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Creating accessible teaching and learning materials

The Equality Act (2010) requires us to ensure that the materials/resources we produce for students are accessible. A new Policy on Inclusive Practice in Teaching & Learning was developed and implemented in January 2018 to provide greater clarity to the institutional commitment to an inclusive approach, as set out in the Curriculum Framework and the Teaching and Learning Strategy. The aims of the Policy are to increase the accessibility and inclusivity of our learning and teaching practices by embedding key adjustments, which will:

  • benefit all learners;
  • reduce the need for adjustments to teaching materials for individuals;
  •  enable all learners to participate fully in their learning.

It is likely that you will design a range of resources to support and engage students in their learning. It is important that you refer to the University's policy when preparing resources to ensure they meet expectations. You will find some advice, tips and recommendations on this page. We have also produced some 'top tips' with practical advice for improving the inclusivity of teaching and learning materials following the implementation of the new Policy.

Reducing the need for alternative formats

Creating accessible resources from the outset will provide a more inclusive learning experience for all your students, and should make conversion to alternative formats quicker and easier where necessary. The Disability Advisory Service can provide advice about alternative formats.

The guidelines which follow outline some key principles which can be used to create accessible teaching and learning resources. Many of these principles can be easily applied to your everyday teaching practice.

Nevertheless, it is important to ascertain the individual needs of your students at the start of your module. Students' needs may change over time and it is important to create an environment where students feel comfortable to approach you. Consider adding a tagline to resources you create making it explicit that these are available in alternative formats on request. Provide space for students to discuss their individual needs in a private and confidential environment.

Use accessible electronic resources and upload these to Blackboard in advance

Paper copies of resources handed out in class can present a barrier for some students. This barrier can be reduced by uploading accessible electronic copy to Blackboard at least 24 hours (ideally 36 to 48 hours) in advance. This provides time for students to access the materials using assistive technologies, e.g. screenreaders, where required. It also provides flexible access to learning content so that all students have time to prepare and think critically about the subject material prior to class.

You may be concerned that providing resources in advance may adversely impact on attendance at your sessions. This need not be the case. It may be helpful to reflect on what you would like the students to do before, during and following your session. How do the resources you make available in advance support this? Would a 'partial handout' which states the learning outcomes, provides an 'advance organiser', and links to essential reading, be more beneficial than revealing all your lecture slides? How will you make your expectations clear to students?

Accessible text

  • Use Word format (or equivalent) or accessible text-based PDF documents.
  • Make sure the font size you are using is appropriate for the kind of output you are using. For example, 12 point is a reasonable size for paper handouts, and 24 point is a reasonable size for PowerPoint (or equivalent) presentations.
  • Use a sans serif font such as Arial, Calibri or Effra (the University's corporate font) that will have good legibility both when printed and when viewed on screen devices.
  • Avoid using block capital letters as these reduce readability.
  • Use bold for emphasis, rather than underlined text or italics.
  • Use left alignment rather than justified text to avoid uneven word spacing.
  • Make sure text has sufficient line spacing - line spacing of at least 1.5 is preferable to single-spaced paragraphs.
  • Provide adequate blank space and ample margins in documents and slides.
  • Use headings to organise information effectively. Word has pre-set styles which make the navigation and hierarchy of documents clear.
  • Use page numbering (e.g. page 12 of 25) and page or screen breaks to provide structural cues.
  • Use dark text on a light background for contrast. Some students may require hard copies of handouts on different coloured paper (e.g. black text on off-white or yellow paper).
  • Avoid using colour to convey information, because some students have difficulty perceiving differences between colours, particularly red and green.
  • Keep sentences short and to the point. If you are presenting complex information, use bullet points to break it down into manageable but clearly related units.
  • Avoid idioms.
  • Avoid overlapping images with text unless there is sufficient contrast between the text and the background image.

Accessible multimedia

  • Provide alternative text (ALT text) descriptions for essential images and graphics.
  • Provide transcripts for audio.
  • Provide subtitles or closed captions for video. If this is not possible, a transcript is essential.

Accessible Blackboard courses

The course content and way in which your course is structured are central to the accessibility and usability of your Blackboard course. In addition to the above points it may be useful to consider the following:

  • Adoption of a default menu structure by the programme team to increase consistency and assist all students in navigating courses. Read CQSD's suggested default menu structure with suggestions for what each section could contain.
  • Name content areas, folders and items meaningfully so students can find relevant information quickly.
  • Add succinct descriptions to items so students know what they will find when they open it and how you expect them to engage with it.
  • Keep resources and web links up-to-date.
  • Hide empty folders and unused tools.
  • Make sure the layout and availability of content complements the delivery of the module.
  • State how you intend to use the Blackboard course and set expectations for engagement.
  • Signpost where to find essential content.
  • Make sure that if links open in a new window this is clearly stated.
  • Be aware that external content may not always be accessible.

The Blackboard Help pages provide lots of valuable guidance on creating accessible Blackboard courses. You could also read about creating an inclusive learning environment by using the Accessibility Features in Blackboard Learn.

Lecture capture

You may choose to record your live lecture or make a short recording on your own, prior to or after your own teaching (using audio, video or screencasting). Making these accessible can enhance access and inclusion for students with disabilities and students for whom English is an additional language. It also provides an opportunity for all students to revisit course material.

University policy permits all students to make audio recordings of a lecture. You are entitled to use your discretion for sessions other than lectures. If students wish to make video recordings they must seek your permission.

You should be aware that individuals with disabilities (as specified in their Assessment for Specific Learning Difficulties or equivalent report) are entitled to audio and video record all teaching, but they are required to inform you in advance should they wish to make a visual recording.

Avoid tokenism or stereotyping

This guidance has focused largely on accessibility, but you need to be mindful when selecting images or multimedia that these accurately reflect diversity.

Further resources

For more information on assistive technologies available on campus, please see the Library's Information for users with disabilities page.

Jisc have produced a helpful guide on Using assistive and accessible technology in teaching and learning.

The University of Edinburgh has produced some excellent guidance on Creating accessible materials.

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