What makes content accessible?

When judging the accessibility of content, ultimately we are looking at the ability of that content to be understood using more than one sense or ability. For example, if you have a reading for a student, is that document visual for someone to read and at the same time in a format that another student could use with adaptive technology that reads to them. In regards to an exam, does the student have the resources necessary to show what they know. Below are various examples of people with disabilities and how three of the most common formats are used by each person.

James has a reading disability:

  • 15 page PDF of an article to read: James will use a program that reads back the text audibly, this is called text-to-speech. This program will have to be able to select text. If he cannot select the text of a PDF, that PDF has not been formatted in an accessible way. Read our Quick Tip on Text Documents for more information.
  • 30 minute Movie to watch: James will do great with this information.
  • 60 minute multiple choice exam: Like the PDF, James will use a program to read this information to him. He will use extra time, because it will take time to coordinate the text-to-speech program with the test. If the test cannot be put on computer he will need a person to read the test aloud to him.

Tammy has ADHD:

  • 15 page PDF of an article to read: Tammy will be able to read this article easily; however, it will take her more time than others. She may become distracted by events, sounds, movements around her. Even thoughts about school work will pop into her mind distracting her from the task at hand.
  • 30 minute Movie to watch: Tammy will watch this movie with ease, but anything around may still distract her from the content. If the movie is on the internet or on her computer, she will need to be diligent about staying away from other internet sites, computer games, e-mail, and chat programs. Anything online can be distracting, not because of the format of the movie, but because of the many other items that can be accessed on the computer.
  • 60 minute multiple choice exam: Tammy will receive extra time on her exam. She is easily distracted by events around her while taking the test. Not only does the distraction deter her mind from the test, it takes time to refocus her energy on the test when she realizes she is no longer paying attention. Tammy should also be encouraged to take the test in a distraction reduced environment.

Richard is blind:

  • 15 page PDF of an article to read: James and Richard have something in common; both have trouble with text documents. They also use similar programs to read the text to them. Richard will do well with this information as long as he can select the text to have his screen reader to read the text aloud. Richard uses a screen reader for the entire computer environment to read items from the screen. He can access anything on his computer just as fast as another student through audio output.
  • 30 minute Movie to watch: Richard will listen to the movie but anything visual will not be picked up. Students who are blind need video which is descriptive. Much like a movie commentary track, someone is speaking in the background to describe anything visual. Many videos are available with descriptive video service (DVS) audio tracks. Contact the movie publisher for more information on obtaining a copy with DVS.
  • 60 minute multiple choice exam: Richard will use his screen reader for taking exams. All exams he takes will need to be in electronic format so he can access the test using his computer. If it cannot be put on computer, he will need a person to read the test aloud. Either way, he will also use extra time to coordinate programs, or the reader, to make the test questions accessible.

Samantha has cerebral palsy:

  • 15 page PDF of an article to read: Cerebral palsy is on a spectrum and affects everyone differently. Samantha may easily work with a 15 page article while another student with the same condition may have difficulties with the text because of a visual impairment tied to their cerebral palsy. One issue that many students may have in common is their lack of fine motor skills. Using a mouse requires many small movements done in coordination and tasks such as navigating to the article become difficult. Be aware that students may have trouble with drop down menus, timed button events, or any navigation using small mouse movements.
  • 30 minute Movie to watch: Samantha does great with movies. Again, another student may have other conditions which affect their ability to hear.
  • 60 minute multiple choice exam: Samantha's cerebral palsy affects her coordination abilities. The fine motor skills to move a mouse or use the keyboard are affected and she will need more time on the test to coordinate her efforts.

Jeremy is hard of hearing:

  • 15 page PDF of an article to read: Jeremy will do well with this information.
  • 30 minute Movie to watch: Jeremy will need captions in order to watch this movie. Transcripts are also a possibility but he will find it difficult to coordinate the text with what is on the screen if what is being said is linked with what is being shown.
  • 60 minute multiple choice exam: Jeremy will do well with an exam that is on-line as long as their is no audio information.

Phaedra has anxiety and OCD:

  • 15 page PDF of an article to read: Psychological disabilities are on a spectrum. Each person is affected differently and with various levels of severity. Medications may also affect concentration and processing. Phaedra will read and understand the PDF; however, she may read it a couple times until she understands various nuances within the text. Her anxiety may also cause her to be distracted by other thoughts or worries in her life.
  • 30 minute Movie to watch: The same issues would apply to a movie. Distractions of watching something on-line should also be taken into account; it will be easy for Phaedra to worry about another class and head over to the internet page for that course. As she tries to figure out the movie she may also go to web sites for more information, pausing the movie many times.
  • 60 minute multiple choice exam: With distractions, issues with concentration, and a constant drive to check and recheck answers, Phaedra will need extra time on her exam so that she can refocus. She should also be encouraged to take the exam in a distraction reduced environment.