Spotlight on Practice Worth Sharing: Creating Accessible Materials

Man standing at the foot of a mountain
Image Credit: Remix Joe Arton, Originals: Joshua Earle Unsplash. University of Edinburgh Collections, University of Edinburgh, 1900, Catalogue No. 0013146.

[If you require this document in an alternative format, please contact Viki Galt on 0131 650 6645, or email Viki.Galt@ed.ac.uk]

In this Spotlight on Practice Worth Sharing post, Viki Galt and Christopher Maclachlan, Disability Information Officers within the Information Service Group, highlight various new initiatives to better meet the University’s duty of making information accessible to all…

The University has a duty to make information accessible. This duty involves both legal and moral obligations to internal (students, academic and professional services staff) and external (the general public) audiences through a variety of published material, including but not limited to physical and digital documents. Immediate considerations include adding the alternative format tagline to all documents as stipulated in the Equality Act 2010. Furthermore, the alternative format tagline, as demonstrated at the beginning of this article, tailored to the appropriate author or document owner, ensures users are entitled to make a request. You do not need to produce documents in alternative formats until you have had a request, but this does not negate the need to make documents as accessible as possible in the first place.

Creating Accessible Materials, hosted within the ‘Accessibility’ section of the Information Services Group webpages, provides a significant overview of this subject. Although the University holds educational, business, civic and philanthropic commitments, meaning different requirements for information, all materials should be as accessible as possible.

A pertinent theme throughout previous Spotlight on Practice Worth Sharing articles involves how the academic environment has changed, and shall continue to change, due to the necessity of hybrid teaching for the 2020 / 2021 University year. This goes beyond an adage that we have merely “moved it all online”. General changes, from making a lecture and accompanying materials online, or setting and receiving assignments through a virtual learning environment, does not necessarily reduce ‘paperwork’ (a meaning subject to interpretation more than ever) and undoubtedly creates a new set of factors for teaching staff to consider. This rings true across the three Colleges, whether at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, the School of Informatics or the Moray House School of Education and Sport.

A few specific changes can make a big difference, including using a sans serif font, such as Arial, using font size 12 as a minimum, avoiding the use of italics, continuous capitals or underling, and ensuring sufficient colour contrast between font colour and background colour. Other quick changes, for example displaying link text as a description of where the link leads (and not as a URL or “click here”) make massive differences to those using screen readers. Some of you may be aware of the controversy around PDFs and the urge in recent legislation to avoid their use at all, given the difficulty in making them accessible, with the preference being for Word or HTML pages. This is a consideration we need to build in from the beginning of new projects and courses, ensuring that a vast amount of materials are not created as PDFs and then require further conversion.

Without exaggeration, the beginning of teaching during the forthcoming academic year shall undoubtedly stand as unique for the University, certainly since being founded in 1582. In addition to the all-encompassing work associated with hybrid teaching, a legislative deadline for The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018 arrives on 22nd September, whereby websites must publish an Accessibility Statement and meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 AA standards (mobile applications require an Accessibility Statement by 22nd June, 2021). Although the combination of a pandemic-enforced hybrid teaching model and these legislative deadlines has required a great amount of consideration across the University, this could represent a ‘high water mark’ for the creation of accessible materials. There has been a significant collective effort, notable in over 400 years of existence, within all areas of the University. While this shall require continuous work and remain an ongoing challenge, this is an edifying endeavour, not only legally, but morally too.

Authors: Viki Galt & Christopher Maclachlan

The Disability Information team is based within Information Services Group (ISG). The team comprises Viki Galt as Disability Information Officer with Christopher Maclachlan as Deputy. The Disability Information team helps ISG meet any requisite legislative duties, alongside ensuring it is an exemplar of good practice with regards accessibility and support for disabled users and staff. Viki and Christopher welcome queries from colleagues across the University in areas including, but not limited to, assistive technology; Accessibility Statements; guidance on how to request alternative formats; and, as indicated in the enclosed article, the creation of accessible materials.

Viki Galt, Disability Information Officer: Viki.Galt@ed.ac.uk
Christopher Maclachlan, Disability Information Officer: Christopher.Maclachlan@ed.ac.uk 

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