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3 Options for authors to promote accessibility in their textbooks

Who is reading your textbook? What limitations might those readers have when it comes to consuming and comprehending your material? When focused on inclusion and accessibility, whose responsibility is it that the content be universally accessible?

The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Guidelines outline multiple means of engagement, representation, and action & expression as a foundation for discussion. TAA Council President, Kevin Patton shares three sets of options for textbook design focused on creating multiple means of representation.

Provide options for perception

When considering options for perception, we can think specifically about auditory and visual perception options. While these options may sound straight-forward, Patton notes that “there’s a huge spectrum of variations of ability to access content in the auditory and visual domains.”

Color Variations Patton Textbook Cover

As an example, he highlights the effect of color blindness on the cover of his textbook and discusses the greater effect when color is significant to the reading of graphs, headings, or content and figure highlights and callouts. Resources like this one can aid in the understanding of color variations and aid in a more accessible design effort.

Provide options for language and symbols

When using specialized terminology, Patton suggests frequently offering definitions and options for learning the language used in the text. A clear and consistent use of syntax and structure improves readability throughout the manuscript.

Much like defining new terms, it is important to decode symbols, abbreviations, etc. rather than assuming all readers are familiar with discipline-specific acronyms or jargon. Words, phrases, and abbreviations may be especially confusing for readers who are fluent in a different language than the author. To help increase understanding, using multiple forms of media when presenting key ideas can be helpful.

Provide options for comprehension

Patton states, “I have to constantly relearn the fact that not everyone thinks like I do. I can’t assume anything as an author. I don’t know my textbook users background knowledge, how they think, or what experience they’ve had with models and graphs and making connections.”

To provide options for comprehension, he shares, it is important to consider the background knowledge of the reader, patterns, key features, and relationships presented in the material, and the executive functions associated with information processing that readers may be using while interacting with the manuscript.

Promoting accessibility as an author

While much of the final implementation of accessibility may be the publisher’s responsibility – specifically in determining layout, color choices, etc. – Patton says that the author should take an active role in making their textbooks as accessible as possible for all readers.

To accomplish this, he suggests that authors 1) identify opportunities for improving accessibility through UDL implementation, 2) implement the changes within the author’s control, 3) advocate for accessibility, and 4) be an active and willing partner in the process.

To summarize the importance of taking steps toward universal design in our textbook development processes, Patton shares this closing thought. “The more [we] design for accessibility, the more all students benefit.”

The content for this article was adapted from the 2021 Textbook & Academic Authoring Virtual Conference session titled “Reach All Students: How Can We Make Our Educational Content Accessible to All?”

Eric Schmieder

Eric Schmieder is the Membership Marketing Manager for TAA. He has taught computer technology concepts to curriculum, continuing education, and corporate training students since 2001. A lifelong learner, teacher, and textbook author, Eric seeks to use technology in ways that improve results in his daily processes and in the lives of those he serves. His latest textbook, Web, Database, and Programming: A foundational approach to data-driven application development using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, MySQL, and PHP, First Edition, is available now through Sentia Publishing.