Creating Accessible Online Content
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.
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.
- People read more slowly off the computer screen than from printed materials.
- People tend to scan and skim the material to locate and retrieve important information.
Chunk content into smaller, informational units that are easier to digest.
- A well-constructed chunk provides readers with a comprehensive account, as well as links to related or supporting pages for further study.
- Chunking provides a way to limit the length of your Web pages: Web readers generally prefer shorter pages. However, the primary measure of page length should be content. Create logical divisions and subdivisions based on the structure of your information.
- Don't divide a document arbitrarily or break your narrative into small segments, if you expect that most users will want to print the information. Instead, provide an easy-to-print version.
- Hazards to watch for when chunking information: fragmentation, redundancy, and excessive linking.
Create a clean page layout and maintain it throughout the web site.
- use easy to read font and Web-safe colors
- use headings and subheadings
- use bulleted and numbered lists, tables and text boxes
- highlight key words
- use hyperlinks within longer documents to help students navigate the material
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.
- keep paragraphs short
- facilitate comprehension by using simple, clear, and concise language
- make sure your style is consistent
- use active voice - it is clearer and stronger than passive voice
- enhance text with visuals such as images, charts, graphs, etc.
Linear vs. Nonlinear Design
- Use linear design when you want students to go through the material step-by-step, such as in skill building instruction.
- The Web is a hypertext medium that supports multiple pathways through information. You can take advantage of the medium by using non-linear design, which allows students to select the order in which they complete topics through the use of hypertext, menus, and unnumbered modules.
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.
- Make sure the media materials in your course are relevant:
When thinking about media for your course, keep in mind the adage "content is king." Use images or other media elements only when they help communicate your message.
- Minimize delays:
Provide students with previews and system requirements before they download files. Include file sizes as a guideline.
- Provide different views for different types of users:
One of the greatest challenges facing Web authors is designing sites that will accommodate all users. Some students are connecting to the Internet via slow modems on out-dated machines; others may be physically, visually, or hearing impaired. Any time you include media in your course you should provide alternate views of your materials to accommodate different users.
- Leave control in the hands of the user:
Let interaction with your media be student-driven. Include user controls, such as a media controller bar, and make sure students have a way to turn media on and off. Avoid prescribed playback options like auto-play or looping that take control away from the student.
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.
- Consider learning modalities (visual, auditory, kinesthetic)
- Auditory learners prefer verbal instructions, discussions, or dialogues. Audio clips with instructions for activities or projects would be helpful to this type of student.
- Visual learners prefer demonstrations or active descriptions. Video clips and supplemental images with lecture notes would be helpful to this type of student.
- Kinesthetic learners learn best by doing. Assignments, projects, or labs are helpful for this type of student to learn. Textual descriptions in the online course would give constant guidance to the learner, if there were a question or inquiry.
- Consider learning preferences
- Cognitive styles - the preferred way an individual processes information. It is usually described as a personality dimension which influences attitudes, values, social interactions, and belief systems over the years.
- Learning styles - deal specifically with a characteristic style of learning new material.
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.
Commonly used items that may create barriers for individuals with disabilities include:
- frames used for site navigation
- tables used for formatting purposes
- text (font choice and size)
- color (poor choice of text and background colors)
- images missing alternative text description
- multimedia that lack captioning and/or text description
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