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Ayla Satilmis
Gender & Diversity in Higher Education

Milica Vlajkovic
Teaching and Learning with Digital Media

Accessiblility in (online) teaching

Recommendations for accessible and inclusive teaching

Creating accessible teaching and learning environments is not only advisable but also legally required in order to ensure that all students have equal learning opportunities.

According to the research report "beeinträchtigt studieren – best2" (only in German), 11% of students in Germany have a health condition that impacts their studies. Obstacles encountered in face-to-face teaching can be partially reduced in online environments. Online environments, however, present new challenges due to the digital tool used as well as multimedia and dynamic content.

On this page we list some initial steps for creating accessible (online) teaching environments.

Regardless of different types of disability or chronic illnesses, everyone profits from accessible teaching and accessible teaching materials!

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Materials Videos Texts Images Video conferences

Basics

Remembering the most important information is easier when perceived with two senses. It is thus recommended to both visualise and verbalise your content whenever possible.

Always try to describe verbally what is displayed on the screen and ensure that you speak as clearly as possible.

You should explain visual information such as images, graphs, drawings and tables in further detail. Choose a sans-serif font, e.g., Arial, Calibri or Nunito Sans (the official University typeface). Make sure your materials (lecture notes, slides and illustrations) use sufficient colour contrast.

If you provide figures or illustrations digitally, make sure to add alt-text  so that visually impaired students who use screen readers can understand your visuals.

Memorising the key points and terms is easier when they are repeated. It is particularly recommended to communicate administrative and key information for and about the course as clearly as possible, and ideally provide these additionally in writing. Communicating information through different channels reduces the number of questions and misunderstandings.

Materials

Accessible teaching materials are designed in such a way that students can adapt them to their needs. Using a variety of materials meets diverse student needs and enables them to create their own ways of learning regardless of the learning style. In this way, everyone profits from accessible teaching materials!

Whenever possible, make slides, lecture notes, readings and other teaching materials available in advance of class. In general, this will not deter students from attending your course, but rather make it easier to follow class or better prepare for it. Students with dyslexia or hearing impairment can follow online courses more easily, and visually impaired students can transfer the presentation to a format of their choice.

Having well-structured source documents makes it easier to turn them into accessible PDF files. The linked sites contain useful information on creating accessible PowerPoint slides and Word documents. The site Accessible PDF contains information on creating accessible PDF files.

Texts

Structure the documents you create with headings and paragraph styles. Mark titles, headings, lists, highlights, quotations, footnotes etc., with styles. Screen readers can recognise marked text elements and read them correctly. You can find out more about styles here.

It is particularly important to make sure that your scanned documents can be read by screen readers. Scanned documents are initially saved as images and not accessible. They can be made accessible by using OCR (optical character recognition) or text recognition software. Some common programs have nowadays integrated OCR features, such as Onenote, Adobe, and Google Drive.

It is recommended that links are not only colour-wise, but also typographically different from the rest of the text (for instance, underlined). The link text should make sense without the surrounding context and convey the function and/or the purpose of the link.

Tip

You can check in Microsoft Office or Adobe programs whether your documents are accessible: In Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, you can find the option “Check Accessibility” in the “Review” ribbon; in Adobe Acrobat, the option “Accessibility Check” can be found under “Tools”/“Accessibility”.

Videos

If possible, provide audio-visual recordings of online courses. If you have questions about audiovisual recordings, please contact eDidactics or media technology.

If you use either your own or third party videos in your course, it is important to provide subtitles.

If you show videos in synchronous (in-person) courses, you should explain the shown content or at least repeat the most salient points.

Images

When you show images, photographs or graphs in your class, it is important to describe them verbally. If such images are part of your learning materials that you provide in a digital form, make sure to add alt-texts. In this way screen readers can "read" images, since they operate as text-to-speech assistive technologies. Find out here how to add alternative text in Microsoft programs.

Pay attention to contrasts when working with graphs; the foreground and colours should be clearly distinguishable from each other and from the text. For further information on accessible contrasts, please refer to the linked page.

When conveying information visually, do not rely only on colour, but use additional visual elements. A red/green distinction is particularly problematic. For curves, charts and diagrams, it is good to use not only colours but also texture—thick, thin, dashed or dotted lines or areas.

Video conferences

Various functions in video conference systems are not accessible or are only partially accessible. It is recommended to ask students at the beginning of the course whether they are familiar with and can access the functions you plan to use.

  • Please be aware that chat histories and shared notes may not be accessible. Discuss with your students how to best go about this.
  • Taking, saving and distributing shared notes of class discussion can be helpful and students can refer to these after class.
  • When leading a class, make sure you have good lighting in your video, ideally without backlighting from windows or lamps.
  • Speak facing the camera (and your students) so that they can clearly see the movement of your mouth. Make sure that the microphone does not cover your lips or images on the board. 

Further information (mostly in German):

(Changed: 13 Oct 2022)