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UDL theory into practice: Darina Slattery

We asked our faculty and staff at the University of Limerick to give us examples of how they have implemented Universal Design for Learning (UDL). In this example, Dr Darina Slattery, Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, tells us how and why she started to carry out Accessibility checks in the documents she provides her students.

Summary:

I now perform accessibility checks in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint files, before sharing those files with my students. Accessibility checks can highlight various errors and warnings. 

The Universal Design for Learning Guideline for multiple means of representation shows we must create resources, including Word documents and PowerPoint slides, in an accessible way to ensure we are prepared to meet the variable needs of our students.

Details

Department: School of English, Irish and Communication
Faculty: Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Discipline: E-learning and Technical Communication
Cohort: Taught postgraduate students
Tools used: Word and Powerpoint
Tags: #UDL #Accessibility 

UDL principles used

✓ Multiple means of representation
✓ Multiple means of expression 

What motivated the change?

As someone who teaches students how to design content for all types of media, I was well aware of the need for clear, consistent, and appealing information design. However, I also knew from teaching UDL that other elements of my documents may need to be improved. So, in 2020, while completing the AHEAD UDL Digital Badge, I decided to implement a number of UDL initiatives, including performing accessibility checks. Accessibility checks can highlight various errors and warnings, including the following:

  • Missing alternative (alt) text
  • Unclear hyperlink text
  • Missing row/ column headers in tables
  • Reading order of objects

Which UDL principles applied

Multiple means of representation

  • Offering alternatives for visual information (checkpoint 1.3)
  • Supporting the decoding of text, mathematical notation, and symbols (checkpoint 2.3)
  • Guiding information processing and visualisation (checkpoint 3.3)

Multiple means of expression

  • Optimising access to tools and assistive technologies (checkpoint 4.2)

What was the result?

I identified issues that needed to be resolved, including the need for alternative (alt) text for tables, multiple objects on a PowerPoint slide in need of alt text, unclear hyperlink text, and reading order issues on slides with multiple objects. By fixing these issues, my materials are now more accessible to students. 

The figures below show a few examples of issues that needed to be resolved, and how I went about resolving them.

Screenshot showing how to add alternative text to tables in Word
Figure 1: The need for alternative text for tables. In this example, the alt text explains the table in text-only form.
Image showing how to mark objects as decorative
Figure 2: Multiple objects in need of alt text. In this example, I used ‘Decorative’ alt text to describe the square borders on the screenshot, so that someone using a screen-reader will hear that the box is purely decorative. If the object were essential to understanding the screenshot, I would need to use more informative alt text.
Image showing unclear links. In this example, someone using a screen-reading device will have to listen to the full URL being readout, which can prove cumbersome for very lengthy URLs.
Figure 3: Unclear hyperlink text. In this example, someone using a screen-reading device will have to listen to the full URL being readout, which can prove cumbersome for very lengthy URLs. By changing the link text to ‘Click here’, it will be more user-friendly.
Image showing reading order issues on slides with multiple objects. In this example, the slide has a slide title, text, images, and slide numbers. However, by default, a screen-reader will not read them in the correct order unless I manually amend the order in the ‘Selection’ pane.
Figure 4: Reading order issues on slides with multiple objects. In this example, the slide has a slide title, text, images, and slide numbers. However, by default, a screen-reader will not read them in the correct order unless I manually amend the order in the ‘Selection’ pane on the right.

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