It can be argued that producing content that is accessible and inclusive is a moral imperative. However, it is something that many content creators are weak at. Thanks to the internet and the widespread use of technology, we are all content creators now. Every image, every word document, every video and every tweet. However, how often do we question the accessibility of what we create and share?
I find a helpful way to frame the discussion around inclusion and accessibility is to reverse the ideas associated with these concepts. If we create content that is not inclusive, it is exclusive. If it is not accessible, it is inaccessible. This switch represents a different way of considering how the content we create is used. After all, very few people would willingly do this.
The Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations legally commit public bodies, including universities, to addressing the accessibility of their content. As Alistair McNaught identifies in his blog post, accessibility is finally defined by objective, measurable criteria. However, it can remain challenging for novice users to address these in their content sufficiently. Often, this is not willful neglect but comes from a lack of understanding of good (accessible) design and how to properly use software like Microsoft Word or tools like a WYSIWYG editor on a webpage.
To help support content creators with accessible design, the Home Office created a series of posters to identify what is needed to support users falling into one of these six categories:
- low vision,
- D/deaf and hard of hearing
- motor disabilities,
- users on the autistic spectrum,
- users of screen readers (visual issues/blindness).
These posters are brilliant – but they are also overwhelming for anyone wanting to use them for a broad audience. Working in higher education, I was well aware of the challenges faced by educators when trying to create accessible learning materials. For this reason, my colleague Sue Watling and I developed the Designing for Diverse Learners Poster. One poster to rule them all.
The Designing for Diverse Learners Poster
The Designing for Diverse Learners Poster establishes principles that support educators in creating accessible material. Based on the Home Office posters, our work establishes universal design principles, enabling the creation of content that benefits the vast majority of learners – even those not falling into the above categories. Our poster does not claim to support every single learner or requirement an educator may come across. However, we are confident that resources developed along these principles will meet the vast majority of needs.
There was also an element of practicality in our decision to make this poster. When educators are creating content, they often have limited time to do so. We knew that there was no chance there would be the opportunity for busy academics to consult different sets of guidance for different learning needs in reality. Our poster is purposefully simple, focused on the most impactful changes educators can make when creating content.
Download the Designing for Diverse Learners poster and find out more about the Diverse Learners project at the University of Hull: libguides.hull.ac.uk/diverselearners
Development and impact
The Designing for Diverse Learners is now in its third edition. Our initial poster was enhanced thanks to feedback from colleagues and input from an edit-a-thon I hosted at the ALT Online Winter Conference 2018. We are also immensely grateful to the University of Aberystwyth for translating the poster into Welsh, furthering its impact by allowing institutions in Wales to adopt the guidance.
This poster now hangs on the walls of many educators across higher education. We are also immensely proud to see the guidance enhanced and adopted by other institutions (UCEM, HYMS, Newcastle, UCL and others). It is fantastic to see how helpful and valuable this poster has become, and I firmly believe much of its success comes from succinctness. In the complicated world of digital content creation, some simple and easy to follow guidance can go a long way.
In writing this for the CLA Blog, I feel it is essential to acknowledge the power of Creative Commons Licencing. The Home Office licenced their posters under the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 International Licence. This gave us the freedom to share and adapt their work under the conditions of attribution, non-commercial use and sharing alike. This licence made our derivative possible. In licencing under the same licence (as required), it ensured our work had maximum impact.
Next steps for the project
I am thrilled to share that I have formed a small team to review the Designing for Diverse Learners Poster. We remain committed to ensuring we produce concise guidance for busy academics, so we will still retain our core output – a single A4 poster. We will, however, also produce an HTML/CSS version of this guide to ensure it remains accessible itself. While the PDF version of the poster is tagged to ensure accessibility, we acknowledge that PDF files are not the best way to deliver accessible content. We also aim to provide some additional narrative to justify the guidance we have produced. After all, academics do love evidence.
About the author
Dr Lee Fallin is an Academic and Library Specialist working for the Brynmor Jones Library at the University of Hull. You can find him on Twitter @LeeFallin.