Digital Accessibility in Higher Education: How & Why to Achieve it?

What is Accessibility in Education?

Accessibility in education means that the students must be able to navigate all the essential information related to their education. When you talk in the digital sense, it’s related to all the digital and online communication, which should be accessible to every student, including those who are disabled.

It requires removing digital barriers for special-needs students so they can read the document with assistive technologies. For instance, the website of colleges and universities needs to ensure accessibility in higher education. Millions of disabled students access these websites to submit forms, download PDFs, and make payments.

What are Some Examples of Digital Barriers for Students With Disabilities?

Following are some of the common digital barriers that disabled students face. Due to these issues, assistive technology can’t help them read the document’s information.

  • A critical PDF with no alternative test or description.
  • Other graphic information on the page or document without any textual description.
  • Videos without caption or a caption that doesn’t grasp the entire gist of the video.
  • Inappropriate contrast of the document, especially between the text and background color.
  • Untagged PDF documents which are not accessible to many assistive technologies such as screen readers.

How to Create Accessible PDF for Higher Education?

To incorporate accessibility feature in a higher education PDF, you need to complete these 2 steps:-

  1. When you are creating the source document, use a relevant software application. Also, follow all the best practices of accessibility while creating the file.
  2. When exporting the source file to PDF, ensure that you preserve the original file’s accessibility features. And in PDF format also, you take care of accessibility features such as:
  • Metadata
  • Searchable text
  • Structure Tags
  • Alternative text description
  • Contrasting color combinations
  • Proper reading order

When creating a college or university document, follow the 2 steps mentioned above to ensure accessibility in higher education. But what to do if you are stuck with an inaccessible PDF file without the source file?

You can convert the file to a workable format like Microsoft word and remediate the document. However, it is more time-consuming than creating an accessible file in word format in the first place. Afterward, you can conveniently export it to PDF format.

What are the Accessibility Standards?

WCAG and ADF/UA are the two mandatory PDF accessibility standards or guidelines which are used to establish the accessibility of a PDF. These guidelines help make content accessible for disabled people by offering suggestions and recommendations.

When you ensure that your PDF meets these 2 standards, you provide access to education for every student. The following tests can also ensure accessibility in your higher education PDFs.

1. No Tags in the File

If no tags are available in your tag panes, your file isn’t accessible. Proper tagging in proper reading order is vital for the assistive technologies to be able to read and understand the PDF elements such as tables, images, paragraphs, etc.

2. A Text Image in File

When you select text in a file, you can find out if the image in the file is a text image. However, this issue is easy to remediate by running the PDF through the optical character recognition program.

Remember, passing these tests alone doesn’t guarantee that the PDF is accessible. But falling them has only one meaning – Your PDF is not accessible.

The higher education institutes can ensure the accessibility of higher education for their special students by checking all their digital and online content for accessibility. Training programs can be organized for the students, faculty, and other staff members if needed. The same philosophy needs to reach the vendors as well.

Institutes need to ensure accessibility to education as they can easily find themselves in legal trouble due to inaccessible content.

About the Guest Author:

guest author

Emilie Brown works with the Digital Marketing team at PREP, an AI-based remediation software that enables businesses to create WCAG and ADA compliant PDFs in minutes. Her approach and methodology is simple, concise and to-the-point and connects with readers seeking for solution-driven content on topics related to accessibility and remediation. Apart from her time at work, she loves to spend time with her dog, volunteer and play her guitar.

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