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Digital Access to Content – YES! But is it Accessible? – YIKES!

Two people looking at computer tablet

The shift to digital learning material is at an all-time high, allowing increased access for diverse students. Or does it? Often the very tools being used to support your instruction might be jeopardizing some students’ access and success. You might be surprised to learn that digital resources are not guaranteed to be accessible resources, despite appearing to be far more flexible and adaptable than traditional print resources.

Schools and educators publishing or sharing digital resources that do not meet accessibility standards is not only poor practice, but also violates the law. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has spent considerable time working with institutions of higher education to address website accessibility issues, and is now beginning to intensify that work with K–12 schools and districts. Legislation including Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act; the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal access to all programs, services, and activities, including web-based and digital communications.  

Accessibility is essential for leveraging technology and providing educational opportunities for all students, including those with visual, hearing, motor and other disabilities as well as English language learners. School systems need to ensure all information provided to the public, parents, and guardians is accessible as well.

A few key elements can assist districts and educators in their efforts to provide accessible content. From a website to Microsoft Word documents, Powerpoint presentations, Google Docs, PDF files, and other content, attention to specific elements can bring things up to legislative standards:

• Text size and contrast: use at least a 12 – 14 size font and high contrast between text and background color (black on white/white on black, black on yellow, etc.)Text size and Contrast example

• Logical text structure: use embedded features for Title, Headings, Lists, Bullets, etc., omitting unnecessary line spacing.Logical Text Structure example

• Descriptive hyperlinks: link using the name of the target website or document, not the URL.

• Image descriptions: use embedded Alt Text features to provide image descriptions on all pictures, graphics, charts and tables.alt text features example to describe images

• Closed Caption: include closed captioning on all embedded videosCaptioning example

Need to check accessibility of existing resources? A variety of free tools are available to evaluate digital documents and websites, and also to ensure the new materials are designed in ways that allow the full array of learners to access and achieve. Microsoft has built in Accessibility Checkers across all of it’s software: Word, Powerpoint and Excel.

These Checkers can be added to your toolbar through the software’s Options Menu.

Microsoft options checker menu

Adobe Acrobat also has an Accessibility checker, available within the Tools menu.

Adobe Accessibility check menu

Google Docs provides access to an add-on Accessibility Checker, available at this link: Grackle Docs.

Google Doc Add-ons menu

Finally, WebAIM has a website Accessibility Checker available online at this link: WebAIM.

While digital content holds the promise of increased flexibility, efficiency, and engagement in learning, this is only accomplished when students can access and participate in the learning process, and parents and community members can participate in a child’s education.  And, while consideration of those with a disability is required, accessibility enhancements benefit everyone and it’s not as difficult as you think!


National Center on Accessible Educational Materials: http://aem.cast.org/about


Kindy Segovia, OTR (@kindysegovia): She is currently the Assistive Technology Coordinator at Kent Intermediate School District. She has worked as an occupational therapist in both schools and pediatric rehabilitation for over 30 years. She has provided extensive educational training for teachers, parents and administrators with a focus on adapting curriculum, classroom accommodations, sensory interventions, and integrating technology into instruction. She is also an adjunct professor at Grand Valley State University.


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