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Its important that as we create course content or administrative documents, we always bear in mind accessibility, or supporting neurodiversity and inclusivity regardless of physical impairments.

Screen Reader Software

Many computer and internet users have some form of visual or motor impairment which means they access digital resources and documents using tools other than a mouse or video display. A common assistive technology is a screen reader. Screen readers use underlying code on a web page, .docx file, and other digital media to read out loud text, with some formatting.

if you would like to try out screen readers, that’s easy: Narrator is already installed on Windows, and VoiceOver on Mac computers. NVDA is also available for free, with a more complex toolset. These are sophisticated tools that can seem daunting, but bear in mind that users become just as adept, quick and efficient at using them as you may use a mouse and visual navigation. However, as with other elements of professional communication, it is our responsibility to make certain our digital text is easy to access and understand for those using screen readers.

List Properly!

For example, screen readers can note bullets and numbers in a list, along with the contents of each list item, so that users can understand lists as we intend them when we typed them in. But if we skip the bullet or numbered list tool in, say, Microsoft Word, Google Docs or D2L, and instead use something like dashes (-, or hyphens), screen readers skip over them, which leads users to potentially miss the fact that we are itemizing things in a list. At times it doesn’t matter; they understand our list by the context of our text, whether its in a bulleted list or a simpler sentence with a lot of commas. But if we opt to use a list structure, its probably for a reason, and we want to ensure all who engage with our text are able to understand it.

This short clip shows how a popular screen reader tool, NVDA, handles lists, both formatted properly with text editor tools, and formatted with dashes instead:

So when you are composing text with an itemized list, use the text editor’s list tool, so that the proper code is established behind the scenes and screen readers for the visually impaired can specifically identify the itemized list as such.

List tools can seem a bit fussy and uncooperative at times, but if you use them a lot they can save you time, since you can efficiently reformat lists as you revise your text.