Accessibility Quick Tips

A monthly series highlighting simple steps you can take to improve accessibility in your class. Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest Quick Tip along with the latest innovations and teaching, upcoming events and more.

January 2023: Use the Microphone

Any time a microphone is available when you are presenting, you should use it. Doing so ensures that all attendees in the audience will have a better chance of hearing you no matter where they are seated in the room, what direction you are facing, or their degree of hearing loss. In this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, the author notes that “The quality of sound coming from a microphone is different: It’s more distinct and easier to hear [than your voice alone].” Using a microphone when it is available improves the experience for all of your audience members (including students in a large lecture hall) and makes them all feel more included.

December 2022: Create Captions for Videos and Slides

Captioning on videos and slides is helpful for many learners. Captions help overcome difficulties due to hearing loss and also help mitigate poor sound quality. Students who want to review content in recordings and non-native English speakers find them valuable as well.

Duke’s video services, Zoom and Panopto, can create AI-generated captions and transcripts. To provide captions in Zoom, you’ll need to enable the feature for your account and start it in your meetings. Auto-generated transcripts also appear in any recorded Zoom session. In Panopto, after your recording processes captions and a transcript will auto generate. It is also possible to enable captions when presenting in Google Slides and PowerPoint.  

Please note: machine-generated captions aren’t perfect and there are many variables that can affect the quality. If you are using a recording repeatedly, we suggest editing the captions. If a person in your course or public event has a documented condition that requires captioning, you can work with the Disability Management System to arrange for human-generated captioning of your public workshops or get more help creating web accessible items with captioning.

There was no Accessibility Quick Tip in November 2022.

October 2022: Use Built-in Accessibility Checkers When Creating Documents

Did you know that a lot of common software have built-in accessibility checkers? These checkers can help you ensure you’re using accessibility best practices — such as incorporating alternate text into images and organizing headings properly — into your product design consistently.

Duke-supported tools that you use include accessibility checkers, such as:

  • The rich text editor in Sakai includes an accessibility checker in the top row of icons.
  • Microsoft 365 software, such as Word and PowerPoint, include accessibilitycheckers.
  • Qualtrics — a survey and assessment tool — includes an ExpertReview that analyzes your projects, which includes checking whether they follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

These accessibility checkers are a quick way to improve the resources you’re creating. Duke Web Accessibility has more information about best practices for creating accessible documents, including more detailed information on how to maximize your use of accessibility checkers in particular software.

September 2022: Check materials for colorblind users

When creating materials for class, it can be helpful to experience  how some students may see them. One easy way to check how something you’ve created – such as a webpage, graphic or slideshow – may appear to colorblind users is to run it through a filter, such as the Colorblind Web Page Filter that enables users to emulate any website (including Google docs and slides) against common color blindness conditions. Here’s an example of what Duke’s website looks like to non-colorblind users versus those with tritanopia (blue-yellow colorblind): 

Screenshot showing how looks using the tritanopia filter

August 2022: Write good alt text

The recent release of the first images from the James Webb space telescope has not only inspired space enthusiasts but has also highlighted an important tool for making images not only accessible but also inclusive: alternative (aka alt) text. Though alt text is not required for images that are merely decorative, when the focus is the image or requires the image for understanding, knowing how to write good alt text allows students who use screen readers to more fully engage with the material. Some basics to keep in mind when writing alt text include:

  • Be specific, but keep it short – less than 125 characters if possible.
  • Don’t include “Image of…” or similar phrases.
  • Include any words that are in the image.
  • Follow best practices for complex images.
The Duke Chapel is framed by golden leaves along Chapel Drive during a crisp fall afternoon.

Good alt text: The Duke Chapel

Better: The Duke Chapel in the fall

Best: The Duke Chapel is framed by golden leaves along Chapel Drive during a crisp fall afternoon.

July 2022: Quickly check for keyboard accessibility

Some people do not use a mouse or touchpad to navigate online content and rely on their keyboard to access everything. To learn if your online content is keyboard accessible, go to the site you want to check and try using only the “tab” and “enter” buttons to see if you can interact with everything (sometimes called the #NoMouse Challenge). If you can’t tab to a reading or assessment, some students may not be able to access them. If you find that your site has problems with keyboard or screen reader accessibility, contact us and we will help you resolve the issue (or connect you with someone who can, such as Duke Web Accessibility).

June 2022: Using accessible color palettes for emphasis

The thoughtful use of color in slides, documents and websites can help users engage with and navigate your content. However, certain color combinations or the overuse of color can make your content unreadable and overwhelming to people with impaired vision, color blindness and visual sensitivity, among others. Consider the following tips to make your content more visually accessible:

  • Make sure the colors you use for the foreground and background of text and graphics have enough contrast to make it easy to identify each element. The Duke Branding Guide has a Color Accessibility Grid that makes it easy to tell whether the intersecting colors have enough contrast (see the key at the bottom of the grid for rating definitions).
  • In Sakai, use the Styles drop-down menu in the Text Editor (see image below) to select styles that have already been set to meet contrast standards. 
Screenshot of Sakai Editor showing where Styles dropdown menu is located.
  • Avoid using red and green together in text or graphics–people with colorblindness may not be able to distinguish between the two colors–blue and orange is one common alternative. Also, keep in mind that there are other kinds of color blindness, so it’s a good idea to upload files to a Color Blindness Simulator to see what information might get lost.
  • When using color to differentiate between elements in graphics, find other, additional ways to differentiate the elements. For example, with a line graph, have different types of lines (dotted, dashes, etc.), or in a bar graph, use different shading patterns.
  • Avoid using several bright colors, or preferably avoid bright colors altogether. Muted colors can be calming and less overwhelming, particularly for people on the autism spectrum.

May 2022: Enable closed captions in Zoom

Take a simple step to improve the accessibility of your virtual communications by enabling automatic live closed captions in Zoom. Closed captions benefit many people beyond the hearing-impaired, including language learners and people in noisy or sound-sensitive environments, and generally help viewers concentrate and focus. To enable closed captions in Zoom:

  1. Navigate to your Account Settings
  2. Scroll down to the In Meeting (Advanced) section
  3. Find Automated Captions and switch the toggle to the on position

Then, every time you start a Zoom meeting, at the bottom of your Zoom window click “Live Transcript” and then “Enable” under the Live Transcription section. This step is important as it is what allows users who need closed captions to enable them. Start every meeting by announcing that you are enabling closed captions. Eventually it will become a habit – one that your students and colleagues will appreciate.

April 2022: Use headings for clarity

A quick and simple way to make your documents and web pages more accessible is to use headings (or headers) to indicate the main topics and subtopics of your information. (Not sure what headings are? Here’s a simple explanation of headings in web pages.) Using headings will transform your page’s text into a structured and ordered outline that helps people–especially those using screen readers–navigate through your information.

Tips for using headings:

  1. Begin with your top-level heading (h1) and then proceed in order through descending sizes (h2, h3, h4, and so on). Don’t skip heading levels, which will confuse screen readers.
  2. Use your top-level headings to indicate your most important/main topic(s) and indicate sub-topics (and sub-sub-topics) with smaller headings.
  3. Don’t get carried away! In most cases you don’t need more than 3-5 levels of headings. 

Once you’ve added headings to your documents and web pages, they will be easier for everyone to skim and to read actively. See additional tips about headings from the University of Dayton.

March 2022: Use meaningful link text

It is likely that your syllabus and course website is full of links for students to click in order to access course materials and assignments. One way you can make your course more accessible is to use meaningful link text. This means the text of your link makes sense independent of context. For example, only one of the links below uses meaningful link text:

Which one gave you an idea of where you were headed upon clicking? Additionally, the full URL is not a satisfactory alternative, as it may not be immediately clear to the user where they are going, and it is especially unhelpful to users with screen readers, which will simply read out the entire URL string.