Building Accessible Resources: Where to Begin

We create materials all the time. We create digital text, documents, videos, podcasts, website content, and many other materials. The best way to ensure your materials are accessible is to create them to be accessible from the very start. While remediation might be possible in some cases, it is far easier to be accessible if it is part of the planning process. 

Tips for Building Accessible Resources

  • Learn the more about the accessibility essentials - If you are new to accessibility, one of the most important things you can do is learn the accessibility essentials. While these all might be implemented a little differently depending on the platform you are using, these are all import to understand as you dive into building your resource. 
  • Consider accessibility at each step in your process - Accessibility should not be an afterthought or add-on when creating your resource. Instead, accessibility should be an important consideration within all phases. For example, when thinking about what type of resource you want to create, you should think about whether that format can be made accessible. On the other end of the process, you should also think about accessibility when marketing and promoting a resource. 
  • Know your audience and implementation context - Accessibility does not happen in isolation. It is important to learn more about your audience and the context in which implementation will happen. For example, will your resource be print only or both print and digital? Will the resource be posted somewhere? How you plan to use the resource and with whom makes a difference. 
  • Research the specific format/platform - Not all formats/platforms are equally accessible. Unfortunately, there are some platforms that either cannot be made accessible or do not allow for key accessibility features to be built in. It is vital to research the platform to understand the opportunities and limitations. 
  • Create a specific plan with timelines - Accessibility does not happen by accident. It is important to create a plan for ensuring accessibility. It is particularly important that you consider your overall timelines and resources that you might need. 

Process for Building Accessible Resources

The first step in creating accessible materials is to think about your goals and your stakeholders. If there are many groups of stakeholders, each audience may require a different type of material, but each material type you choose comes with accessibility benefits and challenges. While using multiple representations is generally best for reaching the largest number of stakeholders, you might not have time or the need to develop multiple representations. That is why it is so important to think about your goals and your stakeholders right from the start.  

Consider the following:  

  • Who will access the material?  
  • How will they access it?  
  • Where will the material be posted?  
  • Will it be directly distributed or available on a platform?  
  • Will it be downloadable?  
  • How will the material be used?  
  • Will it only be presented or displayed?  
  • Is the material intended to be interactive?  
  • Are there fields in the material that will be completed?  
  • Is the material tied into other materials as well?  
  • Will this be an Open Educational Resource (OER)? 

Once you have defined your goals and stakeholders, and know what you would like to create, you should review the key accessibility considerations for the material type you have decided on. This step is particularly important when you are creating the resources as a team. Accessibility should not be the responsibility of a single individual on a team (though an accessibility expert is never a bad thing), but rather all team members should be aware of their role in ensuring accessibility from the start.  

Overall, creating a plan can include:  

  1. Reviewing the key goals for the materials with team members  
  2. Aligning material accessibility with the key goals 
  3. Developing a timeline for material creation and key objectives 
  4. Discussing responsibilities of team members and steps for meeting the objectives  
  5. Creating and editing the plan  

An important, but sometimes missed aspect of creating this plan is to ensure that all team members have the necessary knowledge and expertise to complete their assignments. Sometimes, team members have different interpretations of accessibility features or different design ideas. It is important to review the accessibility essentials and to discuss key considerations at this point to ensure everyone is on the same page. If training and development is needed, it should happen in advance of creating the material.  

Once your plan is created, then it is time to implement the plan. All plans should be flexible as accessibility considerations might change during implementation. It is important for teams to keep in communication as accessibility features are implemented and changes are needed.  

Some things to keep in mind as you are creating the material: 

  • Check accessibility while creating the material – Having an accessibility plan is important, but it is best to check accessibility throughout the implementation process. Some accessibility features are dependent on others, so continually checking for accessibility is important.  
  • Keep a running list of issues and concerns and how those were fixed – issues will come up and chances are if they came up once they could come up again. Keep a running list of what those issues were and, importantly, how you fixed   them. This knowledge will be helpful not only throughout the current creation but also when you create materials in the future.  

Even accessibility experts can miss something along the way. It is important to review the final product before publishing, sharing, or posting a resource. The review should include a manual review as well as an automated review.  

  • Automated review – there are many automated accessibility checkers that you can utilize. These provide an overview of potential accessibility issues, and some will specifically identify errors. It should be noted that there is no automated method of fully checking for all aspects of accessibility. A manual review is also necessary.  
  • Manual review – There are many ways to do a manual review depending on what you are specifically reviewing for. Generally, this involves:  
  • Using a designated checklist to review for key features  
  • Using specific software such as text-to-speech software to check for usability 
  • Having an accessibility expert review the materials