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What makes content really accessible

Guidelines for web and document accessibility abound: the aim of this part of this online course is to provide an overview of affordable solutions and arrangements that can be easily implemented in HE teaching.

As was indicated in the previous section, the types of content considered here are three: written text, graphics and audio-video. The following paragraphs try to shed light on possible ways to make these types of content barrier-free.

Written text

The most commonly used textual content in education derives from officially adopted textbooks, but beyond them there is certainly the need to expand and deepen the topics covered, as well as the possibility of having students produce text documents themselves. These can, for example, be the result of activities based on collaborative learning that are used for assessment, as suggested in Module 3.

Printed text is not accessible (or not very accessible) for people with so-called print disabilities, i.e. with disabilities that result in a functional difficulty in accessing reading on paper. It is also well known that people with dyslexia and other specific learning disorders have objective difficulties in using analogue texts. Less obvious, but potentially very disabling, are the reading difficulties for persons with motor disabilities - where the paper text is not sufficiently manageable for independent reading - in addition to the comprehension difficulties that may arise for persons with intellectual disabilities.

The most relevant digital tools and techniques that can be used in this field are those that allow an immediate transcoding of the text in order to translate it into other forms of communication, such as voice: optical character recognition systems coupled with speech synthesis are an excellent example of how, with technological solutions that are now easily available to everybody, it is possible to switch from written text to its spoken version. In the case of severe visual impairment, it is also possible to use the Braille alphabet, which can be reproduced by a computer using special hardware devices known as 'Braille displays'.

A simple and effective way to improve the inclusiveness of written text is to focus on its readability, both in typographic and syntactic terms.

Tool suggestion: The British Dyslexia Association offers a practical style guide that features quick and easy suggestions to make text more readable.


Using illustrations, photographs, diagrams and other forms of graphic representation, is per se working towards accessibility: images make comprehension more immediate and are easier to decode and remember than text. The most obvious pitfall is for students with disabilities or other visual impairments, but there may be much less obvious implications, for example for people with difficulties recognising different colours. Traditionally, these barriers have been reduced or eliminated by using textual descriptions, but these are not always entirely satisfactory. Particularly in the case of graphs showing complex numerical data, the process of creating a description can be very laborious.

Technology offers some interesting aids: one possibility is to produce tactile versions of images, with techniques to produce drawings that are in fact similar to bas-reliefs. Where there is a description or text version of the image, it is possible to refer to various reading technologies.

It is also possible to add extra information to images and make them interactive. A simple way to do so is to use one of the various tools that allow putting hotspots over an image.

Tool suggestion: H5P’s “image with hotspots” content type allows to add information over a static image. A tutorial with examples is available at H5P’s website and can be reproduced using the online or offline tools made available for free by LUMI.


In terms of accessibility, continuing in the same vein as images and graphics, video is certainly an interesting tool as it makes it possible to merge several codes simultaneously. In fact, audio combined with images constitutes a very effective support for comprehension and there are interesting implications linked to the use of videos, and in particular annotated videos, in education.

The most frequent and intuitive barriers are those for people with sensory impairments, both visual and auditory: the cases in which only one of the two channels is sufficient to understand video content are rare. In support of hearing impairments, it is very common to use text subtitling, which is now present in almost all online video-sharing platforms and video-conferencing platforms. This solution brings with it many advantages, for instance that of allowing the translation of a content into several languages at least at a textual level to facilitate comprehension. However, subtitling a video is not a trivial operation: some useful tricks to take into account will be discussed below. On the other hand, as regards support for those who cannot view all or part of a movie, it is possible to rely on audio description, a technique that inserts audio elements to describe what would otherwise only be visible on the screen.

In this case, too, there are some interesting technological aids: from generic amplification tools such as headphones and earphones, of which there are examples capable of reducing or cancelling out ambient noise to facilitate clearer listening, to video players with special features to facilitate comprehension, such as playback speed control.

Tool suggestion: generating live transcriptions is quite easy at the moment, thanks to free services like Ava, Google’s Live Transcribe app and WebCaptioner.

The specific case of slides

Slides rely almost entirely on the visual and auditory channel, and all the suggestions made above certainly apply. With a presentation, the teacher can address an audience of students with the intention of capturing their attention, clarifying concepts, arousing emotions and encouraging memorisation. Unfortunately, however, slides do not always work as one would like or as one would expect: they can themselves become barriers to understanding if they are unable to fulfil their main function, that of supporting the speaker's speech.

In a world dominated by sight, those who lack all or part of this sense may have serious difficulties following a speech in which expressions such as 'as you see here' or 'in the text highlighted in red' may follow one another without offering any other perceptual hold. Here again, however, it is not only a matter of visual problems or those related to specific learning disorders: anyone with an attention deficit may find it difficult to concentrate on a slide and at the same time listen to the lecturer, especially if the slide in question has not been designed properly. In fact, it is often the arrangement of the text and other graphic elements on the screen that creates an obstacle to comprehension that is not due to the nature of the medium.

In many cases a very simple but effective solution is to provide the slides in advance or directly in the classroom to the students, either in digital or printed form.

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