Creating Accessible Handbooks
Information on how to create accessible course handbooks.
In response to requests from Schools asking for advice on how to create accessible handbooks, the Accessible Information Working Group (a former subgroup of the Student Disability Committee) has produced this guidance. Its aim is to provide course organisers with helpful and practical advice in order to assist them in making documents as accessible as possible for disabled users.
Individual courses will have different requirements on what they will include in their handbooks but including the following information where possible can help improve usability and accessibility. You will probably include most of them already.
- Date of publication, contents page, glossary
- Recommended reading lists (these are most useful when they are structured i.e. with essential, highly recommended texts etc). If we need to locate texts for students in alternative formats we may only be able to procure a certain number and it is important that the most important ones are prioritised). It is a requirement of the University's Accessible and Inclusive Learning Policy that reading lists should indicate priority and/or relevance.
- Lecture timetable and location (if available at time of printing).
- Exam dates and coursework deadlines. (Exam dates may not be available at the time of publication in which case giving the exam diet period generally is useful).
- Contacts – it is good practice to give two methods of contacting the course organiser and course secretary e.g. email address and phone number or email address and postal address. It is also useful to include contact details for various types of support students can access.
- Leave a space for students to record their Personal Tutor and their contact details.
- Location of department/programme office and any other venue information e.g. laboratories.
It is impossible to make one document accessible to all users but the following suggestions can assist in making the document as accessible to as many users as possible. This should mean you will have less requests for documents in alternative formats which will save you time and money.
Some general formatting guidelines are:
- Font Size/Type – we would suggest a minimum font size of point 12 should be used and point 14 is preferable (although we realise space can be very tight in these documents).
- A sans serif type face such as Verdana or Arial (not Arial Narrow) as this is the most accessible for many disabled people. Avoid serif fonts like Times New Roman
- Numbering pages helps with navigation.
- Avoid underlining and use of italics. It is better to use bold to format documents.
- Ensure documents are left aligned, not fully justified or right aligned.
- Contrast/Text Colour – a dark text on a light background is best and there should be good contrast between the two for example: black on yellow, not red on pink.
- Ensure no information is conveyed by the use of colour alone e.g. priority items are shown in red.
- When using abbreviations and acronyms give them in full on the first occasion they are used, then use the acronym or abbreviation in future occurrences.
- Make sure charts/tables/images have meaningful labels.
- Try and make sentences as short and simple as possible, avoiding long paragraphs and blocks of text without simplifying the text. Advice on this can be found at:
As noted above, it is impossible to make documents 100% accessible to everyone, as making alterations in one way may make materials accessible for one disabled person but inaccessible for another. In addition, the requirements of disabled people, including those with similar disabilities may be significantly different. In order to take account of these individuals’ needs we would recommend that the following tagline be added to all documents.
“If you require this document in an alternative format e.g. large print, on coloured paper etc, please contact “a contact position/name (the document’s creator) and two methods of contacting that individual should be given e.g. phone and email or postal address and email etc.”
Practice has shown that adding this tagline does not result in a high number of requests for alternate formats. You are unlikely to receive many requests and those you do receive are likely to be for large print which is cheap and easy to produce.
The tagline can be placed at the beginning or end of the document and should be on electronic as well as paper versions.
Specific Electronic/ Online Handbook Guidance
Electronic handbooks are becoming the norm and the principles are just the same. We would recommend you follow the formatting advice given above. Some other useful guidance for electronic versions is provided below.
The main elements to bear in mind when producing an electronic handbook are:
- If a person wishes a paper copy of the handbook for a reason related to a disability this should be provided to them free of charge. It is not necessary to keep a stack of paper copies but just to produce one if it is requested. The alternative format tagline should be on the electronic as well as the paper documents.
- Do not use PDF format
- Ensure no flashing, scrolling or moving text
- Ensure images of text are not used
- Ensure all no text items have alt text descriptions
- Can you navigate around the document using the keyboard only i.e. without using the mouse?
- Check you can magnify the content to at least 200% without loss of content
For further information or to request this document in an alternative format, please contact the Head of Disability Information.
BSL users can contact me via Contact Scotland BSL, the on-line British Sign Language interpreting service. Find out more on the Contact Scotland BSL website.