Digital Accessibility in Moodle

Inclusivity is a core value at UAL, and since May 2021, staff and students have benefitted from the presence in Moodle of Ally: an integrated study and accessibility tool. Ally provides information to staff about the accessibility of uploaded documents. It also allows documents to be downloaded in alternative formats, such as HTML, PDFs, MP3s, or electronic braille.

Ally also reports on broader patterns of digital accessibility across Moodle. Staff can view the report for their Moodle Units and Courses by selecting the ‘Accessibility Report’ in the Navigation Drawer (the blue slide-out menu on the left). This report will invite you to start applying fixes. Surprisingly, only five-to-ten minutes of amendments can dramatically improve the overall Ally score for your Course.

Screengrab  of the Ally Course report
The Ally Course Report shows a tally of the different content types,
and prompts to fix outstanding accessibility issues.

More information about Ally

Accessibility and PDFs

The most prevalent type of file uploaded to Moodle is the Portable Document Format (PDF). In 2020-21, over ten thousand PDFs were published on LCC Moodle sites! Because of the sheer quantity of PDFs on Moodle, they rank highly on Ally’s index of accessibility issues. The top accessibility issue for LCC content on Moodle, evident in over six thousand documents, is a shortcoming that exclusively affects PDF documents. Whilst there are some easy fixes (DOC) we can apply to other content, we can make LCC’s Moodle content substantially more accessible by making PDFs more accessible.

We could simply substitute our PDFs with alternative formats, but sometimes a PDF is the most suitable format, particularly if you need to preserve the structure or layout of a document; or consistency across related documents (which is also important for accessibility).

So PDFs need not be abandoned altogether, because PDFs are not intrinsically inaccessible. PDFs, like Word documents, they support the use of ‘alternative text’ entries for images; and just as Word uses ‘heading styles’ to indicate the relative status of text, PDFs have equivalent ‘tags’. Unfortunately, PDF-creation software does not always make it easy to insert these features, or to rectify their absence.

Making accessible PDFs

If you use Word to export a document as a PDF, the accessibility data from the Word document is typically preserved (subject to the different options for Windows and Mac). If your PDFs are created by exploiting the Library’s Scans for Teaching Service, the PDF will be wholly or largely accessible, and also copyright compliant.   

If your PDFs are exported from PowerPoint, or created in Adobe software such as Illustrator or InDesign, additional steps are needed to improve the accessibility of the files. The most effective tool for resolving issues in PDF files is Adobe Acrobat; however, you must use Adobe Acrobat Pro DC -which has file editing capability- rather than the similar but limited Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is only for displaying files and does not have editing features.

Digital Accessibility Principles

Further Guidance on creating Accessible documents