Educators have had access to productivity suites for generations. In the first few years after computer arrived in schools, we tended to use whatever came installed on the machines that we purchased or that were installed in our classrooms. We had many challenges in those days. Anyone remember the student who arrived to print his or her paper that had been created using Works at home when the school had Word?
For many years, Microsoft’s Office Suite was the standard productivity suite. We wrote paper and documents using Word, created Powerpoint presentations to support or lectures, and had students use Excel to create graphs. When money was tight, we downloaded OpenOffice.
Currently, almost ever school provides students, faculty, and staff with a G Suite account, so we create and share files on the same system we use for email– and in some cases for many other communication and information tools. SYstems have become more interoperable and we can access files from any device that is connected to the Internet.
One change that educators have been slow to make, however, is making sure their files are more compatible with the Americans with Disabilities Act. That law is designed to ensure all citizens can access and use information created by government sources. As educators, we have a responsibility to ensure our files are “ADA compliant,” so that students and others who use screen readers or who have difficulty seeing colors or small text are not prevented from accessing our information.
ADA compliance is accomplished by taking a few simple steps. While these can appear to be a step that slows us down, once one gets used to creating in this way, it is not a serious impediment to our productivity. Some easy step to take:
- Use the headings that are built into your word processor to format text. Screen readers–tools built in to our productivity suites and operating systems that convert the text on screen onto audio that one can hear–use these heading for navigation. The formats are frequently not to the taste of educators (or even compliant with the ADA color contrast requirements), but a few clicks can change those settings. (Check with your IT folks; they will show you how to do this.)
- Add “alt-text” to your pictures. Alternative text is a description you give of the image, and the screen reader software will read that so listeners know what the content is. Again, aks your IT folks how to open the picture formatting tools so you can add this text.
- Learn how to use your “accessibility checker.” Users of Microsoft products can open this tool which will display a pane on the right of the screen where errors or problems are identified. As user “clean up” their files, the errors disappear. Users of G Suite can install Add-ons such as Grackle Slides which checks your Slide to be sure they are compliant.
- Install and use the Colour Contrast Analyzer. This software is available for Macintosh and PC computers, and it can be installed for free. It allows users to use the eyedropper tool to select background and foreground colors, then it displays green checkmarks if the colors are compliant and a red “x” if they are not.
One other step many educators take when ensuring their materials are accessible is to save word processing and slide show documents as PDF files, then sharing those. PDF is s universal format that can be viewed on any device. Adobe has its own accessibility checker in Acrobat, and that can be used to ensure files are ADA compliant.
Video is another commonly used media, and the best strategy for ensuring ADA compliance is to upload the video to YouTube, then use the closed captioning tool to transcribe the spoken words in the video.