Designing accessible resources
Universal Design for Learning
Universal design for learning (UDL) is an approach to learning design that removes barriers, offering all learners equal opportunities to succeed.
UDL incorporates research from across neuropsychology, human development, and education to help teachers design for all learners and their highly variable responses to instruction.
UDL offers teachers a framework of strategies that can be applied across all learning spaces, including digital, to ensure that all learners can access and participate in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities.
The goal is to design for all. Learning and teaching resources should enable all learners with all needs to access them without the need for further intervention. This means that resources should offer multiple means of:
- representation, and
- action and expression.
UDL principles for designing accessible resources
The principles of universal design should be used by teachers as they design and create learning resources. Empathy is essential: teachers need to empathise with learners to gain a deep understanding of their learning needs and identify potential barriers to learning.
Teachers are then able to design content and resources that overcome these barriers by offering learners:
- flexible, multi-modal opportunities for learning,
- alternate formats for resources that are available to all learners,
- choice in how they demonstrate what they can do, and
- strategies to help learners understand how they learn best.
UDL principles for supporting students learning from home
It is important to explicitly teach learners how to interact with new ways of learning in new spaces. Teachers could:
This virtual 'tour' of a digital learning space could draw learners' attention to the location of key resources and the modes of communication available to them. Protocols for the ethical use of digital resources and communication tools could be addressed.
Teachers should be clear about how students can access support if needed as they work in new spaces or engage with learning materials.
Consider offering multiple means for students to interact with you, such as email, video conference, online chat and so forth.
Also consider designating a regular time and method by which you will share materials or make contact with students.
These options could include videos, downloadable slide presentations, documents, links to apps or websites.
Teachers could offer live lessons, pre-recorded explicit teaching (accompanied by a transcript or captions), or written materials.
Designing for readability
When students are learning from home, they access learning materials using different devices and different media. To ensure consistency, teachers need to carefully consider the readability of these materials.
Readability is the ease with which a reader can understand a written text. Readability of text depends on its content (the complexity of its vocabulary and syntax), and its presentation (typographic aspects like font size, line height, and line length).
Content and presentation affect how easily and efficiently learners process the information in the content.
We want learners to be able to easily read content and absorb it so that they focus on its purpose. Here are some simple tips to ensure you produce useful, user-focused content.
- Consider who your audience is and what you want them to feel, think and do.
- Have a clear purpose in mind for each document or learning material.
- Do not include every piece of information on the subject you are writing about – only include information that is central to the topic.
- Plain English improves readability and comprehension.
- Stick to one idea per paragraph.
- Limit acronyms and always write them out in full in the first instance.
- Opt for simpler, shorter words – for example, 'use' not 'utilise'.
- Avoid jargon – your audience may not understand the terms. If using specific terms, define them in the content or in a glossary.
- Do include Stage- and KLA-appropriate terms and concepts.
- Capital letters make content harder to scan and read. Use them sparingly and appropriately.
- Use capital letters for proper nouns.
- Use capital letters for official titles of people, organisations, programs and publications.
- Use sentence case for headings. This means the first letter is upper case, but the rest of the heading is lower case, except for proper nouns.
- Font choice and spacing have a significant impact on learners’ comprehension. The choices you make can either enhance or slow the comprehension of your readers. Digital high-resolution screens make text appear smaller, creating barriers for a variety of users.
- Use font sizes between 12 and 18 points for body text. If the document is designed to be read on-screen, make 14-point your normal paragraph size.
- Use a sans serif font like Monserrat, Calibri or Arial.
- Use line spacing of a minimum of 1.3 up to 1.5 for paragraphs.
- Avoid large amounts of underlined or italic text. Avoid using fonts in bold or light weights.
- Present content in layers. Break up the text into easily readable chunks. This helps users to scan and digest the detail. Use subheadings and bulleted lists to help the process.
- Identify the most important points you want to make. You do not need to cover the topic from all angles – just include the key information.
- Start each section with the most important information.
- Try breaking up your sentences into short and medium-length sentences. This also helps with readability.
- Use tables for presenting tabular data. When using tables, ensure that the first row and/or column is identified as the header so screen readers can understand the table data. Do not use tables for layout or for large amounts of text.
- Provide alternative (alt) text for any non-text content such as graphics, icons or diagrams. Adding alternative text (alt-text) describes what is in an image. It ensures people who cannot see the image still get the information conveyed. When writing alt text, describe the most important aspect/s and be concise.
- Headings, lists and other structures help readers absorb detail and make meaning. They also support navigation on the page and throughout a larger document.
- Use actual heading styles, as opposed to text formatting such as bold or font size to give the appearance of headings. Assistive technologies rely on heading styles to determine and communicate structure.
- Make sure that headings follow a logical hierarchy. For example, in Microsoft Word, use paragraph styles in sequential order. After the first heading H1, cycle down and up through H2, followed by H3, H4, etcetera as needed.
- Keep lists to 5-7 points. Use numbered lists when the sequence is important, such as a stepped process. Use bulleted lists to list items or points.
- In digital documents, ensure links can be easily distinguished from the surrounding text. Do not use URLs and avoid links with phrases such as “click here” or “more”.
- Instead, ensure the link text makes sense on its own by making the purpose of each link clear from the link text itself, for example. “learning strategies (docx 106kB)”.