AccessAbility: Digital Champion Experience Owen Corkin

Over the last five weeks, I have updated files across four modules with varying levels of success. In my time, the most common documents flagged by the Ally software were as follows: 

  1. PowerPoint Presentations 
  1. Untagged PDFs 
  1. Word Documents 
  1. Image Files (Often screenshots) 

Due to the relatively large file size of PowerPoints compared to other files, these took the majority of my time working in this arrangement. Across the documents were a number of different issues: 

  1. Alt Text on Images/Videos 
  1. Contrast Issues 
  1. Misuse of Headings 
  1. Misuse of Table Headings 
  1. Unreferenced Sources 

Especially in the humanities modules where images and videos were used more frequently, the issue of Alt Text became a recurring one. Visually impaired students would have great difficulty accessing major sections of these modules. While a large proportion were decorative, there were charts and graphs that I converted into Microsoft’s SmartArt that is more accessible. Likewise, there were embedded videos without transcripts: putting hearing impaired students at a disadvantage.  

Contrast issues proved difficult as I found the Ally software incredibly scrutinous which, if following its requests, would take me outside of my responsibilities as Digital Champion. Cramped lecture slides often led to text that was partly, if not completely, covered or overlaid atop a clashing colour.  

This would be less of an issue if the reading order of slide content was accurate. In almost all of the PowerPoints assessed, text boxes were read out of order which significantly impacts how information is relayed to visually impaired students. This is an issue not raised by the Ally tool but one that will affect those students using assistive software to access this content. 

Headings proved a consistent problem both in Word and PowerPoint documents. These were quick to solve but could make a significant change to the overall accessibility score of the resource. This goes for table headings also. 

Finally, there were multiple instances of journal articles available as PDFs or image screenshots without references or relevant titles. A blind student would have no way of accessing the content withheld without access to either of these. Therefore, when available, I referenced the articles myself by searching the library catalogue and providing Harvard references with a permalink as provided by the university’s ‘ezproxy’. 

From my experience, there are quick and non-technical solutions that aid the accessibility scores invaluably. However, if the individuals creating the content are not made aware of these small steps then a team will always be needed to do this. I believe the time taken in updating pre-existing content outweighs the time it would take to go through this process before initial creation.  

Unless there is action on the lecturer’s part or a large-scale accessibility team making changes to every module, these percentages will continue to fluctuate. That being said, I believe the progress made in just five weeks shows that higher accessibility standards are not out of reach.