Accessibility – What all students should know

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The accessibility of digital environments corresponds to physical accessibility. All students should take accessibility into consideration, particularly when drawing up public documents, such as theses.

What is accessibility and why is it important?

Accessibility means the consideration of human diversity in digital services. In other words, it corresponds to accessibility in the physical world.

Accessible digital services can be used regardless of any functional restrictions, be they permanent or temporary. For example, people with a hearing disability require captions for videos, but captions are useful also to a student travelling in a rush-hour bus.

In Finland, accessibility is required also by the Act on the Provision of Digital Services, which applies to the online content and services produces by universities and other authorities.

How does accessibility concern students?

The law applies to certain public digital documents produced by students, particularly master’s theses, which are stored in the E-thesis system and made available to the customers of Helsinki University Library.

At the same time, content produced on a specific course does not need to be accessible (e.g., essays and presentations stored in a Moodle area), with the exception of content to be used recurrently. For example, a video produced by a student that remains in use as learning material must be captioned. Also in other course-related work, accessibility should be considered whenever possible.

Further information and instructions pertaining to accessibility are available (in Finnish and Swedish only) on the saavutettavuusvaatimukset.fi website of the supervisory authority.

How to create accessible theses documents

To make a PDF document accessible, you must first make the original Word document accessible and then convert it into PDF format using the appropriate procedure. A correctly saved PDF document contains all of the structures included in the Word document, which, for example, a visually impaired person can utilise to read the document using a screen reader.

Detailed and illustrated instructions for creating accessible documents are available on the saavutettavasti.fi website (in Finnish only).

At least the following should be taken into consideration in accessible Word documents:

  • The file structure (headings, paragraphs, lists) is created using the Styles menu, not, for example, by changing the font size.
  • The font is sufficiently large and intelligible (at least 12 pt), while the contrast between the font and background is sufficient and the text is aligned to the left.
  • Images have text alternatives that describe the image content to those unable to see the images.
  • Tables are created with the table tool of Word or Excel, and they contain a header row.
  • The language and title (not the same as file name) of the document are assigned in the properties.
  • Accessibility is ensured using Word’s Check Accessibility function.

Creating PDF files

Using a PC:

  1. In Word, click ‘Save As’ or ‘Export’ and select PDF as the file type.
  2. Click ‘Options’ in the save window and check the following items: Document properties, Document structure tags for accessibility and Create bookmarks using headings.
  3. Click ‘Save’.

Using a Mac:

  1. In Word, click ‘Save a Copy’ and select PDF as the file type.
  2. In the save window, check ‘Best for electronic distribution and accessibility’.
  3. Click ‘Export’.

NB! Do not use the ‘Print to PDF’ function to create PDF files. If you do so, the document will have no structure. Instead, it will resemble a scanned image.

Further information on accessibility

Accessibility of the University’s digital services:

General information on accessibility:

  • Website of the Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern Finland, the supervisory authority responsible for accessibility: saavutettavuusvaatimukset.fi (in Finnish and Swedish only)
  • Instructions for content producers on a website maintained by Celia, a national centre for accessible literature and publishing in Finland: saavutettavasti.fi (in Finnish only)