UNC Chapel Hill Information Technology Services
406 Hanes Hall
Chapel Hill NC 27599
Day Phone: 919-843-5192
NC State University
Campus Box 7109
Raleigh NC 27695
Day Phone: 919 513 4087
Fax: 919 962 0784
Overview of the accessibility challenges of classroom presentation applications and tools and a discussion on guidelines and strategies need to accommodate students with a disability when designing and presenting materials.
PowerPoint is a widely used academic tool, and provides faculty with a straightforward way of presenting and preserving lecture information. This convenience comes with a hidden cost, however - the end product is often inaccessible to students with disabilities, or anyone trying to access the material from mobile devices or legacy platforms.
Ensuring that content can degrade gracefully to a form accessible to all is a critical concern, and PowerPoint is not well suited for this task. The built-in conversion tools that allow PowerPoint to be published on the Web are clumsy and inexact. Happily, a wide variety of alternate tools and techniques exist for making and sharing presentations.
The most obvious and fruitful avenue of exploration is the World Wide Web, where well-established standards (HTML, XHTML, and CSS) provide a lingua franca for an already well developed visual presentation medium. Numerous tools exist, both for porting PowerPoint content to the Web and developing stand-alone Web presentations. Among the latter are Eric Meyer's S5 (using CSS almost exclusively) and Philip Greenspun's Wimpypoint, which is a direct response to PowerPoint's "bloatware". Third-party applications also exist, including CourseGenie, which is designed to convert Microsoft Word documents into standards-compliant HMTL.
ACCESSIBILITY ISSUES WITH POWERPOINT
Common accessibility problems associated with PowerPoint presentations:
* Images (graphics, figures, flow-charts) are not accessible via assistive technologies.
* Unstructured text renders content inaccessible.
* Design flexibility leads to poor usability, with low contrast, inappropriate sizing of elements, and other accessibility ramifications.
* Multimedia elements are incorporated without alternate formats.
* Web conversion is difficult and imprecise
ACCESSIBILITY ISSUES WITH INTEROPERABILITY
Centra and other synchronous tools interoperate with PowerPoint, but do so from a remove - the content is often simply a static screen-grab image of the original presentation, functionally inaccessible. Similarly, Microsoft's PowerPoint Viewer does not provide the end user with the tools to manipulate the underlying presentation if they choose to modify it to meet their access needs.
As a stand-alone application, PowerPoint also suffers from portability issues - the presentation typically resides on a local machine, and the display relies on specific hardware and software configurations. When contrasted with the ubiquity and ease of use of the Web, it becomes less attractive.
SOLUTIONS WITHIN POWERPOINT
Limiting design elements and providing alternative formats for otherwise-inaccessible objects can allow designers to use PowerPoint accessibly. However, once the application is "stripped down" to make this feasible, other possibilities become more viable.
We would suggest that the restrictions placed on a designer by using the Web, rather than PowerPoint's rich and dynamic interface, are beneficial rather than harmful. The Web is a logical, semantically-precise medium, and working within its confines forces the designer to clearly organize and present his or her material. The end result may be less visually exciting (although this is far from a given), but the content will likely take precedence as it should.
HTML AND CSS
Standards-based solutions are a logical and effective departure from PowerPoint. The majority of PowerPoint's functionality can be effectively replicated on the Web, and those items that cannot are, honestly, no great loss from an instructional design perspective. In the presentation we'll discuss these tools and applications in detail:
Wimpypoint was developed as a free, database-driven Web alternative to PowerPoint. It uses a set of very basic HTML tools to allow content authoring, and leverages the Web's capacity for easy collaboration. Although it lacks many of PowerPoint's advanced features, those are precisely the features that frequently cause accessibility problems in the first place.
CITA's HTML converter
CITA, at the
CourseGenie is a product developed in the
The W3C Slidemaker is a PERL script that can be used to generate HTML slides, using CSS that can be easily overridden by the end user. While there is a learning curve associated with this free tool, it is widely used internally by the W3C staff and is a simple and effective Web presentation option.
OpenOffice is an open source competitor to the Microsoft Office suite, and includes a presentation application similar to PowerPoint.
As a suite, OpenOffice uses the
USING TEXT AND RTF
The "least common denominator" of data interchange is ASCII text, and both 8-bit ASCII and Rich Text Format (RTF) present good opportunities for ensuring a base level of comprehensibility for all users. It shouldn't be discounted as an option. RTF provides enough flexibility to character and paragraph formatting to allow some presentational flexibility - while still being easily parsed by almost any assistive technology.