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Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Advocacy Resources Bridges Blog Series: Self-advocacy September, 2021

Self-advocacy September: Making PowerPoint Documents Accessible

PowerPoint slide presentations can be an exceptionally useful tool. They have been used throughout the education and business community for years, and the shift toward remote and hybrid instruction has accelerated their use in school settings. While PowerPoint documents can be made to be accessible, many are not. This week, we will discuss

It seems simple: if information in a document is important, you need to be able to access it. But, sometimes making that happen is not so simple. This week, the Free Bridges Helpdesk explores accessible slide presentation documents (like Word) in terms of self-advocacy.

Accessibility, disabilities, and the law

For a review of what the term “accessible” means for individuals with and without disabilities and references to legal requirements relating to accessibility, please see “Self-advocacy September: Making Word Documents Accessible” in the Bridges Blog.

PowerPoints shared using distance technology

As a preliminary matter, please note that documents shared using “screen share” tools on distance technology platforms convert the shared file to a video. In doing so, the accessibility features of the shared document are lost to users of accessible technology, like screen reading software. Thus, screen sharing, alone, does not provide accessibility to blind/low vision individuals using accessible technology, so the relevant document or documents should be sent directly to those users. Alternatively, the original, accessible document could be placed in a shared folder on the cloud, and the link to the document could be shared in the distance technology chat room.

How to self-advocate for accessible PowerPoint documents

Successful self-advocacy for accessibility goes beyond simply asking your teachers for accessible PowerPoints. While accessibility is the goal, many teachers don’t understand the barriers inaccessible PowerPoints pose. They also might be using inaccessible materials that were provided by a publisher, and they might not have any idea how to remediate the inaccessible aspects of the PowerPoint.

First, communicate with your teachers that you understand that they use PowerPoint documents to provide information. Gently let them know that when information is not fully accessible and/or easy to use, the purpose of the document cannot be fulfilled. In other words, you want accessible PowerPoint documents because you want access to the same information other students are receiving.

Next, share that PowerPoint has a built-in accessibility checker. This tool can help identify accessibility problems. Even better, PowerPoint’s Accessibility Checker provides help and guidance for correcting the accessibility problem!

Common issues that impede the accessibility of PowerPoint documents

Missing slide titles

  • This makes the document difficult to navigate.
  • Additionally, sometimes the PowerPoint looks like it has a slide title, but the title was inserted improperly, so accessible technology cannot identify the text as a slide title.

Duplicate slide titles

  • Sometimes there are two, three, or more identical slide titles.
  • This impedes navigability because the user cannot easily navigate up and down the document.
  • This can be easily remedied by adding “part 1,” “part 2,” etc. at the end of each duplicate slide title.

Missing alternative text

  • PowerPoint documents often have MANY graphics.
  • Graphics, alone, are not accessible.

Sometimes, graphics contain only text.

  • Instead of using the graphic, the PowerPoint document should simply set forth the text.
  • If the graphic is important, the teacher should add alternative text (alt text) the sets forth the content of the graphic.

Sometimes, graphics contain a table.

  • Instead of using the graphic, use PowerPoint to create an accessible table.

In general, non-text graphics should contain alternative text “alt text.”

  • Alt text allows one to use words to describe what is in the graphic.
  • In some cases, the graphic is merely decorative, and it should be marked as such.

In many cases, alt text, alone, is not enough.

  • Test: would the alt text, alone, be enough information for sighted students; in other words, would you feel comfortable taking ALL the graphics out and leaving only the alt text in the document?
  • If no, blind/low vision students should also receive tactile or enlarged graphics so that they may fully access the information conveyed in the graphic.

Reading order

  • Sometimes, PowerPoint documents look fine, but errors in creating the slide cause the slide to read text out of order.
  • It can be quite confusing when the slide reads from bottom to far left to top to middle, etc.

Tables

  • Need a properly-coded header row.
  • Tables should not include split or merged cells.

Quick-and-easy steps toward accessibility for PowerPoint documents

While actual accessibility requires FULL accessibility, here are some best practices to get started:

  • Use built-in templates: They are located in the ‘Design’ tab (Alt+G)
  • Use slide layouts: The layouts provided include titles and other items you can add. Do this when creating a new slide select one of the available slide layouts to fit your needs. Do not make a completely empty slide and then add your content.
  • When using tables make sure you identify row and column headers.
  • Make sure the reading order is correct (Alt+F10).
  • Slide titles: Every slide title must have a unique (and descriptive) name that is not to be repeated.
  • Avoid “eye candy” (information that is not useful)
  • Make certain colors used provide sufficient contrast based on WCAG standards. You can use the Web AIM Color Contrast Checker
  • Provide Alt text: Alt text provides information about what is contained in a non-text content
  • Group graphics together: If you have multiple graphics in a slide, grouping them together at the end of the slide can make your slide more accessible
  • And, of course: use the PowerPoint Accessibility Checker.

Check out great accessibility resources from the TVI Portal Maryland

Make and Take: Accessible Slide Presentations—Secrets Revealed! YouTube video recording

Resources for creating accessible PowerPoint documents:

Use the Free Bridges Helpdesk

Let us help! We are here to support blind and low vision transition-age students in Maryland, and we are available to you anytime. Whether you need self-advocacy support one-on-one or you want us to support you in your communications with your teachers (or parents), please know that you are here for you!

We can also help your teachers (both regular education teachers and teachers of blind/low vision students) learn about and implement accessibility best practices. We do not make judgments or criticize anyone. Instead, we meet people where they are and provide support and resources to help them get to where they want to go.

Self-advocacy is a lifetime journey. Please allow us to join you.

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Advocacy Resources Bridges Blog Series: Self-advocacy September, 2021

Self-advocacy September: Making Word Documents Accessible

It seems simple: if information in a document is important, you need to be able to access it. But, sometimes making that happen is not so simple. This week, the Free Bridges Helpdesk explores accessible text documents (like Word) in terms of self-advocacy.

What is accessibility?

At its core, accessibility is a simple concept: something is accessible if a person can get to it and interact with it. For example, when a classroom is locked, it is not accessible to anyone without a key. Similarly, a password-protected computer file (like a worksheet in class) is not accessible to anyone without the password.

As you can see, accessibility is not tied to disability. While individuals with disabilities typically run into more accessibility barriers than the nondisabled, any barrier to access for anyone is an accessibility barrier.

What about disability-related accessibility?

In the world of disability, both federal and Maryland state laws require that reasonable accommodations be made to allow individuals with disabilities the opportunity to interact with something in a manner that is as efficient, as effective, and for as sustainable a length of time as others. In fact, Maryland has a specific law that requires each school district to ensure that its digital learning materials “… comply with WCAG 2.1 Level AA (June 5, 2018) … [in order] to provide equitable learning opportunities for all students.” COMAR section 13a.06.05.06.

How to self-advocate for accessible text documents (Word, etc.)

It can be frustrating when text documents (in Word, etc.) for school or work are in a format that is not fully accessible and/or easy to use. Sometimes it can feel like a big “ask” to have these documents be provided in an accessible form.

A crucial first step in self-advocacy for accessible Word documents is to explain that EVERYONE needs accessibility and that nondisabled students get fully accessible documents every day. In other words, you are only asking for something every nondisabled student is already receiving: the opportunity to use the document.

Next, explain that accessibility is not difficult to achieve, especially in a Word document. Word has many accessibility features built into the program, and simply using these features makes a document accessible to blind/low vision individuals.

Quick-and-easy steps toward accessibility for Word documents

While actual accessibility requires FULL accessibility, here are some best practices to get started:

If in doubt, copy it out.

  1. Sometimes we get Word documents that have “invisible” accessibility hurdles, and it can be time-consuming to make sure each is eliminated.
  2. A quick way to eliminate these is to take the document, select all text (Control + A), open a new document (Control + N), and paste the contents into the new document UNFORMATTED (Alt + H, V, S, U).
  3. Now, you have unformatted text without lots of hidden stuff.
  4. Please note that this also removes important formatting (including embedded hyperlinks, automatic numbering, etc.), so you will need to add those back in.

Don’t use text boxes.

  1. Text boxes force a screen reader user to “jump into” the text box to read the text and then “jump out” of it.
  2. This is like a sighted user being forced to jump to a hyperlink to read the text and then being forced to go back to the original document.
  3. This process is inefficient for any user, so it is better to simply refrain from using text boxes.

DO use headings; do NOT use text effects.

  1. Headings provide navigability to a document.
  2. Sighted users typically use text changes for navigability (larger text, bolded/italicized/underlined text, colored text, etc.) for this purpose.
    • NONE OF THESE TEXT CHANGES ARE ACCESSIBLE for a screen reader user, and many create difficulties for individuals using screen magnifying software.
    • NONE OF THESE TEXT CHANGES comply with WCAG guidelines, and they are therefore unacceptable under Maryland law.
  3. Bonus: by using headings, it is WAY easier to change the “look” of the heading for sighted users: instead of finding each instance, you can make the change once and update the heading. Word will make the rest of the changes for you!

Make Word work for you!

  1. Use automatic columns (so much easier than adding tabs or spaces).
  2. Use automatic numbering.
  3. Use automatic bulleting.
  4. Use embedded hyperlinks and make certain that the selected text is meaningful standing alone:
    • No: “here”
    • Yes: “find out more about hyperlinks”
  5. Use Word to create tables accessibly

Remember to pay attention to graphics!

  1. In general, graphics should contain alternative text “alt text” to describe what is in the graphic. You may add alt text to a graphic by:
    • Right-clicking on the graphic
    • Selecting “Edit Alt Text” from the drop-down menu
    • Typing a description of the graphic into the Alt text box
  2. In some cases, the graphic is merely decorative, and it should be marked as such. You may mark a graphic as decorative by:
    • Right-clicking on the graphic
    • Selecting “Edit Alt Text” from the drop-down menu
    • Clicking the “Mark as decorative” check box
  3. In many cases, alt text, alone, is not enough.
    • Test: would the alt text, alone, be enough information for sighted students; in other words, would you feel comfortable taking ALL the graphics out and leaving only the alt text in the document?
    • If no, blind/low vision students should also receive tactile or enlarged graphics so that they may fully access the information conveyed in the graphic.

Use Word’s built-in Accessibility Checker!

  1. YES! Word has a built-in accessibility checker!
    • It is not perfect, but it is helpful.
    • It will miss issues like text boxes and most text effects, so make sure you’ve addressed these issues first.
  2. There are several ways to access the Accessibility Checker:
    • Use the “Review” ribbon and choose “Check Accessibility” and choose “Check Accessibility” from the drop-down menu
    • Type Alt, then R, then A and 1, then A
    • Go to the “Tell me what you want to do tab (Alt + Q),” and type “Accessibility Checker”

Check out great Word accessibility resources from the TVI Portal Maryland

Word Document Accessibility Resource page

Accessibility For All Video series from the Maryland State Department of Education

Use the Free Bridges Helpdesk

Let us help! We are here to support blind and low vision transition-age students in Maryland, and we are available to you anytime. Whether you need self-advocacy support one-on-one or you want us to support you in your communications with your teachers (or parents), please know that you are here for you!

We can also help your teachers (both regular education teachers and teachers of blind/low vision students) learn about and implement accessibility best practices. We do not make judgments or criticize anyone. Instead, we meet people where they are and provide support and resources to help them get to where they want to go.

Self-advocacy is a lifetime journey. Please allow us to join you.

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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Advocacy Resources Bridges Blog Series: Self-advocacy September, 2021

Self-advocacy September: Figure Out What You Need—Self-determination

The Free Bridges Helpdesk kicks off the school season in September with Self-advocacy (don’t you love alliteration?)! Our first Self-advocacy September post focuses on a crucial first step in self-advocacy: Self-Determination.

What is self-determination?

The term, itself, means making your own decisions—determining what you will do now and in the future. While the term is straightforward, getting to a place of self-determination takes time and lots and lots of practice.

Self-determination is not something you do once, and it’s not something that is limited to school or work. Self-determination is an ever-present and ever-changing process, and we encounter opportunities for self-determination in all aspects of our lives. Let’s explore self-determination a bit.

How to start the process of self-determination

We know that self-determination means making decisions for ourselves. But making decisions is not always easy. In order to make good decisions, we need to know what we want as an outcome and what options/choices are available so that we can make informed decisions for ourselves.

What do you want?

Before we can evaluate choices, we have to determine what we want. Imagine that it’s mid-afternoon, and you’re a little hungry, but you know that you’ll be going out to your favorite restaurant for dinner in a few hours. Before you even consider what snack options you may have available, you have to decide for yourself: “Do I want a snack now, or do I want to wait so that I’ll be hungrier at dinner?” What is your goal: satisfy the hunger now or wait until dinnertime to eat?

While this is, admittedly, a minor and short-term goal, it illustrates how we must prepare ourselves for decision-making: we need to have a goal in mind BEFORE considering our choices. Our lives are filled with big and small goals, short-term and long-term goals, and determining what our goals are is the first step in self-determination.

What choices are available?

Once we know what we want (or at least what we think we want right now), we can move onto the next step of self-determination: making choices. We have so many choices to make every day. What time to wake up? What toothpaste to use? When and what to eat? What to wear? What homework to do now? How to hang out with and reach out to friends? When to study for an upcoming test? What to do on the weekend? What to do after graduation?

Usually, we don’t have too much trouble making day-to-day decisions. We typically know what to expect from our different choices (like what to eat for breakfast). Longer-term decisions can be harder: Do I want to continue school after graduation? What kind of employment should I pursue? In these cases, we might not have enough information to know if these choices even fit into our goals.

Sometimes, we don’t know what all the choices are, sometimes there are too many choices, and sometimes we don’t have the necessary information to compare the choices we do know about. It can feel difficult or impossible to make decisions that best fit our goals.

Impact of my disability/disabilities

Please know that self-determination is hard for everyone at every age. It can provide freedom, but it’s also a big responsibility. Self-determination for transition-age students (14 through 21) is different. During these years, you are exploring what you want for your future: it’s exciting, but it can be intimidating as well.

First, know that it’s okay to make mistakes. In fact, it’s much better to make a wrong decision than to make no decision at all. Decisions get us moving in a direction, and decisions can be changed. However, if we don’t make a decision, we cannot begin the journey at all.

As always, our own individual circumstances, including disabilities, are part of the self-determination process, but remember: YOU are the decision-maker, not your disability/disabilities! Instead of thinking about your disability, think about your dreams! What would you love doing if there were no limitations: financial, physical, geographical, etc. Now, we can begin our careful path of transforming our dreams into reality:

  • Think about what you would love doing in your spare time—even if nobody paid you to do it.
    • There are many, many jobs now that didn’t exist 20, 10, or even 5 years ago.
    • Those jobs were created by people who were so passionate about their dreams that they got great at what they did and figured out a way to get paid to do it!
  • Instead of focusing on one particular job, think about what it is about your dream job that you like? For example, maybe you want to help sick people get better.
    • There are many careers that allow a person to do this:
      • Doctors, Nurses, Physician’s Assistants (in-person and telemedicine)
      • Therapists (mental health, physical, occupational speech, art, music, etc.)
      • Pharmacists
      • Scientists
        • Developing medical technology
        • Developing medicines
        • Testing medicines and therapies
      • Home health care
      • Lawmakers and lobbyists pursuing more legal rights and better legal protections
      • This list goes on and on

By looking at WHAT you like about your dream job, you can discover many different WAYS to make your dream come true. Your disability/disabilities and other factors might not be as big a factor in pursuing your dreams as you might have thought.

Also, there may already be blind/low vision people doing your dream job. There are blind chemists, physicists, doctors, actors, athletes, teachers, mechanics, woodworkers, chefs, entrepreneurs, business owners, attorneys, judges, politicians, and the list goes on and on. Even better, many of these great people would LOVE to serve as a mentor for you!

Self-determination resources

But how can we find out about all these possibilities? Who can we talk to about this?

Luckily, we don’t need to have all the answers. We don’t even need to know all the questions. But we do need resources, and we have them! We have people who can help us identify what our goals are. Friends, parents, teachers, and the Free Bridges Helpdesk are great resources to discuss your ideas and your dreams.

Please contact the Free Bridges Helpdesk ANYTIME. We have information and resources about tools and techniques you might not have heard of. We have blind mentors and can connect you with others so that you can talk with someone who really has been where you are now. The Bridges Helpdesk also has staff with experience in parenting and teaching blind/low vision students: we are here for families and educators as well. We look forward to hearing from you and joining you on your fabulous Journey of Self-determination!

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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