Accessibility of Teaching

By selecting a degree programme you are able to see the general content as well as the possible degree programme-specific content.

On this page you will find information about accessibility and instructions for how you can make sure that the digital services and teaching materials of your courses are accessible.

What is accessibility?

Why should teachers be interested in accessibility?

Accessibility in digital services means taking human diversity into consideration. In other words, it corresponds to accessibility in the physical world. Accessible services can be used regardless of any functional restrictions, be they permanent or temporary. 

The digital services of the University are utilised using a range of devices and connections as well as various assistive tools. Users may have different problems related to vision, hearing, motor function or cognition, including learning and reading difficulties. 

In Finland, accessibility is also required by the Act on the Provision of Digital Services, which applies to the online content and services produced by universities and other authorities. The act also applies to certain online content produced by teachers. As of 23 September 2020, public teaching material in recurring use must be accessible.

Content not fulfilling the accessibility requirements may be used in teaching on a temporary basis and for a restricted group. However, MOOC areas must always be made accessible, as they are almost without exception public. At the same time, closed MOOC areas need not be made accessible if they are not intended for recurring use. Temporary use is limited to one academic year or less.

Accessible Moodle areas

The Moodle areas used at the University of Helsinki are located at moodle.helsinki.fi and mooc.helsinki.fi. As of 23 September 2020, the goal is to have the following content accessible:

  • Text, links, tables and images in public Moodle areas
  • Text, links, tables and images in Moodle areas intended for recurring use
  • Independently produced documents intended for recurring use and/or independently produced public documents published after 23 September 2018. Older documents need not be modified to comply with the accessibility requirements, unless a user needs the document to protect their interests or rights or to fulfil their obligations.
  • Independently produced videos and recordings intended for recurring use and/or independently produced videos and recordings published after 23 September 2020 (no later than 14 days after publication). Older videos and recordings need not be modified retroactively to comply with the accessibility requirements. The requirements do not apply to live video and audio streams not stored online.

Even though the statutory requirements do not apply to content that is produced by external parties and added to Moodle areas, such additions should be avoided if they hinder the realisation of the area’s accessibility.

Public Moodle areas are websites open to all via the moodle.helsinki.fi or mooc.helsinki.fi platforms. As a rule, Moodle areas at mooc.helsinki.fi are open to all, while those at moodle.helsinki.fi are closed. Recurring use means use that lasts longer than one term or one academic year at the most.

However, the aim of the law is not to prevent the publication of content or to cause the removal of content from the web due to non-compliance with the accessibility requirements. If making a Moodle area comprehensively accessible is not a realistic option in the current circumstances, you should consider which content is essential to all users, and whether there is content that is particularly relevant for people with disabilities. Of course, the goal is to have all material published online comply with the accessibility requirements. 

Moodle is technically very accessible, and its accessibility is the responsibility of Moodle developers and, at the University of Helsinki, Educational Technology Services. Any technical issues observed and instructions for reporting such observations are available in the accessibility statements of individual services.

Assessing the accessibility of Moodle area content and any services provided by third parties is the responsibility of the content producer, most often the teacher. 

As a rule, three types of content or services can be created, transferred or added in Moodle areas: 

  1. Content to be made accessible in Moodle areas
  2. Content to be made accessible outside Moodle areas 
  3. Content or services by third parties added to Moodle areas

These instructions focus primarily on content to be made accessible in Moodle (1), but the relation of other content types (2 and 3) to Moodle and related instructions are also briefly discussed.

Content to be made accessible in Moodle areas

The following content types can be made accessible in Moodle:

  • Text, including page content, examination instructions and news.
  • Links, which may contain text or an image and move the user from Moodle to another website.
  • Tables created in Moodle using Moodle’s table feature 
  • Decorative or informative images 

Text – Headings 

Headings must be descriptive and informative. Headings must be used to a sufficient degree to help understand the text. Headings must be applied by using paragraph styles, such as ‘Heading (large/medium/small)’. Making the text bold instead of using heading styles is a common mistake. 

Text – Contrast and colour 

Bold and italics can be used to emphasise words or sentences. Screen readers recognise both styles, but italics is a slightly more difficult style to read. Underlining should be avoided, as it is easily mistaken for a link.

Do not use colour, shape, visual location or other sensory features to communicate essential information. Users who are colour-blind or who use a screen reader may not notice any difference. Do not reduce text contrast or font size to a degree that makes the text difficult to distinguish from the background. Visually impaired users may have difficulty distinguishing text whose contrast to the background is insufficient or whose font size is too small.

The Accessibility checker button in Moodle’s text editor helps identify inaccessible text.

Links – Text or image

Using the web address (URL) as link text should be avoided, at least if the address is long and complicated. The purpose of links containing text must be clear from the link text, or the link text together with its context. Link texts should sufficiently describe the target to which the link takes the user.

Links with a link text describing the target and the context help users understand where the link leads. For example: “Further information on the Non-discrimination Act and citizens’ rights is available on the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman’s website.”

When adding links to Moodle, having them open in the current window is recommended. If it is preferable to have the link open in a new window, this feature should be stated in the link description. For example: Non-Discrimination Ombudsman’s website (opens in a new window).

Images can serve as links as well, in which case the description must include information on the target website, not on the content of the image.

Tables – Headings and merging

Consider carefully when to use tables, as they often pose problems to users using a screen reader. Tables should not be used just to format text. However, the logic of reading tables can be enhanced.

Include a heading for the table, as well as row and column headings. Tables created in Moodle automatically have text fields for adding headings. Avoid merging cells (excluding the heading cell). Empty cells, rows and columns should be avoided.

The Accessibility checker button in Moodle’s text editor helps identify inaccessible tables. 

Images – Short descriptive texts for short descriptions

A short description can be added to images published in Moodle, on other websites and in many office programs. The purpose of such descriptions is to describe the image content to users who are using a screen reader. Other users do not see these descriptions.

Images containing information essential to users must be given a descriptive and sufficiently informative text alternative. When adding images, describe the content of the image in the description field. A description suffices for informative images containing information that can be expressed in a few sentences. 

Screen readers overlook decorative images when you check ‘Description Not Necessary’ in Moodle when adding images. This way, the screen reader only says “image” or provides the associated file name. Moodle does not allow adding images without a description or selecting ‘Description Not Necessary’.

Images – Text alternatives for long descriptions 

Diagrams and other complex images require a full text alternative to enable conveying the content of the image in text form with sufficient accuracy. Unlike descriptions, text alternatives are available to all, not only for screen readers.

Text alternatives associated with images can be shared by employing, for example, the following methods: 

Method 1 – Link to the text alternative: In the immediate vicinity of the image, add a link through which users can access the text alternative, which can be, for example, a PDF file or online content. For example:

Description: “A bar chart displaying monthly visitor numbers in 2019 for the helsinki.fi website.” A link text underneath the image: “A long text description of a bar chart illustrating the visitor numbers of the helsinki.fi website in 2019.”

Method 2 – Text alternative on the same page: When adding an image, a brief description of its content and the location of the text alternative is included in the image description. The heading of the text alternative indicates the image associated with it. For example:

Description: “A bar chart displaying monthly visitor numbers in 2019 for the helsinki.fi website. A long description is available under the heading ‘Long bar chart description’.”

Read more about text alternatives for complex images.

 

Content to be made accessible outside Moodle areas

The following types of content produced independently by content producers must be made accessible before adding them to Moodle:

Independently produced documents 

Documents produced independently must be made accessible using the program with which they were created before transferring them to Moodle areas as downloadable files. For example, Microsoft Office programs have a feature for checking accessibility.

Independently produced videos

Typically, independently produced videos are captioned and linked or embedded in Moodle. Captions are made outside Moodle using a service or program, such as Screencast-O-Matic. Even if a video link is located in a Moodle area, video playback takes place outside Moodle. Captions are not needed if the same content is available as a text alternative in the Moodle area.

Method 1 – Link to the text alternative: In the immediate vicinity of the video, add a link through which users can access the text alternative, which can be, for example, a PDF file or online content.

For example: Video title: “A University of Helsinki marketing video from 2010”
A link text under the video: “A University of Helsinki marketing video from 2010, text alternative” 

Method 2 – Text alternative on the same page: When adding a video, a brief description and the heading under which the text alternative can be found is written in the video title. The heading of the text alternative indicates the video associated with it.

For example: Video title: “A University of Helsinki marketing video from 2010. A text alternative is available under the heading ‘A text alternative for a University of Helsinki marketing video’.”

Independently produced recordings

A text alternative must be provided for podcasts and other recordings. Text alternatives can be made available in Moodle areas.

Method 1 – Link to the text alternative: In the immediate vicinity of the recording, add a link through which users can access the text alternative.

For example: Recording title: “A University of Helsinki marketing podcast from 2010.” A link text under the recording: “A University of Helsinki marketing podcast from 2010, text alternative”

Method 2 – Text alternative on the same page: When adding a recording, a short description of its content and the location of the text alternative is added to the title. The heading of the text alternative indicates the video associated with it.

For example: Recording title: “A University of Helsinki marketing podcast from 2010. A text alternative is available under the heading ‘A text alternative for a University of Helsinki marketing podcast’.”

 

Content or services by third parties added to Moodle areas

The accessibility of content and services provided by third parties cannot necessarily be influenced, but such material can be added to Moodle areas. Even though the statutory requirements do not apply to content produced by external parties and added to Moodle areas, such additions should be carefully considered if they hinder the realisation of the area’s accessibility.

Such content and services include the following:

  • Documents produced by third parties, including research articles, presentations and reports 
  • Videos produced by third parties, including YouTube videos
  • Recordings produced by third parties, including podcasts and music 
  • Websites or online services provided by third parties, including any sites embedded in or added to Moodle areas (e.g., Finlex, search engines, e-book services, games or social media services) 

The accessibility of third-party content should be assessed using the same means and consideration as in the assessment of independently produced content. However, measures targeted at material produced by third parties may be restricted by copyright as well as limited access to the original material to be edited.

When assessing the accessibility of services, it should be determined whether the service provider has an accessibility statement or other accessibility instructions for assessing accessibility.

Embedding

Embedding is a typical way of displaying content produced by third parties in Moodle areas. For example, UniTube and YouTube offer an embed code which can be added to Moodle in all areas using a text editor. However, a title (title=””), which screen readers use to identify embedded content, is rarely included in the embed code.

For example:

<iframe title="UniTube test video" src="https://unitube.it.helsinki.fi/unitube/embed.html?id=b9ff"></iframe>

You can add embed codes to Moodle pages in the html mode of the text editor, making it possible to add to the embed code title=”x” and a title describing the embedded content.

Accessibility of educational videos

Accessibility requirements also apply to video and audio, or ‘temporal media’. According to the law, all videos stored on the website of the service provider must be made accessible as of 23 September 2020. However, video material published before that date need not be made accessible (e.g., by adding captions) retroactively. In other words, the requirements do not apply to videos published on a video platform (e.g., UniTube Uploader) before the deadline even if a link to the video is distributed on future courses. Of course, such material should be made accessible as well, whenever possible.

From the perspective of teaching, the requirements primarily apply to material open to all (e.g., MOOCs) or in recurring use for longer than one academic year. Videos available to a restricted group for a limited time (e.g., individual Moodle courses) need not be captioned. A good example are videos recorded to substitute for lectures in the coronavirus situation. If videos are stored for more permanent use, the accessibility requirements apply to them and they should be captioned or another form of text alternative should be provided before further use.

Captions or text alternatives?

The law requires captions only in the language of the video. If there are a large number of videos, captions should be first added to the material in the widest use, resources permitting.

Captions can be replaced with a text alternative linked to the video (e.g. a PDF file or a text paragraph under the video), containing all key information displayed in the video. In certain cases, such as with videos containing a lot of images, text alternatives can be a better fit than captions. Sufficiently describing such content in captions can be challenging, making it more sensible to link a more extensive text alternative to the video. 

Videos serving as a media alternative to text need not be captioned. In such cases, the video supports other material available, for example, in the course area and accurately reproduces the same content in video format. A clear statement must be added to such videos on their status as a media alternative to text content.

Live video and audio streams need not be captioned. If a recording is made and openly published online, captions or another text alternative should be made available within two weeks of the publication. 

Captioning with speech recognition 

Being located in a small linguistic region poses an additional challenge to captioning, as the features of speech recognition that boost captioning efforts do not yet function very well in the case of Finnish. Another factor affecting the functioning of speech recognition is the quality of the soundtrack. Speaking calmly, articulating clearly and keeping an appropriate distance from the microphone helps speech recognition software make fewer mistakes. Instead of the internal microphone of your laptop, you should use a separate microphone or headset. To record a video, you should find a room with as little background noise and echo as possible.

Naturally, captions can be purchased from relevant service providers, whenever possible. In addition to the development of existing systems, the University is currently testing and piloting new tools and services with which accessibility requirements can hopefully be met even better in the future.

Captioning videos with the Screencast-O-Matic software

At the moment (autumn 2020), we recommend captioning educational videos to which the accessibility requirements apply with the Screencast-O-Matic software available at the University.

Captions can be made by two alternative means. Open captions are captions that are ‘burnt’ onto the video, making a separate caption file unnecessary. In terms of the process, this is the simplest way to add captions using currently available tools. As a downside, viewers do not have the opportunity to switch off the captions. As a slight exception to the norm, Screencast-O-Matic creates open captions in a black block underneath the video. Another option is to create closed captions, producing a separate caption file that is uploaded together with the video to the publication platform (e.g., UniTube Uploader). When using closed captions, viewers have the opportunity to switch the captions on and off. The selection is made using a caption function button in the video player, usually signified with the CC abbreviation. This feature is also available on UniTube. 

In addition to speech, captions must include any other audio relevant to the content (e.g., “fire alarm is sounding”). Captions are made in the language used in the video. In the case of videos containing a lot of or nothing but images, it may be difficult to convey the key content in captions. In such cases, a separate text alternative linked to the video is a better option.

UniTube Uploader now supports caption file formats (.srt and .vtt), which can be added to videos already uploaded to the service. Helpdesk’s instructions for making captions and adding them in the UniTube Uploader are available on the Helpdesk website. Caption files can be utilised on other video platforms (e.g., YouTube and Vimeo) as well.

Video manual on creating open captions using the Screencast-O-Matic software (available only in Finnish at the moment)

Video manual on creating closed captions using the Screencast-O-Matic software (available only in Finnish at the moment)

 

 

Further information on accessibility