Improving Accessibility - Tips for Tutors
The following notes offer some general, practical guidance for tutors and staff producing study materials. Some students may have visual impairment, dyslexia, or other medical conditions which may need to be taken into account when producing academic material. It is useful to do this in the first instance, rather than having to re-format existing materials a second time.

1. Document Design Considerations: Formats: There is an order of preference in modern document design which helps with making documents accessible, updatable, and transferable. This is:
  1. HTML
  2. PDF
  3. Plain text
  4. Microsoft Office ('97-2003 .doc, .xls, .ppt formats)

HTML is a universal format, requiring only a standard web browser in order to view a document produced in this format. Such documents may also have other components or elements associated with them, usually at the same folder level, which the tutor must remember to include as a package whenever the material is relocated. HTML documentation is relatively easy to relocate and reconstruct in a new web based environment.

In terms of accessibility, HTML pages are 'rendered' by web browsers according to browser preferences, which can include text size and overall magnification. Internet Explorer 7 and later and Mozilla Firefox 3.xx and later include these facilities.

Internet Explorer 7 onwards have a magnification tool in the bottom right hand corner of the browser window. This will do a literal magnification of the content. Students can use this to magnify the text and images to any percentage level they require to make the content accessible, such as 125%, 150%, 200%, 250%, 300%, 400%, etc. Internet Explorer 6 onwards has a Text Size tool on the menu, View, Text Size, (smallest - largest). These two tools can be used together by students to make HTML pages more accessible. This is compatible with Oasisplus.

Mozilla Firefox 3.xx onwards has similar facilities located on the menu by clicking on View, Zoom, Zoom In [CTRL+] or Zoom Out [CTRL-]. These keyboard short cuts can be really helpful in providing quick ways to resize the materials on the screen and also work on images. The same process allows a third option, to control magnification of the text only, which is very useful for keeping the material on the screen.

PDF is also regarded as a universal document format as it is easily readable using a free to install reader application (Adobe Reader) which is available for most computers, including PCs, Apple Macs, PDAs and Smartphones. PDF documents offer advantages of being compact, read only and virus free. The pdf reader, Adobe Reader, has magnification tools built in on the toolbar making it easy to increase the size of the document being read. Tutors can make PDF format versions of their documents using Adobe Acrobat Professional (if available) or using the CutePDF Writer application which is included as standard on all University PC computers. It is accessed as a virtual Printer driver, see your computer's list of printers in the Printer Drop-down dialogue box. When you click OK to send to the CutePDF Writer printer, a dialogue box will appear asking you for a Save As (filename.pdf).

There are also other PDF writers available, which are free, and readers, such as FoxIt Reader, which are also free.

Plain text documents are much under rated and under used as a form of communicating content or materials these days. This is unfortunate, as material delivered using this universal format is very efficient and is the most accessible of all the formats. Once received, it can be opened and rendered in a web browser, or in any word processor and scaled to any appropriate size by the recipient without any problem.

The more common method of delivery favoured by teaching staff is to deliver materials as simple Microsoft Word documents or Powerpoint presentations. These are the least accessible ways of delivering materials as they require the recipients to have Microsoft Office installed on their computers. Not only that, but they must also have the latest version of Microsoft Office if .docx or .pptx formatted documents are sent. If the recipients do not have the applications, they cannot open the materials and the learning opportunity is compromised.

2. Document Design Considerations: Availability Of Materials In Different Formats:

When offering reading materials in a less accessible format such as Microsoft Word, tutors should consider offering the materials in more accessible formats as well, e.g. by placing a copy of the same document as a .pdf version alongside the original. This will improve accessibility by offering the students a choice of formats so if one format doesn't work, the other one probably will.

3. Document Design Considerations: Design With Accessibility In Mind From The Outset:

  • Use larger fonts, such as 12 point or 14 point in Word documents.
  • Use more readable fonts such as Arial, Calibri, or Verdana
  • In powerpoint presentations, use only 2 or 3 bullet points per slide and keep the text point size above 32 point.
  • When making pdf or paper handouts, use 2 slides per page instead of 6 slides per page. This will make the presentation easier to read at its default size.
  • If your powerpoint presentation runs to 50 pages of detailed bullet points, consider reformatting/re-writing as a full Word document narrative and re-write a shorter powerpoint presentation for your class lecture. Remember, your powerpoint presentation should only be your visual cue to your verbal narrative in your face-to-face lecture or presentation.