Mini Guide to Accessibility and Usability

Below are a number of base principles to consider to improve the accessibility and usability of your Blackboard course.

Be consistent

Consistency is extremely important in making a course usable. It reduces cognitive overload, improves communication, exhibits professionalism and increases user efficiency, all of which contribute to improving the user experience.

There are many areas of consistency to consider including:

  • Structure – follow the Aston template to build your course. This will ensure students find similar resources in similar places across all their courses.
  • Navigation – group similar items together in folders rather than a long list down the screen.
  • Use of language – avoid slang terms and ensure items are referred to with the same name. For example, Aston university log on details could be called ‘Aston login’, ‘Aston log in’, ‘Aston username and password’.
  • Formatting – use the same styles and headings in your content and ensure you update them on content imported from another source.
  • File types – convert all possible files to PDF.
  • Visual cues – ensure these are always identical to allow users to instantly recognise them.

Use descriptive and unique link text

Use descriptive link text so all users know what they are clicking on before selecting the link.

Many screen reader users will list all the links on a page, if all links use the text ‘click here’, the screen reader can only create a list of links without context consisting of ‘Click Here’, ‘Click Here’, ‘Click Here’.

Poorly written, inaccessible link:

  • For more information click here for the W3C guide to accessibility

Appropriately written, accessible link:

Font formatting

  • Use a sans serif font such as Ariel or Verdana, this is easier to read than a serif font such as Times New Roman.
  • The Blackboard default text is “size 3”, however you are encouraged to make text on a page “size 4” so it is more legible.
  • Do not over use bold when emphasizing text. If everything is emphasized then nothing is emphasized.
  • Using italics can be problematic for those with dyslexia.
  • It is advisable not use underlined as a another form of emphasis as this is often used to signify a hyper link. It can confuse users into thinking that they can click the underlined text.
  • Do not copy and paste text from Word as this may bring unwanted formatting information that your page.
    If you need to copy and paste text, first copy your text into Notepad, then copy and paste from Notepad into Blackboard. This will strip out the unwanted Word formatting.

Use headings

Screenshot of the available text format options in the black rich text editor.

Divide your pages semantically with headings to create the page outline. This is helpful for users who use screen readers to access Blackboard as the headings will be used by screen reader to navigate the page.

It also has the added benefit of allowing visual users to easily scan the page.

In Blackboard you should use the Format drop down menu to select a suitable sub heading format for any headings that you insert in the rich text editor.


When creating Word documents to be uploaded to Blackboard follow the same advice as above and create headings within the document, they can be selected from the style menu.

You should export Word documents as a PDF with settings to preserve the document structure and create a heading tree. This will not only make the document more accessible but will ensure consistency of layout across different devices.

Long paragraphs and justified text can be problematic for those with dyslexia. Break up them up using bullet points and left align formatting.

Make transcripts available

Audio and video content may be problematic for students with hearing or visual impairment or those with unreliable internet access. Providing text transcripts can overcome these hurdles.

If you are creating a video or audio content yourself it is advisable to work from a script. This will improve the production quality of your content and provide your with a ready made transcript.

Alternative text and descriptions.

Screen shot highlighting the text description field in Blackboards insert image tool.All non text based content such as images and charts should have concise descriptions that describe the contents of the media.

This can be added in Blackboard when you embed an image in a page.

In many cases writing alt-text can be quite difficult. See this guide by WebAIM about writing alt-text for help.


Be careful with colour usage

How colour alone does not convery information
Click the image to enlarge it

Don’t use colour as the sole signifier of important information as colour blind users will not be able to see it. Use text labels and shapes in addition to colour:

Using only colour to convey information