Announcement from Disability Access and Education

Did you know that Microsoft Office programs (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) include an accessibility checker? The issues that are being checked include usability by a screen reader, elements that are hard to see and the presence of captioning. There is a tendency for non-disabled people to think that anything on a computer is completely accessible. Ironically, the internet and other online material are full of elements that are inaccessible to people with a variety of disabilities.  It is obvious why the lack of captioning makes a video inaccessible to someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, but have you ever thought about how someone who is blind or has low vision uses a computer?


Screen reader technology makes it possible for people who are blind to hear the visual elements of a computer screen. However, the information on the screen must first be created with the kind of information that software can read and relay in a meaningful way to a blind user. For instance, it is possible to format a document with keyboard strokes that result in text that looks the way we want it to look.  But if we have used the space bar multiple times instead of using the tab key or other formatting commands, the result may be gibberish for the blind user because the screen reader reads computer code and keystrokes, not what something looks like. Furthermore, the computer cannot read an image since it is not an intelligible computer code. Any time we use an image in a document, we should provide something known as alternate text that the computer can read to tell the user what the image is.


Because a screen reader reads every element, every keystroke, complete URLs are cumbersome, and it can be difficult to decipher where the address leads. For this reason, it is recommended that we edit hyperlinks to short, descriptive phrases. Notice the difference in readability: OR Service and Assistance Animal Policy. Both versions of the hyperlink take you to the same place.


Those of us with so-called normal vision, either corrected by glasses or contacts or those lucky enough to be born with good vision, often enjoy the aesthetics of color or attractive font.  However, not everyone sees color the same way—ask a man whose wife has to tell him whether his socks match because he is color blind.  Such a person cannot see orange text with a background of various shades of autumn leaves. This problem is called lack of sufficient contrast.  If the picture were printed in grayscale, would there be enough difference to perceive the meaning? Of course, some people have vision that cannot be corrected to 20/20 with lenses (or some of us are over 40 and forgot to put on reading glasses).  For these people, artistic type fonts are just blurs or squiggles.  The easiest type fonts to read for people with low vision is a standard, sans serif (without serif) font such as Arial or Calibri. (Serifs are the little feet at the end of a line in fonts such as Times New Roman.)  Sans serif fonts are sometimes easier for people with reading disabilities to comprehend. (I read an article recently that said the much-ridiculed Comic Sans font is one of the easier fonts for people with dyslexia to read.)


Another common misconception is that any kind of pdf is accessible.  After all, the letters stand for Portable Document File.  However, if you photocopy a page of text, the resulting pdf is a picture of text, not text itself. That file is indeed portable because it can be saved and reproduced on a computer, but remember that a screen reader cannot read an image.  In order to turn that picture of text into a fully accessible pdf, specialized software called Optical Character Recognition (OCR) can transform the document into text that can be read by a computer.  If you need to transform a document, contact the Center for Online Learning for assistance. People who rely on other text-to-speech software, such as Read & Write, to aid in comprehension also need text that is actual text, not just images.


In order to access the accessibility checker in Microsoft programs, choose File, then Info, then click Inspect Document, and finally choose Check Accessibility.  After the accessibility check is complete, the computer will give you a column with Inspection Results.  The results will indicate what types of errors in accessibility have occurred.  For each type of error, click on the bold text in Results to expand to find where the issue exists and then to find instructions on how to correct the error.  Hoonuit contains several tutorials on how to improve the accessibility of documents.


Remember that if you do not have any blind or deaf students in any of your classes today, a student with a perceptual disability may be in your class tomorrow.  Wouldn’t it be nice NOT to get an email from me saying that you have to modify all your course or department material effective immediately?


Document accessibility.docx