The First Ever SoftChalk User Conference

Hello from Baltimore. I managed to convince both my dean and my distance ed director to stake my trip to the SoftChalk User Conference. So far, I’ve managed to learn a few useful items, had some nice beer, and scored a free dinner, a coffee mug, and a T-shirt.
In the first session, by Richard Smith and Greg Priebe of Harford Community College, I learned a thing or two about making accessible content in web pages. Here are the most important:
1. Don’t use bullets when you can use numbers. Screen readers, used by visually impaired individuals, can’t make sense of bullets, but numbers are helpful for reference and review.
2. Make simple tables (of course, SoftChalk makes tables that can be read by screen-reading software) rather than elaborately formatted tables.
3. There is a code referred to as a ‘skip link’ that allows screen readers to skip over headers that repeat from page to page. I never thought about that, but if the screen reader has to read the entire page, and the top of each page is a lengthy table of contents (or other header), then that probably gets old in a hurry to your visually impaired students. If you can’t embed a skip link, then just skip the fancy headers.
4. If you can find out where, on your campus, the screen reader is located (it’s probably Jaws) then try out your web pages using the screen reader. With a blindfold on, so you can really experience how well you’ve made your pages accessible.
5. If you include embedded or linked videos, precede the link with the video title, along with the approximate length of the video. (This came as a handy tip from the audience.)
And, of course, I already knew to use closed-captioned videos – although it’s probably a good idea to preview those captions to make sure they are useful, rather than just assuming they are!

I’m not going to go into the useful attributes of SoftChalk here, but if you are interested, you can find them at http://www.softchalk.com, where you can check out the repository of lessons at SoftChalk Share. I will add this to my list, started last week, of repositories useful to the teaching of A&P.

The meeting continues tomorrow, all day, and I promise to pass on any useful information next Wednesday. Until then…

Betsy Ott
President-Elect

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