There are a lot of tools living in your device’s accessibility settings that can have a profound effect on the way you and your students access content. Continue reading to learn more about accessibility features and how to utilize them on our district devices and platforms.
What is Accessibility?
Technology has changed the world in ways technologists continue to discover decades after the technology is first utilized. One of the most overlooked areas of the technology industry today is termed ‘Accessibility’. The use of this term in many ways limits the user base of these features down to a subset of people that would ultimately find it useful. The intent and usefulness of these features extend beyond people with disabilities, and really should be thought of as features that enhance the use of the technology everybody uses.
What Can Accessible Content Do?
- The technology available today can remove a lot of the hurdles that used to exist. The following tasks now have solutions that are relatively easy to utilize in the role of a teacher. These include but are not limited to:
- Adding closed captions to audio and video content
- Having reading passages be read aloud by the computer in a natural human voice
- Use your voice to ‘write’ content
- Use your device in a hands free manner
- Making your content and workflow easy thoughtful and easy to navigate
There is a lot to consider when looking at how accessible technology or content is. The more common accessibility features like read aloud, closed captioning, speech to text receive a lot of attention, but there is a lot of attention that should also be paid to accessible workflows that would benefit all learners. Whether it is considering the steps necessary for a student to access an assignment, or what platforms to utilize in class, the adoption of the accessibility mindset in your classroom can have profound effects for all learners, and are no more useful in a special education classroom than they are in an AP classroom. Accessible content benefits all learners.
Accessibility in Windows 11
Windows Settings -> Accessibility
Description of Features
- Text size – change the text size that appears throughout Windows and within individual apps
- Visual effects – make scrollbars always appear, turn off transparency effects, turn off animation effects, etc.
- Mouse pointer and touch – Change the mouse cursor (make bigger, different color, etc.), make touch indicator when screen is being touched
- Text cursor – Change the text cursor (make bigger, different color, thickness, etc.)
- Magnifier – Set a zoom level for the entire display or portions of the display, invert colors on display
- Color filters – Use a color filter to make colors easier to see and differentiate
- Contrast themes – Use more distinct colors to make text and apps easier to see
- Narrator – System wide text to speech (text content read aloud by computer. Other settings include voice style, voice speed, volume level, etc.
- Audio – set device to mono audio (left and right speaker the same output), flash screen when there is audio output
- Captions – System wide captions for any audio content played
- Speech – Use your voice to type and interact with the device
- Keyboard – make adjustments to the way the keyboard works and are used
- Mouse – Use the keyboard to move the mouse around the screen
- Eye control – Use your eyes to control the device
Microsoft Edge Settings -> Accessibility
- Page zoom – change the default zoom for all sites
- Ask before closing a window
- Show downloads menu when a download starts
- Navigate pages with a text cursor
Accessibility in Web Platforms
- Auto show closed captions when playing Canvas media
- High contrast UI – High Contrast enhances the color contrast of the UI (text, buttons, etc.), making those items more distinct and easier to identify. Note: Institution branding will be disabled.
- Microsoft Immersive Reader – Enables the Microsoft Immersive Reader button in supported areas of Canvas. The button may still be enabled in a course regardless of this setting if the account administrator has turned it on for all users.
- Underline Links – Underline Links displays hyperlinks in navigation menus, the Dashboard, and page sidebars as underlined text. This feature does not apply to user-generated content links in the Rich Content Editor, which always underlines links for all users.
- Several Canvas features have been specifically improved for accessibility. Other features may be limited at this time. This section highlights several feature areas and accessibility behaviors.
- Calendar: The Calendar supports Agenda View, which lists all assignments and events in a list or agenda format. Learn how to access the Calendar Agenda View .
- Chat: The Chat Tool has an option to enable audio notifications when new messages are posted.
- Font Sizing: The Canvas interface uses rem sizing for fonts so any typography will zoom when the browser is zoomed and will scale if a custom browser-sized font is chosen or set from a browser’s setting.
- Gradebook: Both the Gradebook and the Learning Mastery Gradebook support an individual view, where instructors can view assignments and grades for one student at a time. Learn more about individual view in the Gradebook and Learning Mastery Gradebook .
- Quizzes: Quizzes allows instructors to moderate a quiz for individuals requiring more time or who need multiple attempts. Learn how to grant extra time or attempts in a quiz .
- New Quizzes: New Quizzes allows instructors to moderate a quiz for individuals requiring more time or who need multiple attempts. Learn how to grant extra time or attempts in a New Quiz .
- Rich Content Editor: The Rich Content Editor supports multiple accessibility features for easy creation of accessible content:
- The Rich Content Editor includes an accessibility tool that checks common accessibility errors within the editor. This tool can help you design course content while considering accessibility attributes and is located in the Rich Content Editor menu bar. Learn how to use the Accessibility Checker in the Rich Content Editor .
- Alt text should be added when embedding external images. Learn how to embed images from the web in the Rich Content Editor .
- Closed captions should be embedded for videos uploaded to Canvas. Learn how to view and manage captions using the Rich Content Editor.
- Headings for table columns and rows can be changed in either the Rich Content Editor or the HTML Editor view.
- SpeedGrader/DocViewer/Annotations: Students can now access annotations and comments with a screen reader, including information about the annotation type, author name, comment, and any reply comments at the end of the document. Please see blog post for more information.
- User Settings: The User Settings page hosts two feature options to enhance accessibility . Learn how to change user settings .
- High Contrast UI: When enabled, this feature offers higher contrast in buttons, tabs, and other areas throughout Canvas.
- Underline Links: When enabled, this feature underlines hyperlinks in navigation menus, the Dashboard, and page sidebars.
Creating Closed Captions
Up until very recently, it was a tall order to build closed captions or subtitles into media content. It involved building a transcript, along with the not so simple task of timing the captions to match the audio. Now, most media platforms will use speech to text technology to build captions for free. The captions built may have the same inaccuracies that other speech to text content has, but the accuracy of this technology is constantly improving. The better the audio quality in the media and the more clear the voice, the higher the accuracy of the captions will be.
Canvas Studio Captions
To add captions to a video in your Canvas Studio, first:
- Go to your Canvas Studio by clicking the Studio icon on the left hand side
- Click on the video you wish to add captions to
- Click the ‘Captions’ tab
- In the ‘Which language is spoken’ dropdown, choose the language spoken in the media, then click ‘Request’
- Canvas will now work to add captions to the media, which typically takes a few minutes to complete. When it is done creating captions, the button will change to ‘Review’, at which point you can check the captions and ‘publish’ them to the media. Captions need to be published before they can be activated by viewers of the video.
Microsoft Stream Captions
Microsoft Stream is a platform similar to YouTube that allows you to post your own video content so that others in our organization can access it. Like Canvas and YouTube, Microsoft provides a captioning service when uploading content to Microsoft Stream. To add captions to a video you have posted on Microsoft Stream, first go to the video, then click ‘Video settings’ on the right hand side. In the pane that appears, expand the ‘Transcript and captions’ area, then click ‘Generate’. After a few minutes, captions will be added to your video and available to anyone viewing.
Why use Microsoft Stream over Canvas Studio?
For some users, Microsoft Stream might be easier to access, particularly if the user is a non-student. By default, videos are restricted to just people that are members of the organization.
Design With Accessibility In Mind
When building content in Canvas (such as Assignments, Announcements, Pages) consider following the principles web designers consider. These include:
- Use foreground and background colors in text and graphics that strongly contrast each other
- Use clear headings that are appropriately formatted hierarchically
- Use meaningful images with alternative text for screen reader users
- Use links that are concise, descriptive, and meaningful out of context
- When possible, list key concepts
- Make tables with clearly identified header rows
- Use videos with accurate captions and audio descriptions
Ease of Workflow
The design of your Canvas course is similar in many ways to the design of your favorite mobile apps or web apps. When building your content in Canvas, the workflow that a users takes on to access content matters tremendously. Often, a student’s success on an assignment comes down to their ability to easily access the resources they need. If a student is confused about what to click on, what document they need to be working on, or what page to be on, they likely will not do much else to remedy that on their own. For this reason, it is important to consider not only what the students will do during an assignment, but how they will access it. Links to assignments should be accurately described, easy to find, and simple to navigate.
Consider how many browser tabs or applications a student needs to bounce between. It is difficult for even the most tech savvy adult to handle windows management.
Consider that the usage pattern for your course matters. Getting students used to a workflow that is consistent will lead to better outcomes than a workflow that is inconsistent.
I don’t think too many people think about the fonts that they use for the documents and pages they create. There are obviously a variety of options within each platform. Ultimately, most fonts can be broken into two groups, serif and sans-serif.
Sans-serif fonts are typically better for digital devices, and are therefore more readable for students using their devices. Examples of sans-serif fonts include Arial, Calibri, and Helvetica.
Serif fonts are typically better for printed text. Examples of serif fonts include Times New Roman, Georgia, and Courier.
More to think of
There is obviously way more to consider than the contents of this post can cover. If you are interested in learning more about what we have at our disposal as a district, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I am happy to help you build accessible content for your students.