1.2 Key accessibility guidelines


Accessibility is about creating learning resources and activities in a way that does not disadvantage a student’s learning or introduce a barrier to participation because of a disability. Digital accessibility is a legal requirement (see Make your public sector website and app accessible on gov.uk for new regulations that came into force 23 Sep 2018.) Inclusivity also forms part of the University’s Inclusive Teaching, Learning and Assessment Policy. Watch the introductory video below for a brief overview or the webinar recording for examples of practice.

There is detailed guidance for creating accessible learning activities and resources throughout the York Technology-Enhanced Learning Handbook. In particular, Section 2. Module site design, structure and layout and Section 3. Creating resources provide fundamental practices for developing module sites and creating learning materials.

We have a Guide for users of Apple VoiceOver [Google Doc] to assist use of the Yorkshare VLE on Apple Macs .

Accessibility checklist

Download the Accessibility Checklist in pdf format or Word format to assess your site and resources.
We also have a more detailed review guide for vle sites.

Examples of accessible practice

  • Advance provision of lecture and seminar materials via the VLE allows all students to prepare and is essential for students with some disabilities.
  • Online submission of work eliminates the need for students to travel to hand in.
  • Digitised texts can be more accessible to visually impaired students.
  • Text or aural equivalents for visually conveyed content.
  • Captions on videos and transcripts for audio recordings which are key to the learning aims of the course.
  • Asynchronous learning activities enable flexible participation and students to control the pace of learning.
  • Lecture recordings and video summaries for students with impairments affecting note-taking.
  • Online spaces to provide contributions from students who are unable to contribute to class-based discussions.
  • Clear and consistent site structures.

Key guidelines

The following is a summary of some of the key guidelines.

Formatting text

Use Heading styles to structure documents

Do not use the font type, colour or size settings in Word, Google Docs or the Yorkshare text editor. Instead, use Styles in Word or Google Docs and the Format drop down in the Yorkshare text editor. The default style in the Yorkshare text editor is ‘paragraph’. This allows users to adjust the font, colour and size using assistive technology according to their own preference or needs.

To break down and provide structure to a large document in Word or Google Docs, or to add sub-headings in Yorkshare content Items, use Heading styles.

Headings also provide structure to a page, and in the case of Word documents and Google Docs can be used to automatically create tables of contents. When Word documents are saved as accessible PDFs, the headings provide navigational elements for visually impaired or blind users using screen-reading (text-to-speech) software.

To view the navigation pane

In Word, select the View menu and ensure Navigation Pane is checked.
In Google Docs, select View and Show document outline.

This will allow you to see the headings in the document and jump to various parts by clicking on them.

Use list styles

Create any bulleted or numbered lists using the styles in the software menu rather than typing numbers or symbols in front of a sentence. It makes it easier to change the formatting of the whole list.

location of bullet list and number list on the menu bar

Font type and size

When creating Google Docs or Word documents, in particular if saving as PDF or printing, use a sans-serif font such as Arial, Calibri or Helvetica, with font size 12pt or greater. Include line-spacing and extra space between sections of the document. Ensure any diagrams, tables and charts have labels and spacing around them to make them distinct from surrounding text.

Avoid large blocks of text

Large blocks of text are difficult to scan without the spaces created by short paragraphs, and reading on-screen takes longer for the majority of users. These issues are compounded for those with visual impairments or reading difficulties.

Use left-justified text

Left-justified text (the normal alignment setting) with its jagged edges on the right side of the document is easier to follow line by line. Text which is justified to both edges (full justification) creates “rivers” of white space through the text which diverts the eye, making on-screen scanning and reading more difficult. Similarly, right or centrally aligned text is difficult to follow line-by-line. The advice is to use left-justified text for normal paragraphs.

Bold, italic and underlining

Use bold to emphasise words and phrases. Blocks of italic text should not be used as this can appear ‘wobbly’ to some individuals and therefore difficult to read. Underlining can be confused with clickable links on webpages and downloaded documents, so avoid using this also.

Avoid using UPPERCASE text

Many users find uppercase text difficult to read, especially in large blocks. In the online world, capitalisation is also considered to represent the textual equivalent of shouting and may therefore be interpreted as aggressive or comical!

Web links

Do not use ‘click here’ for web links

To aid speedy navigation, screen reader software can read out every link on the page in order, omitting the surrounding text. (This mimics the way sighted users “scan” the page for links, headings and other content). Using only “here” or “click here” as the text made into a web link can be confusing, as they are meaningless out of context. Instead, make the link text descriptive. For example: “Lecture 1: Introduction (Slides)” rather than “Slides”.

Make links distinct

It is important to ensure all links on a page use different text unless they point to the same location. Using the same text for different links could cause unnecessary confusion.

Using colour

Use a solid background colour

Users with a low visual capability and students with dyslexia have difficulty reading text with textures, patterns or images as backgrounds. Vibrant images may also be distracting on a page. To check if there is sufficient contrast between text and the background colour, you can use WebAim’s contrast checker.

Ensure a good level of contrast between background and text

If you avoid using the font colour settings, this will allow users to customise the appearance of the text. Some individuals can only read black on white or black on yellow for example.

In certain cases you may wish to use colours to distinguish key parts of a resource. In this case, it is worth printing out in black and white to check that there is adequate contrast between the text and background.

Take into account users with colour vision impairments

Some individuals have difficulty distinguishing the colours red/green, yellow/blue (colloquially known as “colour blindness“). Be sure not to use these colours on top of or next to each other.

Do not rely on colours alone to convey meaning

Individuals using screen readers will not be able to ‘read’ colours, and nor with those with colour vision impairments. These users will be unable to progress if instructions require them to “Click the Green Button”, where colour is the only thing that distinguishes this button from other elements on the page.


Provide a text alternative where necessary

Images should described with text for users with visual impairments using the ‘alt’ attribute or tag (known as ‘Image Description’ in the Yorkshare VLE). The nature of the description should allow a blind or visually impaired student to learn from the image in the same way as a sighted student. This idea is discussed further in the webinar recording (11m 22s). Alt text should be no longer than 125 characters.

When images are of aesthetic value only and do not form part of the information the page is conveying, an empty alt tag should be used. In Word or PowerPoint 2019, you can check ‘mark as decorative’ to create an empty alt tag. In Yorkshare, leaving the image description blank should create the empty alt tag.

For guidance on how to describe images, use the POET training tool.

Provide a linked textual description for graphs and charts

The alt tag is read out by screen-reading software and including too much description may be a distraction within a wider context of a document. More complex images may benefit from a separate page or paragraph of description. The alt tag can in these cases be used to direct readers to the section or link where they will find further information. Examples of approaches for charts and graphs are available here:

Avoid moving or flashing images

Users of screen magnification software may find difficulty in reading images (and text) if the information is moving around or flashing.

Other websites

Check accessibility support and provide alternatives where necessary

Some websites you link to may require particular interactions, for example functions dependent on use of a mouse. Others may use Flash-based plug-ins for more fancy content. It is important to check that the content you want to embed will be accessible. If you are unsure, provide a text-based equivalent.

Making your Yorkshare site accessible

View our page on Making VLE sites accessible for ways to apply the ideas above.

5 steps towards an inclusive lecture

View the recording made by Emily Brunsden, Physics on ways to make your teaching more accessible. This recording is in a learning object that includes other useful resources on inclusive practice.

Screenshot of Emily Brunsden's slide on universal design for learning,

Further information

There is an e-accessibility working group carrying out changes, training and awareness raising at the University. See our Key Areas page on Digital Accessibility and the eaccess wiki (UoY login required) for more information.

The University’s Disability Services provides additional advice on other learning and teaching considerations for a range of disabilities. Please do consult their guidance and any Student Support Plans for individual students for further advice.

JISC has the following sites on accessibility and the 2018 regulations:

AbilityNet ran a webinar in Nov 2019 featuring Richard Walker as a guest speaker. Several previous webinar recordings on accessibility are also linked on the page.