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Learning Technology Team

Designing Your NILE Course

Information for Staff

Why accessibility is important

At least 1 in 5 people in the UK have a long term illness, impairment, or disability. Making NILE courses fully accessible can help people with:

  • impaired vision;
  • motor difficulties;
  • cognitive impairments or learning disabilities;
  • deafness or impaired hearing.

While many of our students actively use UON's Additional Student Support and Inclusion Services Team (ASSIST) services, a large proportion of students choose not to disclose.

Students do not have to disclose anything, and those who have declared something on their application probably won’t realise that this information isn’t automatically passed onto their lecturers. With very few exceptions (such as students who may need a sign-language interpreter), students should not have to disclose a disability to anyone in the University in order for course material in NILE to be accessible to them.

In this guide we have deliberately avoided mentioning specific impairments, difficulties or disabilities in any of the sections. This is because making accessible content will help all of our students, and should not simply be done for the sake of meeting the Accessibility Regulations 2018 (see link below).

Logical layout

Setting out your NILE courses in a simple, logical way will help students to quickly and easily find course materials, online classes, activities, assessment information and submission points. Standard information that is in all courses (e.g., the module guide, contact information, assessment information) should be in those places designated by the NILE Design Standards (see link below).

Course content should be placed in folders set out by theme or week. Folders should be clearly and consistently labelled, as should the items within the folders. Content items will normally be arranged in the order in which students should access them: those at the top will be accessed first, and so on.

Use of language

In your NILE courses, make sure you describe things clearly and without ambiguity. And avoid the use of expressions or idioms, as these can cause confusion or be completely undecipherable by others. Bear in mind, a lot of expressions taken literally make no sense at all. For examples, see The Independent's article, 88 very British phrases that will confuse anybody who didn't grow up in the UK' (see link below). Besides certain groups of people taking them too literally, many expressions are becoming old-fashioned and you’ll find your younger students will have never heard them before. In these cases, they can identify that it is an expression and it shouldn’t be taken literally —but they still won’t know what it means. Similarly, avoid sarcasm and subtle exaggeration.

When it comes to giving instructions or perhaps sending announcements from your NILE course, make your expectations clear, without making assumptions. For example, if you have students booked in for tutorials, make sure you tell them to arrive early, how long they have and what will happen if they turn up late. In general, don't assume that your students will know what the things in your NILE course are, when to access them, what to do with them, or how to do it. The notion that young people are digital natives has always been a myth, and while one or two of your students may pick things up quickly, many students will not have especially good digital skills, and will need clear explanations and/or instructions. When giving instructions, present them simply and in chronological order.

Adding and formatting text

As much as is possible, it is better to write content directly into your NILE course than to upload documents. Content written into your NILE course is quickly and easily viewable by students using mobile devices, and is easily read by screen-readers. Before you upload a document, consider whether you could write that content directly into your NILE course instead. According to Government advice, "documents can make your content harder to find, use and maintain, and do not work well with assistive technologies like screen readers a lot of the time", see the link to 'Publishing accessible documents' below.

You will need to pick heading styles to help everyone using screen-readers. When you build a content Item or Ultra document, for example, there are options in the toolbar to let you specify whether text is part of a Paragraph, or a Heading or Sub-heading. Use these options instead of simply changing the size of the text or making it bold. You can still change the size once you’ve set it to be heading/sub heading, etc.

this screenshot shows where the text can be changed to Heading or sub/headings in Original courses

• The above image shows how to select text styles in Original courses.

this screenshot shows where the text can be changed to Heading or sub/headings in Ultra courses

• The above image shows how to select text styles in Ultra courses

With longer pieces of text, the use of accurate, meaningful headings and subheadings can help students who feel overwhelmed by a sea of text and make it easier when people come back later on to find something. Separate different ideas each into their own paragraph. 

Left-align paragraphs of text. If using columns, make sure there is a very clear gap between them.

Choose a sans-serif font, such as Open Sans, Arial or Verdana. Avoid use of multiple different fonts. In both Original and Ultra courses, the default font will already be an accessible sans-serif font.

Avoid italicising whole sentences or paragraphs, use bold formatting to emphasise important words or phrases, again avoiding doing so on whole sentences or paragraphs. Reserve underlined text for links.

When adding hyperlinks to text, ensure that it is clear what will happen when they click the link. For example, will a new tab open, or will something download to their device? Show the website address where it makes sense (not a long string of numbers and letters), or convert words in the sentence to be the hyperlink where the reader doesn't benefit from seeing the full web address. 


  • Bad example - "For more information about what's going on, click here." (Don't put a full stop at the end of a hyperlink, even if it's the end of a sentence.)
  • Good example - "Please follow this link to view the BBC's World News web pages (opens in a new tab):"
  • Good example - "Click the to open the PDF. (This will download to your computer)"

Please note that URL shortening services (such as make web links inaccessible in some countries, so should be avoided. With a long URL, especially those which contain long strings of random letters and numbers in them, best practice is to display a simplified version of the URL on screen, or a simple description of the page that it will take the reader to.


University colours shown with both black and white text to show the contrast

Accessibility standards specify a contrast ratio between text and background. The contrast can be lower when the text is larger. When using the university colours online we must adhere to AA accessibility standards as a minimum and AAA accessibility where possible. AA accessibility requires at least 4.5:1 contrast ratio between text and background, 3:1 ratio for text larger than 18pt. AAA accessibility requires 7:1 contrast ratio or 4.5:1 when using text larger than 18pt. We’ve included a link to a contrast checker at the bottom of this page, (please note it does not let you change the size of the fonts).

We advise against placing lots of text on these strong colours. When it comes to being able to read longer pieces of text easily, black text on white background seems to be accepted as the clearest combination. But for many people, such a stark contrast can make the text difficult to read. To alleviate this, reduce the contrast by either using very dark grey text on a white background or change the background from white, to pale grey, off white or any pastel shade. Ask your students if they prefer a pale blue or cream background colour behind text on your PowerPoint slides.

Use bold type to emphasise important words or phrases in the sentence, rather than using red. Use coloured text sparingly. as your attempt to make it stand out could in fact make it more difficult to read. 

Finally, don't rely on colour when providing information and instructions. 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women are colour blind, so take this into consideration before you provide instructions such as 'click on the green button to continue, or the red button to exit'. Make sure that any links, buttons, etc., are labelled with the word, not just a colour. 

Image information

Images are often a useful addition to text and will help many people to better understand an idea, or to visualise a data set, or even just to brighten up your NILE course. However, it is vital to take into consideration that many students use screen-readers, and therefore will not see images. And some students may overlook an image entirely if it is unclear why it is there.

For accessibility purposes, there is standard practice for using images on the web which is outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) (see link below). When you upload an image to a NILE course, you need to add alt (alternative) text to the image. Alt text is a short description of the image which explains the image for people who cannot see it. When deciding what to write, think about why the image is there, what information it presents, and then decide which words you can use to convey the same function and/or information. Leave the description blank if the image is purely decorative.

How to add alternative text to images in Original courses

• The above image shows how to add alternative text to images in Original courses by using the alt text field.

how to add alternative text to images in Ultra courses

• The above image shows how to add alternative text to images in Ultra courses by using the alternative text field.

Please note that if you use an image that contains text, screen-readers will not be able to identify the words. Therefore, you must make sure any important text from the image is also included as text. As an example, the images above both have text description explaining what the images are showing: these descriptions have also been included as alt text (which is not visible on screen) and as text visible underneath the image.

Essentially, when using images, the key message is that images cannot substitute for text. A properly described image can augment, enhance, or decorate text, but may not replace it.

Uploading documents and using Ally

Blackboard Ally is enabled in all NILE courses, and allows students to access alternative formats of documents uploaded to their NILE courses. When documents are uploaded into NILE, Ally creates alternative versions of the these documents in PDF, HTML, ePub, electronic Braille, and audio (mp3) formats.

Ally is a powerful tool, but it is important to ensure that the documents uploaded into NILE are already accessible in order for Ally to provide good quality alternative accessible formats.

Please note that Ally does not make documents automatically accessible. It will provide an accessibility score to show how accessible the documents are, and will provide tips on how to make the documents more accessible, but it does not turn documents that are not accessible into ones that are. And if the original document is not accessible, the alternative formats that Ally creates will not be accessible either. See our Blackboard Ally guide for more information (link below).

Additionally, LinkedIn Learning's course 'Creating Accessible PDFs' (see link below) explains how to create highly accessible PDF versions of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel files.

Should you require urgent assistance with NILE, please contact the LearnTech Support Helpdesk via the online contact form