GAAD logoInclusivity is at the heart of the University's 2040 strategy and as such we plan to mark Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) on Thursday 20th May 2021.  Have a look below to find out how you can get involved.  Any enquiries should be sent to CAD@abdn.ac.uk.

Why is accessibility so important?

Sometimes, making small changes to learning material can have a big impact on accessibility for students.  For example, adding heading styles to a document can allow users with visual impairments to navigate text quickly using a screenreader, while adding close captions to video allow users with hearing impairments to engage with content that might otherwise be inaccessible to them.  Improvements to accessibility will benefit everyone - staff and students. 

User Story: Ibiere Jumbo, PGR student with a visual impairment

How do you navigate online?

I use a screen reader called Jaws to navigate online systems and my learning material.  The accessibility of MyAberdeen has greatly improved, since I did my masters in 2017, although I sometimes find StaffNet can be difficult to navigate.  

How to you find the accessibility of your learning materials?

I find many PDFs inaccessible, so I usually begin by converting PDFs to Word, as this is much easier for me to navigate using Jaws. 

What aspects are important for teaching staff to be aware of?

The use of heading styles and alternative text for images in documents is important for me – otherwise the content can be inaccessible.  Tables can be really difficult to navigate.  Videos are usually converted into an audio version having background description. This is usually done separately otherwise it might be too much information for a sighted person.

User Story: Morgiane Richards, Academic Skills Adviser (Maths), CAD

How are learning materials that contain maths produced?

In STEM disciplines, and disciplines where mathematics are used extensively, LaTeX is widely used to write teaching material. LaTeX produces high-quality advanced mathematical content; however, it generates PDF documents that cannot be processed correctly by text-to-speech software.

What options are available to staff creating learning material with LaTex?

Recommendations are that course material be converted to HTML format, with MathJax to render the mathematics, a JavaScript library with built-in support for assistive technology.

What is the best way to convert existing learning material?

Some courses have already been fully or partially converted (Dr Matthew Collinson, Natural and Computing Sciences, Dr Peter Hicks, Engineering). However, there is currently no technology that can achieve a complete and error-free conversion; therefore, manual correction is almost always necessary. The School of Natural and Computing Sciences and CAD have just been awarded a Learning and Teaching Enhancement Project funding to investigate which conversion method is most efficient for which type of lecture material and to create guidance for staff. We also aim at documenting the performance of common text-to-speech pieces of software in reading MathJax mathematics.

User Story: Jason Bohan, Director of Education, School of Psychology

In the move to blended learning, was accessibility a consideration?

Digital inclusivity is important because as educators we must ensure that teaching materials are accessible by all students. We had to think carefully about this in our swift move to blended learning and whilst this was stressful for many of us the positive was that it allowed us to review our teaching materials and question if they were appropriate for online delivery and inclusive for our students.

What was your approach?

In the School of Psychology our approach to digital inclusivity was to think about the whole online learning experience and think about how students were going to interact with their course materials. With this in our minds all our lecturers were pre-recorded and released via the course VLE on a weekly basis so that student learning was structured and workload controlled across the term – we didn’t want students swamped by giving them too much in one go.

Was your approach evidence based?

Pedagogical research suggests that the traditional hour-long lecture is not optimal for learners because attention and memory systems are limited, so best practice recommends structuring material into shorter mini lectures. Adopting this evidence-based approach all my colleagues chose to restructure their lectures and recorded them in to smaller ‘chunks’ - crucially they kept all the same content and learning objectives, they just presented their lectures in a way that was better suited for learners in this context.

Have you had any feedback from students?

Student feedback was extremely positive and helped a lot of our students to engage with their studies because it was less daunting to watch and learn from two or three 15/20 min lecture compared to an hour-long lecture. 

Were you able to provide video captions?

We also ensured that all lectures were captioned, and this benefitted many students who learn better by having access to a text version. Captioning required a lot of work from staff, but they took a lot of pride in making sure that they were as accurate as possible. Ensuring that learning materials are accessible and digitally inclusive is an ongoing process which we will review on an ongoing basis, but also best done in collaboration with our colleagues in Student Support and our students to make sure that we offer an inclusive learning experience.  

Some stats from Spring Term 2021
  • Video Captions on Panopto – 53% of videos have captions

    • This value includes automatically generated captions and captions that have been checked/edited.

  • MyAberdeen Accessibility Score – 61.6% 

    • This shows the overall accessibility for the 123,111 Word documents, PowerPoint files, PDFs, text items and images from 1,148 course areas on MyAberdeen this term.

  • The Centre for Academic Development has facilitated 24 accessibility workshops for staff with 353 members of staff attending.

  • For accessibility, the University website

    • is currently rated as 14th in the UK out of 159 university websites that were tested by Silktide.

    • is ranked as having an accessibility score of 93.7/100 against a sectoral benchmark of 72/100 according to Siteimprove.

Digital accessibility quiz

Test your knowledge of digital accessibility with our short quiz!


Creating Accessible Documents in Microsoft Office

  • The Training and Documentation team will hold an online session introducing the fundamentals of accessible document design using Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. 
  • 18th May 10:30-12:00 BST.
  • Book your space now on the Course Booking system. 

Improving Accessibility on MyAberdeen 

  • The Centre of Academic Development will hold an online session around improving the accessibility of courses on MyAberdeen using Blackboard Ally.   
  • 19th May 1400-1500 BST.
  • Book your space now on the Course Booking system. 

Assistive Technology Accessibility SessionAssistive Technology Session

  • Assistive Technology team will run a 90 min session on solutions for working at home to help with focus and visual stress.
  • Includes a demonstration of text to speech online and mind mapping for exploring ideas and helping with organisation.
  • 20th May 1400-1530 BST.
  • Access the Teams link above to join the session.


Fix your content competition

Blackboard Ally, Go Green for GAAD

To raise awareness of how small changes can make an impact, the University has entered the Blackboard’s Fix Your Content Day Challenge.  There will be an international leader board showing the insitution with the most improvements.  Irrespective of how we do as an institution, we plan on using the Ally data to highlight the School that on the 20th May shows the greatest improvement in the accessibility of their learning materials.

How to take part

Ally is integrated into all MyAberdeen courses and organisations.  It provides accessibility feedback for each file uploaded and also for the whole course, in the Accessibillity Report. This competition takes place over 24 hours and we encourage staff to take some time on 20th May – it can be a few minutes or an hour – to look at their Accessibility Report and fix at least one item.  A “fix” is when the accessibility score of a file is improved through Ally – it does not matter by how much.  

Let’s get the University on the international leader board! 


Congratulations to the Department of Chemistry within the School of Natural and Computing Sciences for winning the University of Aberdeen “Fix Your Content” competition during Global Accessibility Awareness Day on 20th May.  In total, over 1400 improvements were made to files on MyAberdeen.  Chemistry courses made 749 improvements to accessibility, which is a fantastic achievement and very worthwhile. 

Blackboard Ally drop-in sessions

To support staff entering the Fix Your Content competition, the Centre for Academic Development will hold two drop-in sessions for staff on Thursday 20th May to answer questions focusing on the use of Blackboard Ally.  

School accessibility report from Ally

If you would like a school level report on the accessibility of courses on MyAberdeen please contact cad@abdn.ac.uk  

Other resources