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Instructor Information

Accessibility Information for Instructors

All electronic instructional materials (e.g., syllabi, presentations, handouts, and multimedia) and electronic documents (e.g., PDFs, PowerPoints, and Word Docs) used in Winthrop University courses must be accessible for all users. To be considered accessible, your materials must meet the guidelines outlined on this page.

Use the menu below to navigate through these guidelines. Clicking on a tab will reveal additional information.  You can also click on an opened tab to close it again.

    • When creating accessible content in Blackboard, you should use a Heading Structure whenever possible. A Heading Structure is used to chunk information, organize it, indicate a hierarchy of ideas, and enhance page navigation. Think of it as a formal outline that persists after publishing a document’s final copy.

      • There are three levels of Heading Structure available in Blackboard:

        1. Heading - Use the Heading option to indicate an overall idea or concept.
        2. Sub Heading 1 - Use the Sub Heading 1 option to indicate a component part of a Heading.
        3. Sub Heading 2 - Use the Sub Heading 2 option to indicate a nuance, example, or further consideration of a Sub Heading 1.

        Here’s a developed Heading Structure outline to further illustrate the process:

        1. Introduction (Heading)
        2. Chapter 1 (Heading)
          1. Section 1 (Sub Heading 1)
          2. Section 2 (Sub Heading 1)
            1. Example 1 (Sub Heading 2)
            2. Figure 1 (Sub Heading 2)
          3. Section 3 (Sub Heading 1)
            1. Extension Activity (Sub Heading 2)
        3. Chapter 2 (Heading)
      • A well-organized and hierarchical page aids students who rely on screen reading software to access your course materials. The software uses algorithms to search pages for clues (tags) that clarify and enhance the reading experience. Proper Heading Structure also allows students with visual impairments to jump around the page, which is a valuable substitute for visual pre-reading and review strategies.

        But Heading Structures help all students. They separate content logically, illustrate the relationships between parts and a whole, sequence steps in a complex procedure, or compare and contrast concepts. When you incorporate a Heading Structure in your course, you increase the chance that all learners will internalize the content.

      • Headings are simple additions to your content, but they are difficult to perfect. Here are some tips to help you create effective headings:

        1. Repeat or summarize the most important information from each section in the section’s heading. Doing so ensures that students can quickly find and review key instructional material.
        2. Headings work best when they are short and consistent. Use nouns, simple verbs, and adjectives more than adverbs, articles, and prepositions.
        3. Parallel construction is also useful. Keep the text and style of each heading consistent.
    • Text is the backbone of online instructional materials. Much, if not most, of the content you create for your courses will be text-based--and for good reason. Text is cheap to produce and easy to update.

      It is simple to create accessible text, but there are many considerations to keep in mind while you create text-based content for your course.

        1. Serif/Sans Serif - Serif Fonts (like Times New Roman) are highly readable on paper due to the little flourishes that appear at the ends of each letter. These flourishes sometimes interfere with reading comprehension on a screen, though. You should use a Sans Serif font (like Arial) for all body content in your course. Serif fonts can be used effectively for headings to differentiate sections of course content.
        2. Bold/Strong - Bold text is useful when you want to draw visual attention to a term or section of material, but it is generally not recognized by screen reading software. Some screen readers will add intonation for the use of Strong text, which is visually identical to bold and automatically substituted in Blackboard Learn, but you should find other ways to convey important information to students with visual impairments. See the Style Tips section for some suggestions.
        3. Italic/Emphasis - Italic text is best used to convey important information like the title of a work of art or a collection of essays, but it is generally not recognized by screen reading software. Some screen readers will add intonation for the use of Emphasis text, which is visually identical to Italic and automatically substituted in Blackboard Learn, but you should find other ways to convey important information to students with visual impairments. See the Style Tips section for some suggestions.
        4. Underline - Underline text should not be used to call attention to information in an online environment. Underline text is best used to signify a hyperlink.
        5. CAPS - Like other font variants, CAPS is not recognized by screen reading software, and it will not convey any added meaning to a student with visual impairments. It is also considered rude, akin to shouting the information, so the use of ALL CAPS is not recommended.
        6. Color - Using color and highlights to differentiate text from its surrounding context is visually appealing and can help some students see a relationship more clearly, but you should not rely on color formatting alone to separate or signify important content. Aside from the obvious disadvantage blind students have when interacting with colored font, some students may suffer from color blindness or have difficulty differentiating colors on a screen.
      • Lists are a great way to break up content for easy reading and skimming. Screen reading software is equipped with algorithms that differentiate list content from other text. For example, properly-constructed numbered lists inform the reader how many items are in the list, and then read the number for each item.

        There are two types of lists you can use in Blackboard Learn:

        1. Ordered - An ordered list displays a chronological or progressive relationship between ideas, topics, or concepts. Use ordered lists when creating procedures, indicating a degree of importance, or showing a relationship between items in time.
        2. Unordered - An unordered list displays equal value between ideas, topics, or concepts. Use unordered lists when creating content that lists ideas of equal importance, interchangeable value, or equivalent characteristics.

        Note: Always use Blackboard Learn’s built-in list features. From any Content Editor, you can create a list by selecting the text and clicking the Ordered List or Unordered List icons on the toolbar. Do not manually create lists using hyphens, dashes, asterisks, bold, italic, or any other character or font variant. Screen readers rely on code to identify lists, and this code is automatically added if you use Blackboard Learn’s list options.

      • Tables are great tools for sharing information, but students using screen reading software may find tables difficult to understand. Screen readers are equipped with table features, but those features require users to learn advanced commands. The tables must also be created appropriately.

        Important: It is recommended to use lists instead of tables whenever possible.

        If you find a table is necessary, be sure to Create Row Headers in the Content Editor. Row Headers cause a screen reader to re-announce the heading for each cell in the header row as the user navigates through the table. This feature gives the user context for each cell’s content. Otherwise, the screen reader will say col 1, col 2, etc.

        Note: Graphs should be treated as if they are an image. Provide a description of the graph along with any visual trends that are being displayed, or present the graph in tabular format. See the Images section of this page for additional instructions on handling complex images.

        1. Emphasis
          1. Repetition - Repetition is one alternative to font variants. Font variants are helpful in some cases, but there are screen readers that still do not recognize font variants.
          2. Punctuation - There are always alternatives to font variants--punctuation, for example, can convey importance, if used strategically. Did you know that screen readers also add emphasis for question marks and exclamation points? Pretty useful!
          3. Separation - Use separate, short paragraphs starting with key terms to indicate important ideas or concepts, and then explain them with colons or dashes.
          4. Parallelism - Use parallel constructions to indicate a relationship between important key terms, e.g., Repetition, Punctuation, Separation, and Parallelism, thus far.
          5. Summary - Include a summary section that reiterates the important terms learners should remember. The five tips just presented (repetition, punctuation, separation, parallelism, and summary) can help you create accessible, emphatic text without the use of font variants.

          Note - You should not use font variants to call out important information. An alternative is to remove the information and identify it with a cue word, as shown here.

          Titles

          Use leading words to indicate a title.

          Instead of writing: “Frankenstein illustrates the futility of science.”

          Try: “The novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley illustrates the futility of science.”

          White Space

          Provide a lot of white space in your content. Long paragraphs seem impressive, but reading content on a screen is not as forgiving as reading on a printed page.

          Separating your content into short, concise paragraphs will help readers remain focused, and screen readers will break up the content using appropriate pauses.

          Directional Language

          The use of directional language (top-right, bottom corner, above) is not helpful for students using screen reading software. Screen readers proceed linearly from the beginning of your content to the end.

          One alternative is to use linear language, instead. The following link will take you to our Instructor Training and Resources page, for example. Learn more about using Blackboard at Winthrop University. The previous link can be helpful when designing online and hybrid courses.

    • Images can help you represent complicated or complex information and, when used correctly, enhance student learning. But students with visual impairments will rarely benefit from image use in your instruction.

      This fact does not mean you shouldn’t use images in your course, but it should force you to consider whether the images have instructional relevance or are merely decorative. Ask yourself these questions:

      1. What is the purpose of this image?
      2. Is this image meant to give the page visual appeal?
      3. Is this image meant to give a sighted user a visual reference?
      4. Is this image something all users need to consume to understand the content?

      If you cannot determine the meaning or purpose of the image, do not use it. Too many images can be distracting to students with learning disabilities or those using screen reading software.

      • To comply with accessibility practices, you must set an Alternate Text Attribute (Alt Text) for any instructional image used in your course. Alt Text is simply a written description of an image.

        To create effective Alt Text, briefly describe the overall image, and then describe any detail you are trying to convey to your students by presenting this image.

        Learn how to Add Alt Text to Uploaded Media in Blackboard, and then consider the following practices to create effective Alt Text.

      • Some images contain text. If you use an image with internal text, then you must include that text within the body of your content. Students with visual impairments will not have access to that text, otherwise.

        There are three ways you can accomplish this goal:

        1. Introduce the image in the body text preceding the image, “The following image explains the 5 steps of the ADDIE model (analyze, design, develop, implement, evaluate):”
        2. Explain the image in the body text following the image, “The previous image explains the 5 steps of the ADDIE model (analyze, design, develop, implement, evaluate)...”
        3. Caption the image using the caption option, “The 5 steps of the ADDIE model: analyze, design, develop, implement, and evaluate.”
      • Images representing complex information (like graphs and charts) also need to be described. The more complex an image is, the more description it might need. Translating visual data into a text-based narrative can be challenging, but you should keep the Alt Text short (6 or 7 characters) and include a caption that elaborates on the image.

        To see an example of Alt Text for a chart with complex information, consult our tutorial to Make Complex Images Accessible.

      • Do not provide Alt Text for decorative images. An image is decorative when it does not add to the information on the page. Images like dividers, borders, or spacers are considered decorative.

        When you do not set Alt Text for an image, screen reading software will skip over the image and continue reading the text as if it were not there, so make sure that the image is fully decorative before foregoing Alt Text.

      • When you add Alt Text to an image, remember the following tips:

        1. You do not need to include the text “picture” or “image” in the Alt Text field. Screen readers automatically identify an image on the page for the listener.
        2. Provide a clear and concise description of the image’s function, meaning, or purpose. Don’t focus on the image’s appearance.
        3. Avoid using repeated, generic Alt Text for each image, e.g., “Illustration of… Illustration of… Illustration of…”
        4. Clickable images must describe the function, not the image. For example, using the Winthrop University logo to return to our homepage should have Alt Text reading, “Return to Winthrop University’s homepage,” not, “Winthrop University logo.”
        5. Avoid adding text to images you create. Not only will it be inaccessible to blind students, but the text will also be difficult for students using screen magnification software, as it may distort the text when enlarged. If you must add text to an image, include the text in the Alt Tag, as well.
        6. If images are used in an assessment, include a description of the image in the question or answer text.
      • When you insert images into a body of text, make sure that the image is being read at the appropriate moment. It can be confusing if a screen reader begins reading Alt Text in the middle of a paragraph. The easiest way to prevent this from happening is to align all images to “left align” and to use “in line” text wrapping settings.

      • Every image has a file extension. When you upload images to your course, you must ensure that the files use accessible extensions.

        Blackboard Learn supports the following image file extensions:

        1. .gif
        2. .jif
        3. .jpg
        4. .jpeg
        5. .png
        6. .tiff
        7. .wmf

        Keep in mind that each file type may display differently across browsers and operating systems. Screen reading software further limits compatibility.

        The recommended cross-platform image file extensions include the following:

        1. .jpg
        2. .png
      • Check the image file properties for the original size, and then use a size to display the image that maintains the height-to-width ratio of the original size. For example, if the image file normally displays at 800x400, you can change it to 400x200 to fit the page. If you change the size to 900x300, the image will appear distorted because the ratio is no longer the same.

        For some file types, changing the size, even if the ratio is maintained, will result in a pixelated image.Using the original image size will correct this problem. If the image is too big for the page, use the Open in New Window option to open the image outside of the page. Using the original image size and launching the image in a new window will solve most problems with images not displaying correctly.

        Add a border to the image. The image border will be black and can be from 1 pixel to 4 pixels wide.

    • Audio clips are beneficial instructional tools. Whether you include audio samples, descriptions, feedback, or lecture recordings, you must consider accessibility practices when delivering audio content.

      Before you use audio in your course, consider the following practices:

      1. Analyze if narration is needed - determine if including an audio clip will add instructional value. If not, exclude it.
      2. Prepare a script - develop an effective and efficient script. This not only helps you organize your thoughts, but it also lets you examine the content for accessible practices.
      3. Record with high quality - avoid ambient noises (lawn mowers, trains, phone calls, etc.) and use a quality microphone.
      • Developing strong narration skills is an art form. Learning to narrate content in an accessible way is even more challenging. It helps to keep accessibility in mind while you prepare an audio recording, so we have assembled a list of suggestions:

        1. Cover the content without superfluous asides.
        2. Avoid visual and directional language (e.g., as you can see, to the right of).
        3. Read or speak as if in conversation, with proper tone and inflection.
        4. Describe the content with clarity and in detail.
        5. Speak clearly and do not rush through explanations.
      • Every audio clip has a file extension. When you upload audio to your course, you must ensure that the files use accessible extensions.

        Blackboard Learn supports the following audio file extensions:

        1. .aiff
        2. .mp3
        3. .midi
        4. .mp
        5. .wav
        6. .wma

        Keep in mind that each file type may encode differently across browsers and operating systems.

        The recommended cross-platform audio file extensions include the following:

        1. .mp3
      • We recommend you produce scripts for all audio recordings. It is a simple procedure:

        1. Divide your lecture into short segments.
        2. Write a script for each segment prior to recording.
        3. Record.

        When you divide your audio into short segments, you improve its accessibility and assure student attention. It also makes updating your content easier, as you do not need to record an entirely new audio clip to replace a short segment.

        When you create scripts, you give yourself a chance to rehearse the narrative and improve the product’s quality. Though scripting your recordings takes additional time, it will prevent the need to retrofit your audio to comply with accessibility requirements, resulting in net gains.

        You can also reuse the script as your transcript (with minor adjustments).

      • Every audio file posted in an online course must include a transcript. Asking a hearing impaired student to interact with audio content is otherwise exclusionary.

        But transcripts are useful for all students, not just those with hearing impairments. Transcripts are easier to review and study than listening to an entire audio clip again. If created correctly, they’re even searchable.

      • Any audio clip that exceeds 7 minutes must include timestamps in its accompanying transcript. If the transcript is 7 minutes or less, no timestamps are required; however, an outline with a heading structure should be used to separate content and illustrate when transitions are made. See the Headings section of this page for additional information.

        Remember: The ultimate goal is to include the same (or equivalent) information in the transcript that was presented in the audio clip. Students who only use your written resources should be able to learn the same content as if they had listened to the audio.

      • Faculty members may request assistance from the Office of Online Learning to obtain a timestamped transcript for any length of audio file. The service requires at least two business days to complete. For example, if a transcript is needed by Monday, the request must be completed on or before the previous Thursday during regular business hours.

        To request a transcript, complete the Request for Transcripts or Closed Captioning Form.

      • After completing a transcript, you should Save the Document as an Accessible PDF File. Upload this PDF in the same content block as the audio file. Naming both files with similar conventions will help you and your students pair them.

      • Students will submit a transcript with their audio files if the activity requires peer review of the audio. If the assignment is being submitted to the instructor only, a transcript is not required.

        If the audio will be peer reviewed, the students will write a script before recording their audio.

        1. The script will include descriptions of any visual elements versus using “as shown in the chart/graph” language.
        2. The script will include section headings to make it clear where transitions are being made.
        3. The students will upload their script with their audio file to Blackboard.
    • Few instructional tools are as effective as a good video. You can demonstrate concepts, extend readings, bring in real-world examples, and reproduce an in-class lecture by using video. As with all other tools, though, videos must be created with accessibility practices in mind.

      Our first recommendation is to break up long lectures into shorter, more digestible chunks that can be linked separately in your course. Most videos should be shorter than 7 minutes.

      Students interact with video differently than text, so chunking video content helps students better compartmentalize information. Labeling each section with a heading structure will also improve your course’s navigability. See the Headings section of this page for more information.

      Creating chunks of content will help you update course materials, as well. Instead of recording an entire lecture again when you discover an error or incorporate new information, you will only need to replace a short segment.

      • Developing strong narration skills is an art form. Learning to narrate content in an accessible way is even more challenging. It helps to keep accessibility in mind while you prepare a video recording, so we have assembled a list of suggestions:

        1. Plan how you will demonstrate a concept before you record it.
        2. Avoid visual language. Idioms like “as you can see” or “if you look at this image” are not helpful for students with visual impairments. Be direct. Say things like, “There are five aspects. They are: 1… 2….” Then read and describe each point.
        3. Speak at a normal rate to hold students’ attention for longer periods of time. Speaking slightly slower than normal also gives captions time to catch up with the audio. See the Captions Tips section for more information.
        4. Ensure than any visual content in the video is described through spoken word.
      • Every video has a file extension. When you upload video to your course, you must ensure that the files use accessible extensions.

        Blackboard Learn supports the following video file extensions:

        1. .avi
        2. .mpg
        3. .mpeg
        4. .mov
        5. .moo
        6. .qt
        7. .swa
        8. .swf
        9. .asf
        10. .wmv

        Keep in mind that each file type may encode differently across browsers and operating systems.

        The recommended cross-platform video file extensions include the following:

        1. .mp4
      • It is considered best practice to provide both captions and a transcript for all video content in your course; however, many caption services allow viewers to download a video’s captions as a text document, effectively replacing the transcript.

        For this reason, we recommend captioning all videos. If you wish to include a transcript, see the Transcripts section beneath the Audio heading on this page for instructions.

        Captions appear as text near the bottom of a video and are synchronized with the video’s audio. They allow video content to be accessible for students with hearing impairments, but they can also help students whose first language is not English better understand the material.

        Other students just enjoy them, as they are useful in noisy (or silent) environments. Think about how useful captions can be in an airport terminal or while watching a video in a library.

      • To follow accessibility standards, you must provide a table of contents with accompanying timestamps for any video exceeding 7 minutes in length.

        For assistance with these requirements, see Create a Table of Contents for a Video.

      • Here are some tips to improve your videos’ closed captions:

        1. Readability - Captions displayed during the video should be viewed with enough time to fully read the information. Captions should also synchronize with the audio being spoken and should not obstruct important visual content in the video.
        2. Accuracy - Any items within the video that needs additional clarification should be included in the video’s transcript or caption file. You might include an appendix at the end of a transcript to elaborate on complex information. Use indicators in your captions (see appendix a for additional information) to consult those resources, if you do.
        3. Pacing - Speak slowly and conversationally. A well-paced audio file will resolve many issues with captioning lag and visual interference.

        Remember: The ultimate goal is to include the same (or equivalent) information in the captions and/or transcript that was presented in the video clip. Students who only use your written resources should be able to learn the same content as if they had watched the video.

      • YouTube videos offer automatic closed captioning. The service uses an algorithm to identify what is being said in the video and produces a closed caption file that closely resembles the audio. It can be activated/deactivated using the CC icon from the YouTube player.

        You can also Create Captions with TechSmith Relay using a similar service. TechSmith’s process is simple and will generate an 80%+ accurate captions file. While not perfect, the service helps reduce the workload substantially.

        If you use another program to create videos and lectures, or if you are retrofitting previously-recorded videos to comply with accessibility standards, then the Office of Online Learning can assist you with the captioning process.

        Faculty members may request assistance from the Office of Online Learning to obtain timestamped, closed captions for any length of video file. The service requires at least two business days to complete. For example, if the closed captions are needed by Monday, the request must be completed on or before the previous Thursday during regular business hours.

        To request closed captions, complete the Request for Transcripts or Closed Captioning Form.

      • It is extremely important to proofread your captions when you use a captioning service. These services often confuse words due to imperfect algorithms. If you speak too fast, in an unclear manner, or even have an accent, errors will occur.

        Some examples we have seen include horses instead of courses, President instead of graduate, ours instead of hours, bargain instead of jargon, etc.

        These mistakes can change the meaning of key instructional moments during your video, so take the time to review your captions before distributing the video to students.

        Check the video file properties for the native size, and then use a size to display the video that maintains the height-to-width ratio of the native size. For example, if the video file normally displays at 800x400, you can change it to 400x200 to fit the page. If you change the size to 900x300, the video will appear distorted because the ratio is no longer the same.

      • Students will submit a transcript with their video files if the activity requires peer review of the videos. If the assignment is being submitted to the instructor only, a transcript is not required.

        If the video will be peer reviewed, the students will write a script before recording their video.

        1. The script will include descriptions of any visual elements versus using “as shown in the chart/graph” language.
        2. The script will include section headings to make it clear where transitions are being made.
        3. The students will upload their script with their video file to Blackboard.
    • You don’t always create content for your course. Sometimes, you want to link to other individuals’ lessons, audio clips, images, or videos. As long as you are following copyright guidelines, hyperlinks to external content are perfectly acceptable.

      But hyperlinks, too, must comply with accessibility practices.

      • For each hyperlink you create, make the link self-describing. A self-describing link explains where the link will take the student or what they can expect to find after clicking it. The best way to create a self-describing link is to specify where the link goes and why they should click it.

        This practice is critical for students using screen reading software because of a tool called the Links List. As the name implies, the Links List provides a list of a links present in the document. There is no additional context presented in the list, so each link should contain enough information to stand alone on the list.

        EX: Visit the Blackboard Help Accessibility page for additional self-describing link suggestions

      • Here are a few tips for creating self-describing hyperlinks:

        1. Avoid generic phrases like “click here” and “see more.” These are not helpful for a Links List and provide no context for the link. Instead, consider each hyperlink as an independent unit of content.
        2. Web addresses or URLs, especially long ones, are not informative. Do not use URLs in the body text of a document, as screen readers will read each letter individually, making them confusing.
        3. If you want to include the URL for users who wish to print the page, place the URL in parenthesis following the self-describing link. Make sure the text is not included in the hyperlink. Example: Instructor Training & Resources page (https://www.winthrop.edu/onlinelearning/default.aspx?id=27788).
        4. When applying color to links, ensure there is high contrast between the text color and background color. For students with color blindness or difficulty reading on screens, this can help reduce eye strain.
      • If you include external images, audio, or video, remember that the linked content must also comply with accessibility practices, i.e., images should have alternate text attributes, audio should have accompanying transcripts, videos should have captions.

        There are ways to ensure that the content you find on the internet is accessible. One way is to use YouTube’s Closed Caption Search Filter to search for videos that contain English Closed Captions. Only select videos with closed captions that have been edited for accuracy. See instructions for using the search filter option on YouTube.

        If you embed media in your course, you should also include an additional link to the content on the original website near the media. Screen readers do not read frames (like embedded content), so students using this software will not know they need to access the content unless they find a link before or after the media.

      • By default, all hyperlinks will open within the Blackboard Learn user interface. This feature is helpful when linking to content within the server, and it helps students using screen reading software retain their place in your course.

        We have observed that links to external sites opened in this way can be disorienting, though. For this reason, we recommend any external links be set to “open in a new window.”

        If you set a link to open in a new window, signal that fact by writing (opens in a new window) at the end of the link. For example, see our Instructor Training & Resources page for more examples (opens in a new tab).

    • If you have questions or would like additional accessibility support, contact Winthrop University’s Office of Accessibility at 803/323-3290 (V/TDD) or review Winthrop University’s Accommodations and Services for Students with Disabilities policy.

      Should you require assistance creating accessible electronic materials, please contact Winthrop University’s Office of Online Learning at 803/323-2212 or blackboard@winthrop.edu. You can also browse the Teaching and Learning Center for professional development sessions.



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