Accessibility Testing Tools Give False Impression

Nothing is worse than giving someone a tool that makes you think you are doing something right, when in fact you are doing it wrong.  That is my experiences with Microsoft Word 2016 software and its accessibility checker, and I’ve also experienced it with Blackboard’s Ally tool.


Headings Ignored

It’s best to know that both tools raise awareness, but awareness is not effective unless that is based on accuracy.  Word only catches some things.

The built-in checker does not catch all issues.  For instance, headings within a document are often missed entirely, so long documents do not have the built-in navigation points that assistive technologies rely on.

The best way to create headings for Word and PDF Files made from Word is to manually mark them.  This is a simple process.


First find a heading.  The highlight the text (hold down the Shift key and then press the arrows keys until the whole heading is selected.  Next choose the Home Ribbon, Styles area and click on one of the Headings.  Below is an example showing the headings to be tagged in a document, and where the headings markup in Styles is found:

Marking up Word files for headings structure

Color Contrast Error

Circle palette of contrasting colorsColor Contrast is an issue that also comes to mind.  When testing files in Ally, I found that the tool dings any color choices other than plain white background with black text.  That means that any color choices are going to show errors even when they are passing WCAG AA standard.

Sample Color Contrast that Triggers Ally even when the contrast is excellent!

Piece of syllabus showing colored markup for headings and emphasis

Table Tasks

Next are Tables.  Only the First Row Column Headings markup is checked.  Tables may have umbrella headings and have merge and split cells, but Ally does not check for these issues.  Tables can be a complete disaster as far as design.

Here is the example I used to text Ally with.  The first table has two structural errors for accessibility.

Multiple empty rows, and umbrella headings.  But as long as I have the table’s top row designated at a header row, then Ally passes the text:

Sample Table 2: Table with Poor Design (picture of it)

table with poor design due to umbrella headings and blank cells

Microsoft’s Accessibility Checker at least stops and asks you a question about the table.

In the above Table the Accessibility Checker states, “Use the Tab key to navigate through the table cells one at a time and verify that the reading order makes sense for the information.”  That’s much better than nothing, but it still does not point out the errors in table design.

In Case

If you wanted to redesign the table, you might choose this format:

Sample Table 2: Reformatted Accessible Table

Instrument Apr  15, 02 Apr  16, 02 Apr  17, 02 Apr  18, 02 Apr  19, 02 Week Ending April 19 Week Ending April 12 March 2002
Federal funds 1.84 1.68 1.73 1.71 1.67 1.78 1.71 1.73
1 month financial noncommercial paper 1.76 1.74 1.74 1.74 1.72 1.74 1.77 1.78
2 month financial noncommercial paper 1.78 1.75 1.80 1.75 1.75 1.77 1.78 1.82
3 month financial noncommercial paper 1.82 1.82 1.83 1.78 1.81 1.81 1.82 1.82
1 month financial commercial paper 1.76 1.77 1.76 1.75 1.74 1.76 1.77 1.80
2 month financial commercial paper 1.80 1.80 1.79 1.78 1.77 1.79 1.79 1.82
3 month financial commercial paper 1.83 1.84 1.83 1.83 1.83 1.81 1.84 1.87

 Above we eliminated the blank cells, and redesigned the table to eliminate umbrella headings.

Overall the checker for Microsoft offers good advice.  It may have trouble finding things that  should be manually tested, so don’t entirely rely on it for ensuring your files are accessible.  The same is true for Blackboard’s Ally tool.  It can find many things, but it can give you the false notion that your document’s color contrast is an issue.  It’s better to use a color contrast checker.  It also doesn’t catch those design details for structure in documents nor can it tell how well designed tables are.

Hopefully Ally will catch up with some of the issues they currently miss.  I expect they are working on it.  But, it goes to prove that manually testing web content, documents, and other online material is still the best way of ensuring 508 compliance.""


Captioning Guide

captioning icons

Captions are the text version of a video’s audio content with additional timing information which allows them to appear on screen in time with the video. SRT files are the most common caption file used by online video players such as YouTube and Vimeo. They are considered the most basic of all caption file formats. They are essentially a text file with very specific formatting, allowing them to be opened and edited by most programs. Because of their basic structure, SRT files do not support any coloring or positioning – meaning captions appear as all white text at the bottom of the screen.  Remember captions may be used by any one viewing your video.

What are Good Captions?

Good captions are easy to read, accurate and easy to understand. A good grasp of English grammar and punctuation rules are essential to making good captions. Here are some quick tips: Captions should accurately reflect the audio.

  • The timing of captions should coincide with the audio.
  • Captions should break at natural linguistic breaks.
  • It should be clear from the captions exactly who is talking.
  • Sound effects should be adequately described.

How to Format Captions?

Captioning has a few rules that make them work best for all.  Principally you want them to be soft enough to not be hard to read, and no longer than two lines, but never break the meaning of structure English – such as in the middle of a verb or noun clause.


The readability of captions is improved when the caption lines end at natural linguistic breaks and reflect the natural flow and punctuation of a sentence. As a general rule, keeping chunks of meaning together improves readability. Each caption should form an understandable segment.

  • Keep subjects and phrases together within the same caption.
  • Split ‘around’ verbs – verbs are often the best place to start or end a caption or line break.
  • If words in a caption can fit on one line, they should.
  • Never break a verb before its negative: “they should (then break before ‘not’’.”

Labelling the Speakers

When more than one person is talking, then use the convention of a dash before the speaker, and another before the next speak.  This will help the person watching the captions to know that the speaker has changed.  Deaf and Hard of Hearing folks may not know there has been a change without that – showing them a change has occurred – even if they can see the person’s mouth moving.

If the person speaking is not on screen, identify the speaker with a dash and [Voiceover].

I.e. – [Voiceover]. If you’ve seen the person on screen previously and they are speaking without their face being visible, you should identify them by their name. E.g. – [Henri]


Captions should not be more that 7 seconds long

Recommended caption length is 1 second

Captions should start and end during the same time the audio is heard, and not start before or end afterwards.

Sound Effects

Audible content that is not speech can be marked and presented in the captioning – usually this is done in parentheses.

(Sound of train whistle)– when a train is coming into the station; (Knock at door) when the video shows a door with the person knocking on the other side unseen.


Unidentified sound track can be labelled like (music plays)

Track that is a song people will be familiar with (‘SURFING WITH THE ALIEN’ BY JOE SATRIANI PLAYS)  — you use title and artist)

When lyrics are involved that people can hear clearly, then type each captioned caption proceeded and ending with the # sign.

 Other Sound Devices

When people alter their voice, have accents or use alternative stress to be funny, sad, sarcastic, mean spirited. You can also place into the caption in parentheses an adjective that will help those who can’t hear this change.

You look wonderful (sarcastically)

I vant to suck your blood (Dracula-like)

Another issue would be when some whispers or mouths words. (Mouths) I love you!


Captions should reflect what someone has said even if their grammar is wrong or they repeat words or phrases.

You can correct ums, hums, and other non-word elements, deleting them from the record.  You can spell out the words even if they are mispronounced.  Such as “Warshington” for “Washington.”


Correct Incorrect
Current ministers (Vice president, Secretary of State) General political terms (“the minister said,”
Political parties (Republican Party, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, Independent, etc.)


Terms like ‘commission’ and ‘inquiry’, unless as part of an official title (“a state commission into

abuse”, but “The Commission of Audit”)


Opposition Leader and the Opposition (for current title holders only) Police, unless using full official title (“the police arrived on scene”, “the matter was referred to New York Police Department”)


The Government, when talking about the currently sitting party of government
Federal, but usually only when paired with another capitalized word, or as part of a title (“the

Federal Government”, “a federal initiative”)


Business titles (“managing director Jacob Weisman”)


Mom and Dad, when used as titles (“I said to Mom”, but “I said to my mom”)


News reporters’ titles (“state political reporter Jerald Chia”, “US bureau chief Alfread Herald”)


Military titles, only when used as a personal title (“Major Sara Brighton”, but “the major spoke”)


Rules for Punctuation

Use the ellipsis to indicate interrupts either when someone pauses in their speech or when the are interrupted by another.

  • A pause to think, e.g. He wasn’t angry…he was just tired.
  • An interruption by another speaker, e.g. – I was walking along the road and I… – No, way!


__’       THE APOSTROPHE Not for plurals. Use for possessive. E.g. Lou’s cat is cuddly. The cat rubbed on the stranger’s leg.

__,       THE COMMA BEFORE: ‘though’ and ‘however’. AFTER: ‘thanks’ ‘oh’ ‘well’ Thanks, Gerald. Oh, I was expecting that, however I am not interested.

–         THE DASH Use for an additional comment or sudden change of thought. E.g. I had a great day today – then I saw you! Or: How to use a dash – correctly!

“ ”       THE DOUBLE QUOTE She said, “Use double quotes when quoting prose, a poem or conversation.

‘ ’         THE SINGLE QUOTE The answer is ‘A’. …

Number Rules

Use 4:00 or 4pm and not 4 o’clock or 4 p.m.

Write out numbers 1- 10 like one through ten.  After that use digits until you get to huge numbers like 1 million.


Have someone proofread your captions.  Especially if you make typos frequently.  Proofreading is even more significant if a service automatically captioned your file, such as in YouTube.


Xbox's accessible controller

Accessible Gaming News: New Xbox Controller

Gamers.  When you hear that term, do you roll your eyes and think, “gamers are nothing but addicts?”  Do you believe gaming is a waste of time, and that academics should have nothing to do with gamers? However, do you have any idea of how popular gaming is in the United States?

Can you spot the new “Accessible Controller”

“More than 150 million Americans play video games, according to new research released today by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). The report, 2015 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry, also shows that 42 percent of Americans play video games regularly, or at least three hours per week.” [taken from ESA]

Gaming has gained a great deal of the entertainment dollar in America as well:

In 2015, the market was estimated to be worth 16.97 billion U.S. dollars and the source expects revenues to reach 20.28 billion by 2020. [taken from Statista]

So gaming is important in America, and will have an impact on education.  Already efforts have been made to incorporate gaming into classes through gamification.

But for disabled people gaming can be challenging, and just another social means of creating barriers.  Most gaming platforms and computer running game do not have adequate access built in.  For some like the blind, games can be just another inaccessible arena in life.  Gaming can also help break down the barriers to social isolation that plagues many with disabilities.

you aren't welcome here barrier

To the disabled, barriers are like signs that say you aren’t welcome here!

Fortunately, there are organizations out there who are working toward a more accessible gaming world. The AbleGamers Charity, CP Foundation, SpecialEffect, Craig Hospital in Denver, and Warfighter Engaged are organizations which recently teamed up with Microsoft to create a more accessible XBOX and PC gaming experience.

How it works video.


The results of their collaborative efforts created the new Xbox Adaptive Controller.

Xbox's accessible controller
Starting with the philosophy of inclusion, developers and engineers decided to create a new controller with a huge variety of interface options.  Buttons can be added to improve the access for those with mobility restrictions.  Joysticks and alternative mince can be plugged into the unit to improve functionality.  Buttons can be programmed to do specific things within games, that would not be possible for a disabled user prior to the introduction of this controller.

Mounted controller

This controller doesn’t make all games accessible, and companies producing game have often face challenges in their design when it come to an all-inclusive environment, but having a gaming platform with this level of flexibility has opened the door for many who have been left of the sidelines, unable to enjoy gaming.

For gamers with limited mobility, finding controller solutions to fit their individual needs has been challenging. The solutions that exist today are often expensive, hard to find, or require significant technical skill to create. A number of individuals and organizations are creating custom solutions, but it has been often difficult for them to scale when most rigs need to be so personalized.

At $99.99 american dollars and available exclusively through Microsoft Store, the Xbox Adaptive Controller will offer significant value over the customized alternatives that exist today.


Xbox new controller with multiple input devices and mountings


 [Above two regular controllers and a variety of add-ons that can be used with the new Xbox controller — that is  centered in the photo.]

1.  Microsoft’s PDP’s One handed Joystick:

This ergonomic joystick can be used with the Xbox Adaptive controller.  It features controls that are mappable, and thunbstick buttons for full AB/YY access. Cost $19.00

2.  Extreme Pro Joystick

Advanced controls and twist-handle rudder, a joystick that is stable and precise. Cost $39.99

3.  QuadStick FPS game controller

Rugged controller that one can use with their mouth. Uses sip and puff technology.

Cost $starts at $549.00

4. StealthSwitch3

Durable metal foot switch that costs $21.95

5. AbleNet Switches

A variety of other switches are possible, but these two come from a long list at AbleNet.  Prices range from $65 to $215.

(Also pictured here (above) are more switches, headset, and mounting equipment.)

xbox person using new controller


System requirements For use with Xbox One consoles gaming on Windows 7, 8.1, and 10 PCs. Limited functionality on Windows 7 and 8.1.
Xbox Accessories App Available on Xbox One consoles and Windows 10 PC’s.
Connectivity Includes Xbox Wireless Bluetooth, and USB-C connectivity for gaming on Xbox One consoles and Windows 10 PCs.
Ports Nineteen 3.5mm ports and two USB 2.0 ports for external inputs. One 3.5mm stereo headset jack for audio.
Assignable inputs Remap buttons and create multiple controller profiles through the Xbox Accessories App on Xbox One or Windows 10.
What’s in the box Xbox Adaptive and 9’ USB-C cable.
Mounting 1/4-20 screw designed for AMPS compatible mounts. °-20 screw designed for tripod mounts.
Battery and charging Contains an internal lithium-ion battery that can be charged via included USB-C cable or power adapter (sold separately)
Dimensions 292mm (L) x 130mm (W) x 23mm (H)
Weight Xbox Adaptive Controller: 552g, USB-C cable: 64g.

Stories and Resources:

Gamification in Higher Education and Stem: A Systematic Review of Literature

Microsoft’s Xbox Controller

Zanes Story

Blind and playing video games

Carlos Vasquez’s story

College Students Are Avid Gamers

Balabolka Free PC Text-to-Speech Application

Balabolka is a software that you can download for free that helps converts text-to-speech output.  The software works with any voice install on your PC.  The software uses the SAPI 4 and 5 voices developed for the Microsoft operating system.  These voice are high quality, and come in versions for languages other than English. SAPI 5 voices sound far superior than the older SAPI 4 voices supported by MS Agent.

Balabolka can read in about 30 different languages, but you need to have a voice on your computer to be able to read in those languages as well.:

English Arabic Armenian Bulgarian
Catalan Chinese (Simplified) Chinese (Traditional) Croatian
Czech Dutch Filipino Finnish
French German Greek Hungarian
Italian Japanese Korean Persian
Polish Portuguese (Brazil) Portuguese (Portugal) Romanian
Russian Serbian Slovenian Spanish
Turkish Ukrainian Vietnamese


File Types

The software can accommodate translation from the following file types:


When the Balabolka translates these files the graphics and structure of the original document are stripped out, leaving only the text.  You can open a URL and all text from the html is presented for speech output.  You can then edit what text you want to hear read, like in any text editor.

Voice Changes. One can alter the voice by changing to another SAPI voice, or one can alter each individual voice.  You can change the reading speed, pitch, and volume.

Audio file

Once you have a file opened in Balabolka you can select a portion of the file or the whole thing and converted to an audio file. You can generate a variety of auto outputs: WAV, MP3, MP4, OGG or WMA files

Foreign Language Translation

Screenshot of language translation You can translate languages one word at a time: The options are to translate to and from the following languages:

English, Esperanto, Estonia, Filipino, Finnish, French, Galician, Georgian, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Kiswahili, Korean, Latin, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Malay, Maltese, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese, Welsh, and Yiddish. 


Additional Tools to Try

Another tool is called the Spritz Reader.  It allows the text to appear one word sat a time, so that you only see the word being voiced.  This is an elementary way of learning to read, but can benefit those who have trouble focusing on the text as it is read.

More sophisticated uses allow for tags to alter what language, pitch, speed and volume a piece of text is read.  Say for instance you have more than one language, or more than one character in a book.  You can tag those sections to read with separate voices.


Belabolka’s Demo at Point of Access

Download free SAPI voices

History of Speech Synthesis

UDL is not Accessibility, But It Tastes Good

Improved Education

UDL TeamworkUniversal design for learning is a strategy for building improved education for students. It includes three main concepts: the representation of educational content, the interaction with educational content, and lastly the expression from student back showing they have learned the content. This does not mean that the content is accessible to everyone, it means that there is a greater or distributed effort made in designing educational content to work with everyone.

Universal design is the design of products and environments to be useable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without need for adaption or specialized design.

-Ron Mace

Accessibility often has to do with overcoming obstacles. Content that is graphic becomes an obstacle for someone who cannot see graphics. Oral speech whether in an audio file or video file is an obstacle for those who cannot hear content. UDL is much more than just removing obstacles. It is a form of education that provides different routes to the content, different means of interacting with the content, and the ability to express that one has learned the content in different ways.

What is significant about UDL is that it opens the conversation with educators regarding the accessibility of their content. However, this indirect line of discussion will cover insuring that more access will exist for course content. That does not mean that everyone will be able to use UDL designs to make their courses accessible. There is plenty of software, webpages, apps and other digital content that is not going to present effectively to everyone depending on their disability.

Moreover, UDL gives students the opportunity to learn and express what they’ve learned. This improves student engagement with educational content in a university setting. When you make content available in multiple expressions, then you open the door to greater understanding for students and the ability of students to access that content in a format they like or need. Improved education is the goal: not accessibility.

When faculty decide to use videos with captioning, the thought is not about accessible content for the deaf and hard of hearing, but rather for anyone who is reviewing that content. I do not need to go into any detail about how captions are read by nondisabled students.

Obstacles will still exist even though universal design for learning principles have been used in the design of a course. When someone uses braille, they may still need assistance with graphical content. Books from publishers that are turned into alternative formats most likely will not have images described were all tags. Some materials are better in braille, and others are better as an audio file for people who are blind. Multiple formats for all, doesn’t necessarily compute as accessibility for all.  Some elements of UDL will still require adaptation for those who are disabled.

Faculty in American universities are so use to the accommodations model that has been around for over 25 years, that when they hear disability, they turn to the disability service support office. They don’t consider what they can do in designing their courses. UDL is the fabric of changing that thinking.

One of the chief benefits of implementing UDL’s is for the nondisabled students at the universities. When multiple formats of educational content are available, students will pick the version of the content that works best on whatever device they are using to read the content: Cell phones, iPads, and other bring your own technologies have driven the demand for multiple formats. The fact that it benefits someone with a disability is just icing on the cake.


Educators fact sheets

UDL at a Glance video

Why We Need Universal Design –Ted Talk from a different perspective.

Universal Design for Learning—Ted Talk  –A Paradigm for Maximum Inclusion

Principles of UDL


Using Story Maps in Higher Education

Maps and Models

Maps are one of the most sophisticated graphics to try and design accessibly.  There are plenty of reasons to try and make them accessible.  Some elements are impossible to make accessible for blind individuals without printing a raised line or braille version or 3d model.  3d model of the United StatesI’ve yet to find an online map that truly works well in describing a map of a region.  But story maps are a little different.  The problem with north-south, east-west graphical orientation still exists, but often the information that is most essentials is still portrayed in a means that works even for screenreader users.  Keyboard issues exist in altering the location on the screen, but one can still table around from demarked areas.

Story Map* generally add location markers, which trigger a sidebar graphic and text.  One can usually tab through a series of numbered thumbnails, to this content.

The chief issue with maps is displaying important information and making one aware of the orientation geographically.  But the orientation geographically cannot be perceived in a functional way to someone who is blind.  Only 3d representations and models really work effectively for that purpose.

When marking up a regular map, you must make sure that the location markers link to content that describes the visual location.  Say for instance you have a house located on Elm Street, three house from the cross street Main Street.  The descriptor in order to be accessible must list such information, even if the sight don’t need that information.  Most often Story maps will not include that information.  The orientation to the map is of lesser importance than the information described.

Story Map Example

Story map example with 5 points

In the Story Map example above.  There are five areas highlighted. 1 is the title of the story map, with a brief description. 2 is the navigation area.  3 shows the map markers. 4 Shows the thumbnails of the different markers showing an image and some text.  And 5 shows the enlarged version of that image and the text.  Both 2 and 3 are not reachable using a screenreader, but the information that is significant is contained in 4 and 5 which can be reached.  Unless, of course, the orientation between the points is of issue, and usually it would not be in a course.

Different for Street Maps

This differs from street maps where the orientation is the objective.  The whole point is to help someone know the location of the bank or so other place.  When we use GPS systems, we don’t need to see the physical map to get to the location.  We just need the street address, and the system vocalizes when to turn. With Story Maps the focus is the information about a location and not the navigational elements.

Some people believe that because Story Maps don’t provide orientation and navigation elements that they are inaccessible.  However, I think that blind individuals would just like to know what information is going to be on the test, and orientation is not the type of question created by professors.

Were the orientation may be of consequence is in understand the changes of a map over time.  This is clearly illustrated in the reconfiguration of Europe from the 19th to the twentieth century and for the movement of troops in a battle.  The changes again can be illustrated using tactile graphics or 3d objects.  Describing these types of changes orally may possible work, but for the most part changes over time are very difficult to describe without visuals to accompany them.

Map example showing multiple tabs that is not accessibleEven adding alt tags to the images of a series of maps that change over time is a difficult task.  This Civil War era map (to the left), built with flash, provides ample visual information but does not convey the information accessibly.  Each one of the tabs (located at  the bottom) which show different data would have to have alt tags or descriptive text that provided the same information.  Flash is notoriously inaccessible.  It would be better to create a video and have a voice describe the changes ongoing on the map.  That means these graphical changes are described, so that the visual changes can be understood orally.  So keep that in mind when designing content using maps.

Sample Story Resources

ARCGIS Examples

Twelve things you didn’t know you could do with story maps

Faculty Should Design Accessible Content

Justice symbolI’m often asked what is permissible, as if I were the legal guardian of all things accessible.  It’s a legitimate question when it comes to denying someone their civil rights, but when it comes to faculty content, the question’s answer is much more blurred.  For some the line is held that any and all content created needs to be accessible.  That’s the goal, and that’s the focus. However, I see that as an impossible task.  I hold the view that content that is public facing should be accessible, when its logical to do so – meaning if you can’t actually make all online content accessible.  I try to work toward the goals of universal design for learning, meaning everyone should have access to everything, and we should be designing multimodal representations of content.  Videos should have captions and transcripts.  Graphics should be labelled so that essential meaning is conveyed.  Interactive content should be able to be triggered by any user who comes to the information.  This is public content, and all things within a state-run institution should be accessible.

The Divide

The divide for educational content Then there was course content.  People pay to take classes, and classes are a product.  If a student who has a need for accessible content enrolls in a course, then that content needs to be accessible.  This is my main and chief tenet.  However, that doesn’t mean we don’t work toward accessible course content.  Why?  It is important to move toward accessible content, because frankly we don’t know whether someone is going to need an accommodation next term [that gets even more difficult to know in distance education classes where many disabled students do not identify at all]. Why should we wait to caption videos for faculty, when we know that the use them over and over (most frequently) and we know that captioned videos are used by non-disabled students.  UDL guides us in this direction as well.  Multimodal content can be useful to everyone depending on their circumstance.

If we place a video, then a transcript and captioning are useful for the educational presentation of that content.  The same is true for pictures.  Pictures may convey those thousand words, but actually each of us can interpret that picture in a thousand ways.  When faculty present graphics in their courses, they usually focus in on what they want to project as meaningful content.  Meaning they read the graphic and give information about the significance of the picture – that’s what an alt tag is.

Tables of data get more complex, especially when the tables are divided into subcategories.  People who can see frequently have trouble reading tables unless there is a description of what they are supposed to be looking for – instructions for reading tables are important especially when the data is represented in complex ways.  That’s why charts and figures are derived from data, to make those tables of data more clearly recognizable.  The problem is that the more information contained in a table and the cross reference with other materials in the table may be extremely difficult for persons who are disabled to comprehend — especially visual and cognitive disabilities.  Take an instance like this:

this table highlights heading structure with multiple suheadings

Improved Communication

Faculty should want to provide this information to make their communications clear and to provide student with a greater understanding of the course content.   Faculty should look at graphics and pinpoint what they mean through the use of a graphic.  When meaning is hidden, it becomes inaccessible.  When meaning is inaccessible, it becomes hidden.  This concept clearly shows up when examining the accessibility of PowerPoint. When faculty give a presentation and cover a table or complex graphic, they should also provide a written description of the table in the text of their handouts, so that the meaning they are conveying can be understood by anyone not capable of seeing their table on the slide, but it is much easier to create the complexity than explain it in writing.

Color contrast example powerpoint slideGood color contrast which is a principle of online design, really will affect the non-disabled population as much as those with vision loss.  People will immediately speak out about hard to read headings and captions on images.  The font size is another visual issue that people will complain about.

Powerpoint Slide example too much text But the worst and most common complaint I’ve heard is the amount of content on the slides.

When presenters spend time reading through boatloads of content off their slides, most people cringe.  The trick is to give out handouts with lengthy content – or attachments like articles that go into detail.  The PowerPoints are supposed to be an outline of points to keep the focus of the audience.

If photos or graphics are used in a PowerPoint they should be illustrative.  If derived from data and data tables, that content is seriously not the type of image you want to present.  You want to present the results and the summary of data.  Use charts: bar graphs, pie charts etc.  Give the finite details in a handout.

If those handouts need to be made accessible before classes, they should be dealt with prior to class, not afterwards.  That is a violation of civil rights.  If you know you have a student with a print disability, the PowerPoints and documents should be produced into accessible formats prior to the class or symposium.

If you use a learning management system, you might look to see if your institution provides Ally.  This service built into certain products like Blackboard and Canvas will usually give a grade to the accessibility of content that you are using in your courses.  It looks at the files in your content area, and provides several useful services.  First, it gives you indicators of how much improvement may be necessary.  These indicators show up as clickable red, orange and green gauges.

Positive accessibility indicator from Ally

Positive accessibility indicator from Ally

Second by clicking those gauges faculty are shown information pertaining to those indicated improvements.  Lastly it allows faculty and their students to automate the conversion of a file into alternative formats.

Most higher education institutions provide support for faculty.  You may have a UDL specialist.  You may have an alternative materials expert or an assistive technology expert who can point you to resources for improving your courses’ accessibility and how well you have provided your content with universal design for learning principles.  Take advantage of any resource person you have at your disposal.

At least with Ally, student can convert content into many different type; including html, enhanced PDF, ePub, electronic Braille, and Audio (MP4).  Now these formats aren’t perfect, but they offer students a quick means to multiple file types never offered before.  In the past students would have to request and accommodation through the disability office.  Now any student, and even the faculty, can make use of these different formats to provide alternatives to what they can use to read, listens, or feel content.


5 types of file conversion offered by Ally

5 types of file conversion offered by Ally


What Not to Do When using PowerPoint

HTML table advanced features and accessibility

Faculty Images and Universal Design for Learning

What is an Alt Tag?

Are Publishers Pushing Epub Format as Alternative Media?

8 format types for alt books

Alternative textbook formats

For years universities and colleges have demanded alternative formats of educational materials from publishing houses.  One of the largest challenges has been to produce the format students in college desire.  With a hundred different ways to produce content, some publishers say they’ve got to find a more suitable format that we can all work with –EPUB may be that format.  However, many alternative media professionals are struggling with this format because their students prefer those formats that they’ve received in the past.

Publishers use to send pdf files.  Originally these were often picture pdf files – inaccessible pdf — but this goes back a few years.  Then they sent colleges and universities pdf files that at least had the text accessible.  Alt media folks at universities could take these files and generate a variety of accessible file types, including braille, DAISY, KESI files, word or RTF files, txt files, etc.  Some students wanted their book in pdf format so they could still have the look and feel of the book design.  Others only wanted the text, and others wanted just mp3 audio files.  *Daisy was also pushed as the best at one point.  There were all sorts of problems with generating all these different file types.  No one was truly happy.

Time to Convert Books

Converting books took hours to do when tasked with adding in the semantic structure, and forget even thinking about labelling all the pictures and charts or adding back in the page numbers, too!  For each element that one student may need, the next student may not.  I recall that adding in headings structure, that was originally only graphically in place in the book, took as much time to create as the rest of the work for producing an e-book.

To efficiently generate alt formats, one really needs to start at the book design stage.  Yeah right!  That’s a pipe dream at best – this is a messy subject because it covers a lot of different types of organizations, all which in the spirit of democracy will have to find common ground. Getting everyone to agree to a format has never happened, and innovation is stifled by such concepts, regardless of the intent.

epub iconSolution for Publishers

While EPUB may be a solution for publishers, it may generate a lot of resistance from the accessibility community.  However, the money and power is in the hands of the publishers, who are at least taking responsibility for addressing accessibility – that surely should be applauded.

EPUB files have some properties that may hinder access.  The notorious one is called DRM protection.  This format is created to (most likely) protect copyright.  That has always been an issue for the publishers from day one.  I’ve never used a tool that can strip this protection, though the web shows that there are means to do it (see below for link).

Some colleges and universities may not have software that can read out loud EPUB software.  Solutions exist.  Kurweil is known to be able to read EPUB files.  ReadNWrite can also.  I cannot ascertain whether Wynn can.  They have a facility for sending files to a virtual printer, which converts them.

In the Kasdorf article referenced below, he quotes George Kerscher, CIO of the *Daisy consortium: “The inherent accessibility of an EPUB far surpasses that of PDF in many ways.”  Textbook publishers are trying to replace sending out PDF files for a more robust file format.  Many of the large companies are moving into using software they choose such as Vitalsource.  Personally, I’ve tested some of these solutions, and they do provide accessible content, but maybe not for every possible person.  I’m seeing this a

Formats and what they provide

s progress, as for the vast majority of students with disabilities these new formats work fine.   Since Daisy consortium found the EPUB 3 to be the approved for distribution noting that EPUB 3 is aligned with HTML 5 and supports audio, video, interactivity and a whole lot of other important functionalities of digital publishing.

This means that publishers can go about creating content that meets the business model of the highly competitive marketplace and reach their goals for accessibility.  But it requires a format that disability support services providers may not be ready for.

Side note:

Last year at the Accessing Higher Ground Conference (2017) the case of EPUB versus PDF was taken up by someone from the publishing industry.  Rachel Comerford, director of Content Standards at Macmillan Learning spoke about how EPUB was the solution her company was using.  She is also the co-chair for the W3C EPUB Community Group.  The main point to take away from the presentation is that times have changed and word and pdf files are not the ideal experience for students with print disabilities.  She stated “Macmillan is producing only EPUBs from copyright 2017 on.”

“The following slide was taken from her presentation:

Differences between EPUB and PDF:

  • Mobility/Reflowing – Students are reading on a variety of devices and in this case, size matters. EPUBs have a reflowable format: line length changes based on size of the screen
  • Inherent accessibility of an EPUB – Using an out of the box, unremediated EPUB is easier to use than an out of the box, unremediated pdf
  • Remediating PDF requires source file, reprints require starting from scratch – When the textbook your psych department is using goes into a new edition – you are remediating a new pdf from scratch
  • Less interactivity possible in a PDF – Students receiving a pdf while peers use an EPUB are deprived of pop-up definitions that are within the text, answerable assessment, etc
  • HOWEVER – You can’t remediate EPUBs on your own unless you know html and css, and the EPUB isn’t protected (DRM).

Format is Stripped?

Another negative about EPUB is that the documents usually are formatted like a text file.  The document flow and structure from the printed form is stripped way.   I know for some students, generally those who have vision, the structure of the file my help them with their handling a book’s complex content – especially when associated with the tables, figures, and photos.  Others may prefer the bimodal reading, but not want to lose the graphical layout which helps them understand tables within pages and other referenced graphics and sidebars.  This will also be confusing for folks trying to keep up with in-class readings.

Overall, it seems that this is a new wave of change, but it may be a bit off shore at present.  Let’s see how these changes impact both accessibility of instructional materials and the ability of universities to accommodate their print impaired students.  I hope it rolls into a bigger more universally acceptable design for learning that offers multiple formats for everyone interacting with academic content.  UDL is the future in my opinion of accessibility.

References and Resources

Removal of DRM protection.

Why Accessibility is hard and how to make it easier: Lessons from Publishers

Tool for Checking Accessibility of EPUB files

EPUB Accessibility

EPUB Accessibility Techniques


*The DAISY Consortium is a registered not-for-profit global collective of organizations committed to delivering worldwide change to achieve a common Vision that “People have equal access to information and knowledge regardless of disability; a right confirmed by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.” DAISY helps to mainstream standards, develop guidelines to promote best practices, raise awareness of accessible reading systems and support open standards for inclusive publishing.

Video Player Accessibility and Ugly Acronyms

Ugly Acronyms

Some acronyms are just ugly: take for instance UAAG 2.0. When someone knows an issue, they can handle an ugly acronym. UAAG stands for User Agent Accessibility Guidelines. If you don’t know what it is, you most likely won’t understand what those guidelines mean until you read in-depth about the topic – references provided below will help you get started. However, one of the topics of accessibility most everyone is familiar with and that is captioning of videos. This accessibility topic is easy-to-understand and has been part of several noteworthy legal actions.

The reason I’m talking about UAAG 2.0 is that a secondary and lesser-known issue is that of inaccessible video players. The Web Accessibility Initiative covers both of these issues and other things such as the accessibility of browsers.

When looking at software that produces content for showing video on the web, you should be aware of whether the software video player meets accessibility standards. Professionals designing web content need to look for a few factors when picking the media player for their site.

Getting ugly GraffitiAlternatives (UDL)

First the media player has to provide alternatives for audiovisual information such as captioning, sign language interpretation, transcripts and/or audio description. That seems to be something most people are aware of. However, often overlooked is how accessible the player is. The player needs to be not only accessible using a mouse but by keyboard in through the use of assistive technology, especially screen readers.

When I run testing, I often don’t have content that I’ve created, so I usually research whether the player can show close captions. Those of you familiar with Captivate, Articulate, Lectora, Camtasia will know that you need to have a method to show captioning of content. Knowing that these are educational technologies, the issue of UAAG 2.0 usually has been addressed. But lesser-known products, often used by specific types of departments which show video content may not be up to speed with the UAAG standard. It is therefore important to look at the player controls to see if they can be accessed without using the mouse and with using assistive technology.

Companies that package video content and sell them to libraries, frequently do not comply with accessibility standards. Though federal law holds motion picture and television content to the close captioning standard, other video players have not been scrutinized by the federal government. These slip through the cracks, and cause accessibility issues for students who are blind, hard of hearing, deaf, learning-disabled etc. Captioning gets all the glitter when it comes to the conversation of accessibility, but in inaccessible player is just as serious an issue.

Even more rare to find is documentation that users can obtain about the media player to learn keystrokes or other features that were designed to improve accessibility. Test to see if there’s any documentation easily acquired through the application. Frequently basic controls such as how to play or stop a video, the ability to resize the screen presented, and volume adjustment should have documentation.

If any of these issues are missed by the manufacturer of the player, consider another player. If you cannot, then contact the company representative to discuss when in future updates these issues will be addressed.


Factors in Chosing an Accessible Player

video player supports close captions
video player supports audio description and allows narration to be turned on and off
video player supports keyboard access to all controls
controls are properly labeled for screenreader access
video player operates on all major browsers


Content developers need to provide captioning for instructional content. This is the predominant factor when pursuing accessible video content. Overlooked frequently is the actual player and it’s accessibility.


User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UUAG 2.0)
Web accessibility initiative Wikipedia page (WAI):

You Can Create Accessible Videos — Cast

Existing Accessible Players

Able Player – by Terrill Thompson (GitHub)
OzPlayer – by AccessibilityOz

AFB Accessible Player, American Foundation of the Blind
Other accessible video players exist.

Players in Review

The following webpage provides an excellent example of a comparison of HTML 5 video players:
the page describes various aspects of whether it plays on a specific platform has a JS library, CMS plug-in, and a whole lot of other interesting factors.

Measurements the start to STEM pathways for the blind

Brailled calipersScience, technology, engineering and mathematics or the stem subjects all begin with the concept of measuring. For those who are blind, measurement is inherently difficult because it requires vision. Recently two PhD candidates at MIT developed a simple nonelectronic device for measuring called the squirrel device. It is basically a caliper that has braille markup, and can introduce students who are blind to measuring objects.


Electronic refresh will braille displays often costs over $2500 to $5000. And they do not have any means of measuring items for students. They are amused mainly as alternative displays – rather than a visual monitor, the textual information is displayed in braille using mechanical pins. Below you can see a picture of one.

braille display example

It is said that most blind students drop out of math and science after eighth grade because the content becomes unavailable in the laboratories become inaccessible. The obstacles demotivate blind individuals from learning science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In a previous article, we discussed a chemistry probe that can be used help students learn to measure different things in a chemistry lab. But basic mathematics is relevant to these fields of study, and so an understanding of geometric principles and a knowledge of how to measure physical objects is a basic requirement for blind individuals. So this new device really is foundational.


Because the PhD candidates understood that electronic devices are prone to failure and are also prohibitively expensive they chose a mechanical solution when designing the calipers.  They also chose this route to keep the cost down.  They sell on National Braille Press for $18.00.


Their efforts were supported by the ideas global challenge which is an annual competition run by the Priscilla King gray public service center. The center support force them to create a business plan, prototypes, posters and to receive feedback from judges. That help them to redefine their objectives in designing the calipers.

After the success of their device Squirrel Devices they also designed a tactile protractor. So be on the lookout for both devices.

Referenced Articles

MIT News Article



More amazing technology produced at MIT which may help people with disabilities


Squirrel Devices webpage:


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