headings" to your document to create logical divisions between paragraphs and sections.
Now, a lot of people add headings their own way by emphasising the title, headings and sub headings by making them bold and underlining them. However, if you avoid this and add true headings, then your document instantly becomes more accessible.
For example, screen readers enable visually impaired students to instantly skip to any heading in your document. What's more, conversion tools such as Dolphin EasyConverter will structure any alternative format versions of your document by these headings.
You can quickly and easily add heading levels for your documents title, main headings and subheadings using the "Styles" section in Microsoft Word.
This tip isn't rocket science; clear fonts make information easier to read, whether reading learning resources on the computer screen or printing them out.
I recommend using a standard font with clear spacing. Sans Serif fonts (such as Arial and Verdana) are ideal and a point size between 12pt and 18pt for the body of the text.
Assistive technology is designed to work with the built-in formatting features of Microsoft Word. So when creating accessible versions of learning materials, it is always recommended that you use Microsoft Word's formatting options.
You can use Microsoft Word's formatting options to:
As well as the formatting features which can enhance a document's accessibility, Microsoft Word includes some proofing features which assistive technologies struggle to interact with. For example, not all screen readers are able to read 'comments' and 'tracked changes' in Microsoft Word documents. So these properties should be avoided in an accessible document.
A picture can say a thousand words. As cheesy as this sounds, images really are a great way of illustrating a point and engaging students into your learning resources. However, images are completely inaccessible to students who are blind, and can be very tricky for students who are partially sighted.
By simply adding a text description to your images, all of the rich information contained within an image can be expressed in your accessible learning resources.
Take the image below as an example:
An alternative text description of this image might be:
Image starts. Pie chart to show student grades. The pie chart shows that 4 students received an A grade (14.3%), 12 students recieved a B grade (42.9%), 10 students received a C grade (35.7%) and 2 students received a D grade (7.1%). Image ends.
Adding text descriptions in Microsoft Word 2007 is easy. To do this:
1. Find the image you would like to add a text description to.
2. RIGHT MOUSE click on the image.
3. Select "Size" from the menu. The "Size" dialog opens.
4. Select the "Alt Text" tab.
5. Insert a text description of the image.
When you add a text description to an image, it will not be displayed on the page. However, when a student reads the document using a screen reader, the screen reader will read back the text description. Similarly, when you convert the resource into a Braille, MP3 audio or DAISY talking book version, the text description will be available in your alternative format version as well.
A lot of learning resources use elements such as floating text boxes to separate sections of text from each other. However, many assistive technology products struggle to interact with text boxes, often missing them out completely and moving onto the next available paragraph of text.
To get around this, and to ensure that your students can access all of the information in your learning resources, you can simply copy the text from a text box, and paste it into your document as a standard paragraph of text.
Making your learning resources accessible will help you to provide an accessible learning environment where all students can reach their full potential.
Get started today! And if you get stuck, there are videos available on the Dolphin website for to show you how:
Meet Maggie McCarthy