The semester has started, and your student is receiving digital documents – many of which were created by the student’s gen ed teacher and are not fully accessible. Who is responsible for the accessibility of these teacher-created documents? How do you make a digital document accessible?
This post is designed to be a hands-on activity to show gen ed teachers how to create accessible digital documents. The activities can also be used to teach your student how to create accessible digital documents and for your student to use to train his/her gen ed teachers. Resources are provided at the bottom of the page with detailed information about each accessibility feature and creating accessible documents handouts.
This post is specifically about Microsoft Word documents; however, the same activity and accessibility features can be transferred to Google Docs, Pages or other word-type documents.
The bottom line is that the accessibility of teacher-created digital documents falls squarely on the shoulders of the TSVI and/or the VI department (braillist or paraprofessional). However, best practice indicates that the teacher who is creating the digital documents should be creating fully accessible documents. Quite often, the gen ed educators are not aware of accessibility needs and/or how to create accessible documents. The accessibility training typically comes from – you guessed it – the TSVI!
Note: As part of your student’s college/career transition plan, by high school your student should be responsible for training his/her gen ed teachers.
With the right resources, it only takes about 30 minutes to provide training; this is time well spent! Once the gen ed teacher learns how to include a few accessibility components, he/she can take responsibility, eliminating delays of preparing materials ahead of time, sending them to the TSVI/VI department to be made accessible, and having the accessible materials sent back to the classroom teacher. When the classroom teacher creates digital materials with accessibility built in, he/she simply uses the same, fully accessible version with every student.
Creating ‘born accessible’ materials is a simple process, which any teacher can and should do. This is not like creating braille, which requires learning the braille code or at least learning the transcription software to create paper braille materials using an embosser.
Note: It is strongly recommended to include all gen ed teachers in the school in the accessibility training, as educators often re-use digital materials from year to year. It makes sense for all teachers to always include accessibility when creating any digital resource; they may have the BLV student in class the following year and/or have a BLV student transfer in at any time!
In this age of digital materials and student collaborations, it also important for student peers to learn how to create accessible materials. Students will be using collaboration tools and working on digital documents together. These documents should also be fully accessible, which means that peers will need to learn to use headings, alt text, etc.
During a training/lesson, use a digital document that your student has used or will use in class. The original document should contain content with all the common accessibility errors. (If necessary, manually make the document inaccessible for the training!) Attached is an example of an inaccessible version of a popular blog post, Simple Tactile Representations of iPad Features.
Share the original document with your gen ed teachers or student. Together, go through the accessibility issues, discuss why it is inaccessible, and demonstrate how to make the document accessible. If appropriate, incorporate your student’s specific needs into the discussion. Attached is the same document but with information on what was changed in parenthesis and red print. Use the Creating Accessible Word Documents resource for best practices when creating accessible documents. Apply this knowledge to the activity, using the Tactile Representations Instructions resource to guide your discussions.
Share another original digital document, ideally something that your student has recently used or will soon be using in class. Attached are examples from a third-grade classroom that can be used, if desired.
Now use the Final version of your accessible document to demonstrate how a screen reader works with the accessible version. Or, if training a student on accessible materials and/or his/her tech skills, have the student practice his/her tech skills using the fully accessible version.
Alt text descriptions are used to describe an image or more specifically, the intent behind an image. Alt Text descriptions will vary depending on the use of the document, the student’s baseline knowledge/experience of the topic and the student’s level of tech skills. Keep in mind that educational illustrations often convey important information that is not provided elsewhere, even if that information is subtle. Understanding what the image is supposed to convey is critical! The alt text should not provide the same information that was given in the text.
Examples from the 4 Endangered US Mammals document:
Example 1: The image of the grizzly bear subtly provides information of how many cubs a bear might have.
Example 2: The image of the jaguar laying in the tree branch with legs and tail dangling may prompt the student to infer that the jaguar hides in the trees waiting to pounce on its prey.
If the image is used to answer specific questions in an assignment or test, make sure that the alt text description does not directly provide the answer! Example: If the question asks the student to name the animal, the alt text description can provide a description of the animal’s appearance or telling clues about what the animal is doing in the image that can lead the student to identify the animal correctly. However, the alt text should NOT specifically name the animal!