1. Maintain a consistent layout for the online course. Screen reader users tend to memorize the layout of websites they visit often. It is difficult for blind and visually impaired students to quickly scan webpages for newly added content, so it is important that new information is consistently posted to the same location within the online learning platform. For instance, you can create a folder for weekly lessons and pin it to the course menu within Blackboard. If the newest material always shows up at the bottom of the folder, it will be very easy for screen reader users to find it. Do not change up the layout randomly or move things unnecessarily, as this can drastically throw off your blind students’ workflow.
2. Add alt-text to all of the images in the online course. Alt-text is a way of providing image descriptions to the blind and visually impaired. If images do not contain alt-text, screen reading software will simply read the default name given to the image file or say that it is an unlabeled image. This can be a big problem if assignments rely on information contained within charts and info graphics or if important announcements are posted in the form of pictures. The following links explain alt-text further and provide instructions on how to apply it in commonly used programs:
3. Be descriptive in lectures and video presentations. Do not use vague, visual words such as, “Let’s move this down here”. This does not give blind students verbal context for what is happening visually. Make sure that all visual content is described well enough that it can be understood only by listening to the auditory explanation.
4. Provide the slides from lectures and video presentations in an accessible, downloadable format. Blind students cannot see slideshows that are presented within lectures or video files. It is important to provide a copy of the slideshow as a Word doc, text-based PDF, or accessible Powerpoint file that blind students can download. Your student’s TVI or university access office can help make sure the files are accessible.
5. Make sure all of the documents in the online course are accessible. Pictures of hard copy documents that are saved as PDf’s are not accessible to screen reader users. All documents must be text-based, and images embeded in the documents must contain alt-text. Word docs are generally best for most screen reading software and assistive technology. Text-based PDF’s and Powerpoint files can work with some screen readers and assistive technology. Your student’s TVI or university access office can make sure the files are accessible.
6. Avoid assignments that use the Blackboard discussion forum. The Blackboard discussion forum is technically accessible, but it is extremely difficult and confusing to navigate with screen reading software. It is best for blind students to simply hold class discussions over Zoom or Blackboard Collaborate Ultra.
7. Avoid drag-and-drop assignments. Blind students cannot use the mouse effectively. Therefore, most drag-and-drop assignments are not accessible. Any assignment that requires dragging and dropping will need to be converted to an alternative, accessible format.
8. Avoid matching assignments. Screen reader users can read only one line of text at a time. This makes matching assignments extremely difficult, confusing, and time consuming for blind students because they have to scroll up and down between the questions and answer choices. simple multiple choice or short answer questions are best for most blind students.
9. Avoid services like ProctorU and respondus Monitor. ProctorU is technically accessible, but it is an absolute nightmare to navigate with a screen reader. Respondus Monitor was not accessible the last time it was tested by any of our team members. Respondus Lockdown Browser without Monitor is accessible on Mac OS with Voiceover, but it was not accessible on Windows or IOS the last time our team tested it. It is best to provide exams for blind students without third party proctoring services. Another option is to have a proctor stay in a Zoom or Collaborate session with them as they are taking the test.
10. Communication is key. It is important for students, instructors, TVI’s, and university access departments to be kept up to date on any accessibility issues with online classes so that they can be addressed quickly and prevent blind students from falling behind.