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Accessible Design Ideas for Aula

Last updated on 18/08/2021

This article originally appeared on the My Academic Support website and is posted here with permission from the author.

Designing your module’s Aula space with accessibility in mind will help everyone, not just students with learning differences. This article outlines how staff can build their Aula spaces to be more accessible for students with a registered disability, such as the visually impaired.

Use a consistent organisational structure

Construct the Journeys section of your Aula space using consistent naming conventions and organisational structure. For example, you may want to organise your resources by teaching week, with each section having multiple pages within. Each section should have a similar structure for their titles, such as a number for the week and a few words – 1 Introduction.  Consistently name each page within a section; one option could be to use the type of session: Week Overview, Online lecture, Online tutorial, Lecture, and Readings.

Use short and front-loaded page titles

The visually impaired may increase the font size of websites. Increasing the font size can cause content on the page, such as section headings, to be unreadable or truncated, like the image below where most of the section heading has been truncated. Keeping page titles short and placing important information at the start can help. For example, look at figure one below; the first two sections are readable even at a large font size compared to the third and fourth section headings; both sets of titles convey the same information. So, consider what the vital information is and place this at the beginning of the title.

Figure 1. A screenshot of an Aula space’s Journeys section demonstrating how heading information can be truncated and a way to minimise this for users

Emojis go last

There is scant evidence related to the use of emojis within an educational context. Data from a marketing perspective suggests that emoji use in marketing assets increases engagement rates by 15%. Industry research within email marketing provides some evidence that users may experience negative feelings towards brands using emojis. The preferred position is at the end of the content compared to the start or in the middle. Emoji use can be difficult for disabled users, however, especially the visually impaired, who have reported technical issues related to screen readers, misunderstanding, and even their use hindering communication. This limited evidence highlights the potential positive and negative impact of using emojis within Aula pages.

Emojis can allow for more visually pleasing pages. But place them at the end of object lines such as page titles, headings and sentences. Using emojis at the start of a section heading can move important information into the truncated portion of the heading. Instead, you can place an emoji at the end of the title, which will likely be visible to most users while not affecting those using screen readers or page magnification.

Use headings

Headings, like the one above, provide structure to a page or post. Research articles use headings to organise a paper, using common headings like; introduction, methods, results, discussion, and conclusions. These headings help readers find information. Headings are also used by screen readers and help people with visual impairments navigate a page. Use headings when creating pages or announcements within Aula – and in Word documents too.

  • Place the heading text on a separate line
  • Highlight the text
  • Click on the T symbol
  • Choose the appropriate heading size/level – see figure two
  • In the image below, “We’re here to help” is being assigned a H2 heading tag
Figure 2. A screenshot of an Aula page being updated with headings. The heading text, “We’re here to help”, is highlighted. The user has opened the text options using the button labelled “T”.A menu is on-screen showing options for H1, H2, H3, Quote, and Paragraph text.

Follow the conventions below when choosing the size/level of your headings:

  • Use only one “large” or H1 tag for HTML documents. The H1 tag is usually reserved for page titles. For Word documents, this is different as Word has a style assigned for titles.
  • Use “medium” or H2 tags for top-level headings. Introduction, methods, results, discussion, and conclusions are examples of top-level headings commonly used in research papers.
  • Use “small” or H3 tags for sub-headings. The methods section of a paper may use sub-headings like study design, participants, and statistical analysis; these are sub-headings or level two and should be assigned H3 tags in Aula.

Use bold for emphasis

Using bold to highlight key points can help everyone find information easier. Consider highlighting key points in a paragraph by using bold; this can help readers skip to important content. Avoid using italics or underline wherever possible as these can present challenges for people with disabilities. See how the use of bold in this paragraph draws your attention.

Follow these steps for linking to online resources and websites properly. Doing so can be helpful for individuals who use screen readers.

  • Avoid pasting the full hyperlink as this will be read out loud by screen readers e.g. https://www.coventry.ac.uk
  • Use a descriptive link anchor text instead e.g. Coventry University Homepage
  • Make sure the anchor text is concise and tells the user what the resource or link is, not just “click here”
  • Use the chain icon to then add the full web address to the anchor text

Use multiple resource formats

An audio file may be inaccessible for the deaf or hard of hearing, while a printed textbook may be inaccessible for the visually impaired. Providing multiple options or choosing a more accessible resource can improve your Aula space’s accessibility. Some examples can include:

  • Link to digital textbooks as these allow for on-screen magnification
  • Link to journal webpages – HTML documents – instead of the paper’s PDF as webpages can be more accessible
  • Link or embed videos that have subtitles available

Choose videos with subtitles and transcripts

Subtitles can be useful for deaf, hard of hearing, and international students. Embedding or linking to videos that have been subtitled can help these individuals. When making a selection, if the video has no subtitles, consider a similar video that is subtitled. If there are no subtitled options available, it may be worth having the file properly subtitled, especially if it’s an essential core resource or will likely be used multiple times in the future. Unfortunately, automatically captioned content may not be accurate or fit for purpose, especially videos with poor quality audio and those covering complex topics.

Describe your images with Alt text

Alternative text (Alt text) is a way to provide meaningful descriptions of images to people who use screen readers. A good practice is to provide a meaningful description of all images that compliment or add to the written text, purely decorative images usually require no alt text. Add alt text to images included within your Aula pages or community posts.

Figure 3. A screenshot of the image toolbar displayed by moving over an image while editing an Aula page. The edit alt text button is in the middle of the toolbar and represented by a dark grey square icon containing three horizontal lines.
  • Begin editing the page
  • Insert an image or update an existing image
  • Hover over the image to show the image toolbar – see figure three above
  • Click the Alt text button, which will open a side menu
  • Write or paste a meaningful description of the image into the Alt text box – highlighted in figure four below. Alt-text is currently limited to 100 characters.
  • Click the button titled “Apply changes”
Figure 4. A screenshot of the edit alt text menu while editing an Aula page. The side menu appears on the left of the screen and contains a textbook to add/modify the alternative text above a preview of the image. Two buttons are found at the bottom of the menu, “Cancel” and “Apply changes”

Final thoughts

Accessibility is a complex topic, and it can be difficult to know where to start. The ideas outlined in this article are suggestions for using Aula in a more accessible way. By working together, we can create more accessible modules and courses, which will help everyone achieve their potential.

Going further

Did you find the article useful? Let me know by rating this article using the stars below. Your feedback helps me improve the content provided.

Looking for more Ed Tech tips and advice? Check out the staff advice articles available from My Academic Support or the Teaching Knowledge Base.

Have an idea for an article? Please send me a message to let me know.

This work is licensed under CC BY 4.0.


  • Damien Gleadall-Siddall

    Exercise scientist, educator, swimmer, and animal lover. I see myself as a guide for my students, helping them discover and explore a range of topics. I aim to deliver engaging, inclusive, and accessible education through scholarly activities and reflection of my professional work.

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Updated on April 29, 2024
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