Tip of the Week – Accessible Plans of Study

As content editors for Purdue University Calumet schools and departments, you face special challenges. You provide plans of study, textbook and course listings, and other types of data that require specially marked up tables. And you want students to be able to print these, preferably on one page.   So you frequently upload a “bingo sheet” to the Web as a PDF or Microsoft Office document. Which can be fine.

But if the information in those documents is not presented in a way that’s accessible to assistive technology like screen reader software, then we put an extra burden on some students.  And that’s unnecessary, since we easily can provide the information in an accessible format, usually in the form of a Web page that includes a link to a printable version.

Tables are the Challenge

Most of the plans of study we put together are set up in data tables, which we talked about a couple of weeks ago in one of our tips. It may be helpful to learn how screen reader software reads a table, regardless of how it’s set up.

Screen reader software reads tables cell by cell, row by row, straight across a page.

If you put two tables next to each other in two columns in a PDF, the screen reader will read the first row of each table before coming back to the second row. The screen reader user can easily lose track of the meaning, especially if the cells are filled with just numbers and no reference points.  As you can imagine, that can be very confusing,  unless that PDF is properly tagged.

We have similar problems on Web pages, but it’s easier and takes less time to create an accessible table in a Web page than it does in a Word or a PDF document.

JAWS Encounters a Table

Here’s an example of the way the JAWS screen reader handles a poorly marked up table .

Read this or try listening to the audio clip before you look at the table (this link will open a new window).

column one row one sem three blank nur one hundred eighty one introduction to professional nursing nur one hundred eighty two conceptual and theoretical thinking in nursing nur one hundred eighty eight foundations of health assessment and health promotion thirteen c r blank blank one c r h r blank two c r h r s blank three c r h r s blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank sem four blank nur two hundred eighty two adult nursing i blank nur two hundred eighty three practicum two blank blank twelve c r blank blank four c r h r s two c r h r s

When you looked at the table, you were able to see that it is a listing of some of the courses required for the Licensed Practical Nursing Option in the School of Nursing and that JAWS is reading the first few rows.  Seeing the table, you can make sense of it. Listening to it, we think you will agree, is a challenge.

Example of a more accessible version of the Semester Plan of study

A more accessible example than the one read by JAWS

Setting a Good Example

We’re singling out the School of Nursing because Dean Peggy Gerard, Webmaster Jill Ullmann and the staff have been ahead of the curve when it comes to efforts to make their Web sites accessible. This table was replaced in 2008 with a properly marked up and more accessible version complete with caption, headers and summary, plus a printable, downloadable PDF version of the LPN Plan of Study is also available.

It’s what we would call a win-win-win solution and it’s one that will work for your school or your department. We’ll help!

What Do You Want To Know?

These tips are designed to help us all better understand the requirements of our Web Accessibility Policy and to offer some shortcuts and hints that will help you as you create and update your Web sites.

In this case, the relevant portions of the Web Policy can be found in Appendix A:

  • G. Row and column headers shall be identified for data tables.
  • H. Markup shall be used to associate data cells and header cells for data tables that have two or more logical levels of row or column headers.

Questions and suggestions for future hints are welcome! Just send an email or fill out our online form.