Making Your VU Collaborate Space Accessible
Web accessibility occurs when websites support web accessibility standards, are compatible with assistive technologies, and are easy for people to navigate and understand.
All digital spaces, including those designed for educational purposes, are required to meet an acceptable level of accessibility standards so that people who may have access needs can access the space and the resources easily.
A brief introduction to VU compliance with accessibility standards can be found on our website. Our guidelines aim to assist people who may experience blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning difficulties, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech difficulties, and others.
Here’s a good visual summary of most of the concerns and recommendations. Use these recommendations when creating a Course Presentation or adding other content to your space. Some recommendations also cater for students whose first language is not English. For example, making sure videos have captions.
Without a great deal of effort, you can help create an accessible digital learning space when you develop a VU Collaborate space.
This guide covers the following topics for making a VU Collaborate space accessible. Use these links for easier navigation.
- Add Descriptions and Alt Text to Content
- Provide Transcripts and Captions
- Provide HTML Content Pages Instead of MS Documents
- Use Special Access and Restrictions
- Space Design and Universal Design of Instruction
Add a Description
Providing descriptions of any resource you create or upload to VU Collaborate helps students to navigate the site more efficiently. Descriptions are shown below learning items within the module. To add/edit the description of a learning item:
1. Click on the drop-down menu beside the learning item then select edit properties.
2. Click on "Add a description" to enter a description of the resource that complements the title. A short sentence will usually suffice.
Alternative Text for Images
Whenever you upload an image, you should provide a text-based description of it, also known as 'alternative text' or 'alt-text' so that screen readers can access a description of the image. This makes images accessible to students using screen readers.
If you are providing video, audio, graphics or tables in VU Collaborate, where possible they should either contain captions (for video), or a transcript or textual description to view or download. This can be done in the description of the resource, or as a separate document.
Using the New Document option
You can make content more accessible to students by creating HTML documents in VU Collaborate for text-based content.
Using the New Document option when creating learning resources in a module rather than dragging and dropping Office documents such as Word or PowerPoint will help screen readers read your resources. You can copy and paste the content from a Word document into the HTML editor.
The text editor in the New Document window will create an HTML webpage. Please refer to Using the VU Collaborate HTML Editor for an introduction to this tool.
You can make use of header styles and alt tags to structure a document and allow screen readers to make quick sense of a page. It's best practise to minimise the use of tables where possible, as they are difficult for screen readers to translate.
Converting PDF Documents and Scanned Documents
Have in mind that PDF files (for example, if you are scanning reading material into a PDF file) that are not tagged or accessible, cannot be read by screen readers.You need to implement Adobe Acrobat Pro or other optical character recognition (OCR) software in order to make an existing PDF file accessible. All computers at Victoria University have Adobe Acrobat Pro for you to use. You may need to login using your staff credentials.
OCR technology reads the document that you scan and creates a digital version of the text on top of your existing 'image' created by the scanner. This digital version, or tag, exists only for accessibility purposes and have no visible effect on the PDF file.
For more information about creating accessible PDF files, visit the Edit scanned PDFs guide to learn about converting PDF files to editable, screen reader-friendly text.
You can design a VU Collaborate space with different release options for different cohorts of students. If there are students requiring extra support, you can give them specific materials that other students don’t receive, or set later dates for the completion of assignments.
Check the Using Release Conditions Help Guide for more information.
If you set up quizzes or other assessments with time restrictions, you can use release conditions and special access to provide longer times or take off the time restrictions for students with different needs.
Check the Granting Student Extensions in Quizzes Help Guide for more information.
You could also allow selected users special access (earlier access, for example) to the quiz, or restrict the view of the quiz to specific users (in the event of an alternative assessment method).
Examples of Using Release Conditions and Special Access to Improve Accessibility
Here are some examples of when and how you might use release conditions or special access, in conjunction with other tools in VU Collaborate.
- Create groups for students with disabilities and use release conditions to provide them with material, tasks, work areas, etc. that are not available to other students. This is a great option if you do not want other students to see or have access to the additional items. For example, when students with disabilities are given an alternative assessment and you need to provide them with specific material for that assessment.
- If you are teaching a large cohort, you might not know the individual needs of all of the students enrolled. Set up a checklist that students can use to request extra resources, help, or material in a different format. For example, for each week or major assignment create checklist items for text-only versions of material, an extra help discussion forum, additional reading materials, and alternative formats for multimedia. Set release conditions for the checklist items so the requested content is automatically released. This option ensures that the majority of students access material as you intended, yet students with other learning needs are supported. To learn more about checklists, please visit Creating a Checklist.
- Set up quizzes, surveys, or assessment dropbox folders with time restrictions (availability), but give special access to students who need more time because of physical or cognitive disabilities. Some teachers creating quizzes prefer not to set time restrictions at all, because they believe it may impact the quality of answers.
Students should receive guidance on how to access additional support if they ever require it. Victoria University can cater for students with particular needs. Include links to student services like the VU Advice & Support page on Getting Started.
The concept of Universal Design of Instruction (UDI) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) provides a way of looking at how you can cater to the different needs of students through the conscious design of the learning space. It includes principles such as making a website simple and intuitive to navigate, accommodating a variety of abilities, promoting the sense of a learning community, and providing an inclusive and welcoming environment.
VU Collaborate provides space designers with a lot of flexibility in setting up and organising their materials. There are plenty of benefits to this, but it can be daunting for students with learning disabilities and students who rely on assistive technologies to navigate pages to find all of the materials and assignments.
Well-defined space structure is easier to navigate for screen reader users and students with learning disabilities as well as for students who are new to VU.
Create a Welcome Message News Topic
Use the Unit / Course Home to welcome students to the unit. Create a news topic that introduces you (the instructor) and the teaching team; and direct them to the Discussions Board to ask any questions. See the guide to Creating a News Item to learn more about the News tool.
Repeating Space Information within Different Tools
Build redundancy into the space by repeating space information within different tools. For example, include syllabus information in the calendar and include information on how much a quiz, discussion topic, assignment, etc. is worth in the description of that item. The more clearly expectations are communicated through the space design, the more students can focus on learning content.
Use the Discussion tool over Instant Messaging
Use the Discussions tool rather than instant messaging tools for user participation and reflection. Instant messaging tools can be difficult for users with visual, motor, or learning disabilities because they require users to process and respond to information quickly using technology that does not match their needs. Discussion areas give all users time to reflect. If you use instant messaging, be aware that some users may require an alternative solution such as phone or face-to-face contact. The VU Collaborate Chat Room tool is specifically designed to be accessible by keyboard and screen readers, but other instant messaging applications may not be as accessible.
Provide different types of content to cater for different learners
You can provide different types of content, activities and assessments in order to cater for students with different abilities and preferences. For example, VU Collaborate allows you to record audio feedback on assessments, instead of writing feedback. You could also record audio instead of, or in addition to, text in News items.
Type of Assessments
Finally, consider creating different types of assessments. If most of the assessments are written, design an assessment item that allows students to create a presentation or a video instead. If most of the assessments are analytical, ask students to do a reflective piece.
The use of ePortfolio as a place for assessment activity allows students to gather evidence of learning in the form of presentations, collections and reflections rather than the more traditional exams and essays, and it provides students with different skillsets to excel in areas with which they are most comfortable or practised.
There is more to accessible design than the mechanical aspects of web design; it is also about providing an organised, welcoming and safe environment. For more information about web content accessibility, please refer to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
Contact ITS Service Desk on (03) 9919 2777 or via self-service http://servicedesk.vu.edu.au for further technical support.