Accessible Materials - Clear Print Guidelines

We can all do a great deal to ensure that our teaching and other printed materials are easy to read. Several organisations (including RNIB) produce guidelines to increase access for visually impaired students and others who may have difficulties in accessing print, e.g. dyslexic students . It is also worth remembering that many students now use text readers to vocalise print materials, so we also have to be aware of how we present our materials to ensure screen readers reproduce them clearly.

Where possible for sustainability (and cost) reasons, we should avoid printing large numbers of paper handouts. It is also preferable to provide electronic resources for accessibility reasons. Through Blackboard, advance provision of print materials in the form of electronic documents allows students to choose the print presentation format suitable for their own requirements – different backgrounds colours, font sizes etc. It also allows students (and their note takers) to familiarise themselves with the structure, vocabulary and content of material in advance of the class. It thereby removes much of the potential work associated with making adjustments for individual student needs under disability obligations (provided the materials are posted at least 48 hours in advance). However, it is still the module leaders obligation to provide the correct formatting for known individual needs when issuing print handouts  - this will require forward planning. The best option is to use Blackboard effectively and only issue paper handouts very sparingly.

Printed course readers which include, for example, journal articles, tables or complex images are often not directly transferable as electronic documents, particularly where some of the reader content has been photocopied from the original or contains handwritten excerpts (eg. where an example of a marked script is provided). In this case, you will need to plan ahead and contact the Alternative Formats Unit in the Library for assistance in converting your materials into a word of pdf file. They would normally need minimum  3 weeks notice.

The following points provided general guideline on the production of printed materials :

  • Font size : Most sighted people can read size 12 (this size) quite easily , but some may prefer larger print. Students with visual impairment may require materials in larger fonts. Enlarging by photocopying is rarely satisfactory as it can lead to a grainy typeface that is very difficult to read. You would normally need to type out the material to produce an electronic copy and provide a laser printed version if handing out in hard copy.
  • CAPITALS are very difficult to read in any volume and should be avoided where possible. Emphasis is best indicated by bold
  • Plain typefaces are generally easier to read than ‘serif’ typefaces.  Common choices are Arial and Comic sans. Other suggestions include Verdana, Helvetica, Tahoma and Trebuchet. Script fonts are best avoided. Times New Roman is also problematic for many dyslexic readers.

The contrast between the background and the type is very important. Avoid light type weights, especially if you have to use small print sizes. Simply making text bold can improve legibility.  Use dark ink on light paper.  Black on pale yellow is particularly good for people who are troubled by glare.  Avoid use dark ink on dark paper, or light ink on light paper.  If you are using reversed type, for example white type, choose a background colour that is dark enough to give strong contrast. (Cream or pale yellow on deep blue is recommended for PowerPoint presentations.) If you are catering for individual preferences, then you will find that some dyslexic people prefer more muted background colours: pale blue paper, for example. Always ask as there is tremendous variation in individual preferences.

Examples of good and bad practice when printing in colour

  • When you have a great many hard copy documents to give out, colour coding sections will help some learners, but not all. Always use pale backgrounds and always have clear headings on the documents – some of your readers may be colour-blind or visually impaired so colour coding will not help them.

  • Avoid printing over pictures or graphic backgrounds as this is very difficult to read, and do not put text ‘around’  an embedded image as this distorts lines and makes it difficult for screen readers and dyslexic students to follow.

  • Avoid vertical text, and if using columns, make sure they are clearly spaced or place a line between them. Fully justifying text can cause uneven spacing which is also more difficult to read for many students, left justification is normally preferable.  Spacing between paragraphs can help break up the text and make it less tiring on the eye.

  • For emphasis, bold is better than underlining, which distorts the shape of the words and makes them harder to read.

  • In Powerpoint:

    • for ease of reading use a minimum font size 26.

    • Avoid plain black on white, try to introduce a pastel background or use the contrasts recommended above. Remember pale colours project even paler. Also, fancy backgrounds e.g. lines, swirls and pictures, can be distracting or distorting for some visual impairments.

    • Keep points short, recommended no more than 7 words per line and two lines per point. Powerpoint is not good for reproducing large chunks of narrative.

    • Use clear headings and end all bullet points with a full stop. This helps screen readers identify the end of the bullet more clearly.

    • Slides should normally be made available to students at least 48hrs in advance so they can be customised if required.

  • In Blackboard:

    • Keep your page as uncluttered as possible.

    • Delete unused buttons – a blind student would not be able to tell whether the button was empty or screen reader not recognising the content, and other users find empty buttons simply frustrating.

    • Use a clear block colour with high contrast on buttons, avoid marbled or patterned backgrounds.

    • Where possible, set documents to open in another window – this helps with screen readers.

There is specific guidance  for  BBS Blackboard Management in Appendix 1 - Undergraduate Blackboard Courses - Button Names.


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