Technology Tips for Universal Design for Learning fall under three main categories: web, documents and video. Fortunately, many of these practices are applicable across several categories, so once you understand one, you can apply those same design principles to several different areas. For example using fonts and high contrast background colors is advantageous for both web and print documents.
Improve web accessibility
Add alternative text to images
When uploading a photo or picture into a document or website, you have the opportunity to add alternative text so that people who have a visual impairment can still understand what is happening in your presentation, website etc. When you add an image in most electronic documents, there is a “description” box. The text in this box can be read by screen reading software such as JAWS. If there is no place to add a description to the image, it is still possible to add a caption to the photo that describes what is taking place in the image.
Use a sans serif font and use high contrast colors
Serifs are the small extensions on the ends of some letters. A sans serif font is cleaner and crisper, and is easier to read on a digital device. You don’t always have the choice to change your font. Depending on your writing platform, there may be a default font set, however, if you have a choice, choose a sans serif font, such as Veranda, for your digital documents. Try to avoid a dark backgrounds with dark text, it is difficult to read. In addition, try to include white space and headers in your documents, rather than creating a document that is an large block of text.
Format tables using the appropriate headers
It is best to use tables only to display information that must be displayed in a table format, such as a bank statement. In order words, avoid using tables simply for formatting. Screen readers often present the information in tables in awkward and confusing chunks. Information that can be displayed in a simple numbered or bulleted list is preferable. When tables are necessary, be sure to include appropriate column and row heads to make the information easier to decipher.
Improve document accessibility
Make sure that your PDFs are accessible
While PDFs are convenient and are a great way preserve document formatting, they are not always compatible with screen reading software. Documents need to be converted to PDF in a way that allows text to be recognized as text, rather than an image. If you scan a document (for example, a chapter from a text book), first be sure that the glass is streak free, that the book is straight and that the resolution and brightness are clear and readable. Rotate any pages that were scanned sideways. You will then need to OCR (optical character recognition) the scanned document using Adobe Acrobat Pro, or another OCR software. In addition, if you are printing a PDF from a Word document, be sure to use the appropriate headings for your text, as those headings will carry over to the PDF document.
Use the headings in your text editor
When using any text editor, such as MS Word, or the Blackboard text editor, use the headings/paragraph, lists, and bullet point formatting tools to format a document both visually and for a screen reader. For example, rather than simply increasing the font size and selecting “B” or “bold” to create the title of your page, use the “Heading 1” format tool. Increased font size is not recognized by a screen reader, but a heading indicator is. This will allow the user to get a better sense of flow and organization of a document. Otherwise, what visually appears as a carefully formatted document will become a large, space free block of text in a screen reader. For this same purpose, avoid using charts unnecessarily or only for formatting purposes. Only use charts for information that truly needs to be categorized because of the difficulty charts can cause for screen readers.
Improve video accessibility
Add captions to your videos
Use captioned videos, even in the absence of an accommodation request from a student. Video captions can help students of all abilities increase their comprehension of the content and improve vocabulary. In addition, students need want to watch a video in a noisy environment.
Use high quality audio
When recording a screencast on your computer, check to ensure that the sound quality is good by making a short test video. In TechSmith Relay, use the blue “test” button to ensure that both the audio and video quality are good. This is especially helpful after technology upgrades–it is always nice to catch a problem early on, rather than after having completed a long presentation. Consider using an external mic if the audio input from your computer’s built in speakers are not sufficient.
Read how Andrew Ryder, Professor of Theater at Seattle Pacific University uses the iPad as a Catalyst for Universal Design for Learning