Creating Accessible Online Content

Universal Accessibility

The goal of universal accessibility is to provide access to online material to as many people as possible. The presentation of online content must be tailored to the electronic environment, the way people learn online, and individual needs of people with disabilities. Developing content for an online course will probably mean writing new materials. Writing Web documents is different from writing for print, and if you simply move your print documents onto Web pages, you may not be using the medium to its best advantage.

Learn More:

Instructional design resources at the Illinois Online Network

Accessibility and Universal Design at Foothill College

Design Considerations

Reading on the Web

Web readers tend to scan text online and read text offline. Typically, they do not read a page from start to finish on the computer screen. Instead, they scan a site looking for relevant items and then print pages that contain the information they seek. You need to apply a style and method to your Web documents that accommodate this type of reading.

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How Users Read on the Web by Jakob Nielsen

Formatting Content

Chunk content into smaller, informational units that are easier to digest.

Create a clean page layout and maintain it throughout the web site.

Writing Style

Summarize first. Put the main points of your document in the first paragraph, so that readers scanning your pages will not miss your point.

Be concise. Use lists rather than paragraphs, but only when your prose lends itself to such treatment. Readers can pick out information more easily from a list than from within a paragraph.

Write for scanning. Most Web readers scan pages for relevant materials rather than reading through a document word by word. Guide the reader by highlighting the salient points in your document using headings, lists, and typographical emphasis.


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Be Succinct! (Writing for the Web) by Jakob Nielsen

Linear vs. Nonlinear Design


User-centered design is an imperative for media-rich web sites. Images, animations, video, and audio all add complexity for students. Their technical skills and hardware may not be adequate to handle large media files and install plug-ins. They may also endure delays and glitches in order to access media.

Learning Styles

Do your materials appeal to different types of learners and learning styles? In looking at the materials you have or will need to develop, are there areas where the text could be enhanced by images or audio files? Could certain MS Word documents warrant an update or rewrite? Are instructions to assignments written clearly? Could these instructions be more useful in a video format? Because the target learners will be a diverse group, this implies designing a number of different treatments for a learning task and giving learners control over which one(s) they choose.

Accessible Design

Follow universal accessibility principles when creating online materials. You want to ensure that all of your students can access and comprehend your course content easily.

Universal accessibility ensures that web sites are developed to serve the largest possible audience, using the broadest range of hardware and software platforms, and that the needs of users with disabilities are considered. Universal access means the ability to navigate a web site using various methods, such as mouse, keyboard, voice input or, screen reader.

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Universal Accessibility at WebAIM

Commonly used items that may create barriers for individuals with disabilities include:

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