Skip Navigation

Alan Parks - U Washington Triotraining 2012

Accessibility Tips to Engage All Students
University of Washington TRiO Training 2012
Alan Parks

How do people with vision impairments or people who are blind use a computer? How do Deaf people understand the audio content of your videos or synchronous video sessions? Is all technology automatically accessible to all users?

The answer to these questions is: With a screen reader; Captioning; and Absolutely NOT!

If that’s the case:

  • Can all users easily navigate and engage your website, blog, FaceBook page, Twitter site, presentation or other product?
  • What is the impact on people with various sensory and learning issues when they use technology?
  • How do we know if our sites and products are accessible to all users?
  • How do we make our sites and products accessible to all users?
  • Does “accessible technology” look or behave differently from non-accessible technology?
  • Just what does “accessibility” mean here and should I be concerned about it?

Let’s start with the sensory issues.

People who are blind or who have low vision can and DO use computers and other technology. “Screen reading” software reads computer tags and text aloud and allows control of the computer and software.

People who are Deaf or who are hard-of-hearing depend on captioning of audio content.

People who have fine-motor issues depend on well-spaced icons and clickable items.

And people with learning disabilities, such as ADHD or ADD, and people who are visual learners and those who are auditory learners, depend on different features in websites and products to engage content.

Accessibility details

The Web: Websites, blogs, FaceBook, Twitter

  1. View this page at WebAIM to learn about the guidelines and how to make a website accessible to the widest audience possible: If you are a website designer, scroll down to the Principles for Accessible Design to learn the specifics:
  2. Now view this video that will give you an overview of web accessibility issues: You will see people with a variety of disabilities employing various assistive devices and adaptations.
  3. Next view this video of the experiences of users with disabilities when they encounter problems on websites: (Note: These two videos are available from links on Turn captioning on in your video viewer.)
  4. Now that you understand some of the common webpage accessibility errors, test your page by going to WAVE at: or to CynthiaSays at: Each site provides a report on accessibility issues on your site. Click on the red flags in WAVE to discover what the accessibility problem is. Read down the table in CynthiaSays to see if a No is present in any column. Click on the associated link to learn more about fixing this problem.
  5. You can download the WAVE toolbar to your FireFox browser by going to: Another great accessibility checker is the AIS Toolbar, which you can download to Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7 Internet Explorer browser. You can find it at: AIS also has a great color contrast analyzer, which determines if there is enough color and light contrast between text and background on your page.

Presentations: PPT, Keynote

Have you ever viewed a PowerPoint or similar presentation that has far too much text on the pages, or that has text so small that the audience can’t read it? These are just some of the problems when PowerPoint isn’t done right. If you plan to put your presentation on the Web, even greater problems can occur. Go to: to find a PowerPoint presentation on creating and presenting accessible presentation files. Here you will find accessible handouts for the presentation, as well.

Word documents

A text document is text. Obviously! By now you know that TEXT is the key to improving accessibility. So, isn’t a text document accessible, by default? Not always!

Font and size choices

For people with low vision or some learning disabilities, the font and size makes a BIG difference. In general, the most accessible fonts are Verdana, Arial, and Times New Roman. Verdana and Arial are “sans serif” fonts. They lack the curlicues on the tips of some letters. Their g, j, p, q, and y also extend below the line, further aiding comprehension of the letter. These fonts tend to be useful for people with low vision. Times New Roman is a “serif” font and has the curlicues, making this font easier to comprehend for some people with learning disabilities.


Using the heading tags (heading 1, heading 2, etc.) to structure the outline of your document can help those using screen readers to understand and navigate your document. You find these tags under Styles and Formatting. Think of the headers as the levels of an outline. For example, there is usually one Heading 1, at the start of your document. This is often the title. Heading 2 is used for each section. Heading 3 is used for subsections. See this example:

[Heading 1] Title

[Heading 2] First section

[Heading 2] Next section

[Heading 3] First subsection

[Heading 3] Second subsection

Now read this page about making your Word document accessible:

PDF documents

PDF documents are readable by screen readers if they are text and if all non-text content has “alt tags” or alternative descriptions. But they may still be hard to navigate, especially if they are lengthy or complex. Consider an organizational constitution and bylaws with many sections and subsections, or a college textbook. But what about graphs and charts? Are they readable?

If you convert your accessible Word document into a PDF, your PDF document will be accessible. Otherwise, you have to tag your PDF document, using Acrobat Professional, to make it accessible. It’s a tedious, difficult process. Start with an accessible Word document! For details on making an accessible PDF, check this video: and read this page:

Other resources

Check out the University of Maine?s web accessibility site for information about their policies, resources, and guidelines at:

Also go to University of Washington TRiO Training site at:

For additional information or help with any of the above documents and resources, contact:

Alan Parks, M.Ed.
Skype: alanparksatcsp
Phone: 207-581-2310

Presentation file for this workshop (in PPT format)

Follow-up activities

Watch this space for a TRiO Quest on accessibility and technology!

Back to Alan Parks