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Best Practices in Accessible Online Design

Recently I’ve been impressed with a digital book, Best Practices in Accessible Online Design written expressly for faculty grappling with accessibility of course material for the classroom (or virtual classroom) and what that means to them. This clear, concise and rather compete work by Heather Caprette, MFA, Sr. Media Developer/Sr. Instructional Designer at Cleveland State University, has been perhaps the best review and exploration of accessibility that I’ve seen to date. Although also available as a PDF version for download, I recommend the online version – the examples and links will be helpful, although you need to navigate the work from the Table of Contents on the left.

Ms. Caprette starts with the premise that her readers are intelligent capable professionals. She takes a very straightforward approach to accessibility. Beginning with a section on understanding accessibility and disability, and pointing out how, whether we like it or not, “we are all aging into disability” at some level. From the history and legal basis of our current approach to accessibility, she delves into really understanding what accessibility means, and how it applies to far more people that one might initially imagine. She covers the current standards for accessible content and then she outlines the various tools that students use to manage content to which they need access. Throughout the work, Ms. Caprette has examples and references to back up her writing. I was impressed with how straightforward she was in discussing the various tools, both in hardware and in screen readers, voice recognition software, screen magnification tools, and hardware and software assistive devices.

Then Ms. Caprette gets into detail on how one can use Microsoft Word to create accessible documents, going into depth on both the Mac and Windows versions of Word, where appropriate. Third is a section on Blackboard Learn, which is likely less relevant to our audience here, as we use Moodle for online course material. Fourth, she covers the PDF format and some of the ways that both can be used successfully to create and support assistive reading devices as well as some of the many ways it can go wrong. And then how to fix some of those!

Then Ms. Caprette covers some of the tools we commonly use to assess websites for accessibility, going into enough depth to make them useful to faculty who might want to check their own personal, lab or departmental sites. Finally, she talks a bit about captioning and transcribing audio and video content to make it more available for students. But she doesn’t just talk about it, she includes examples, links and details of the tools one can use, both paid and free, for such things. Examples include the WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool, the aXe accessibility tools from Deque Labs and a few other techniques for checking web accessibility. One thing many of us find useful to remember is that students are often viewing our content from mobile devices. The tools and evaluations that are useful in developing accessible content, are equally useful for developing and publishing content that this generation of students can view and interact with on their mobile devices.

Throughout this work, Ms. Caprette takes treats the reader as a colleague who is intelligently interested in learning how to do things better. She continues to point out ways in which developing accessible content doesn’t just help students with an accommodation requirement, but how such content improves learning for nearly all students, and visitors to web sites. I whole heartedly recommend this work to any faculty or staff member involved with producing content on the web or for classes or other areas, and I would include students who may be tasked with such things as part of class assignments and jobs on campus or post-graduation.