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Writing for Accessibility

Document and assignment design represents an important aspect of making your course accessible for all types of students. Learning the basics of accessible documents becomes a key component in creating assignment sheets that students will read and/or download.

All students benefit from an organized document

  • Clear expectations help students with anxiety partial large assignments into manageable sections.
  • A well-organized syllabus can foster trust in students and keep easily distracted students focused.
  • Repeated information helps students to prioritize information and make it less likely to miss important information.
  • Schedules can help students with autism avoid daunting schedule shifts during the semester and can help all students plan for large assignments.
  • Having and clear and flexible attendance policy (if you have one at all) can help students with social anxiety.

Tips for Creating Assignments

Ensure Organized Document Structure

One of the best ways to ensure organized document structure is to use headings and subheadings to form an outline of the page. These cues help non-visual users (including search engines) understand how the page is organized. They also help screenreaders read the site content properly. The key is using the built-in Heading features in Word Processing programs like Microsoft Word to convert blocks of text into manageable parts. The documents below show the difference headings can make for content readability.

The Microsoft Office Suite, as well as many Content Management Systems and Learning Management Systems have built-in structures to help organize content. In Word, the Styles tab is in the top menu on the right side.

Use True Bulleted and Numbered Lists

Bulleted and numbered lists offer another way to break up long portions of text. However, it’s important not to use the spacebar or tab feature to create these lists. Instead, any content that is organized as a list should be created using the list controls provided in most document authoring software. Using the controls to add bulleted and numbered lists tags these lists, making it easier for screen readers and other assistive devices to understand that they’ve entered a list. The icon for bulleted or numbered lists is usually an icon, like the one shown below for Microsoft Word.

Chunk Text

Ensure easy readability of text by chunking: dividing large blocks of text into smaller, more manageable and less complex sections.

Repeat Important Information

Information such as due dates and point values for assignments can be lost in the lengthy text of an assignment description. Repeat this information at the top of the assignment, in the rubric of the assignment, in the course schedule, and on the LMS calendar, for example.

Use Plain Language

Plain language strategies include using the most readily understood term to convey information. If you must use discourse specific terms, you can include a brief definition of the term in the text. Plain language helps students to understand information faster. There is less chance of misunderstanding, which means more students will spend less time grappling with the assignment process and more time fulfilling the assignment objectives.

Plain language strategies include:

  • Using short sentences
  • Using personal pronouns such as “you”
  • Using common words

Clear expectations for each assignment

  • Attach learning outcomes to each assignment
  • Give a clear rubric for assessment
  • Give a clear outline broken into the small actions needed to accomplish the assignment

For examples of improperly and properly formatted assignments, see Accessible Document and Assignment Samples.

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