I received a question from a teacher asking about how they could incorporate audio files into classroom assignments that would be easy to access for a student with low vision. Since the student was going to be answering questions in a separate document regardless of how the assignment was presented, my first thought was how easy it would be to convert the assignment into a web-based multimedia page with the free Microsoft Office Sway tool. Here are my tips for how to create accessible assignments with Microsoft Office Sway, aimed at students with visual impairments.
What is Microsoft Office Sway?
Microsoft Office Sway is a free web app that allows users to create their own simple webpages and presentations with text, images, widgets, file attachments, and more. It’s a great substitute for PowerPoint or handouts, and it’s by far my favorite Microsoft Office application. I have been able to use it for lots of interesting projects over the years, including a cookbook, a formula sheet, and several different class presentations- all of which have earned a 100%.
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Why I chose to use Sway
Here are some of the many reasons I love Sway, and why I chose to use it to create accessible assignments:
IT CAN BE USED ON ANY DEVICE
Sway can be accessed on any internet-enabled device, which includes tablets, phones, computers, and similar. There are many users who prefer to read information off of tablets or phones over their computer, which can all have varying display sizes. Sway scales to all display sizes, so we don’t have to worry about information running off the page.
IT’S ACCESSIBLE WITH SCREEN READERS
Sway has this awesome feature called accessibility view which simplifies the display of the page so it can be used with screen reading and screen magnification technology. Some students may feel more comfortable using a mobile screen reader such as TalkBack or VoiceOver instead of using their computer, and I wanted to use a program that would be compatible across various devices and accessibility settings.
IT’S REALLY EASY TO CREATE
If someone can click three buttons, they can create a Sway, and it doesn’t take a lot of time to turn a traditional worksheet into a digital Sway document. While some tasks may require more time than others, Microsoft Office Sway makes it easy to add information and create beautifully organized documents.
It has more options than traditional word processors
Users can add a variety of different types of content to their Sway that they would not be able to add to a traditional document, such as audio files. These additional content types can help to bring documents to life and incorporate other accessibility features that can benefit learners.
No need to log-in or download software
While users will need to have a free Microsoft account to create a Sway, they can share the finished link with anyone regardless of if they have a Microsoft account or not. They also will not need to download any special software- a Sway can be accessed directly from the web browser just like any other website.
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Converting an assignment to a Microsoft Sway document
When converting an assignment to a Microsoft Sway document, the first step is to examine the assignment and determine what content type best matches each item on the page, and if any modifications will need to be made such as recording audio or linking to audio description for videos. This can be done by color-coding, adding tags/comments, or circling items on a page.
I divide content into the following categories:
- Important text/questions on assignments
- Additional text
- Images, including graphs and charts
If a piece of content will need to be converted into another format, I add an additional tag or note with the type of format I need.
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Structuring assignments with headings
One of the foundations of an accessible assignment is proper heading structure, and Microsoft Office Sway makes this easy for users. Users can insert a heading by clicking the plus icon underneath a Sway card (section) and selecting the “Text” tab. Before inserting any additional headings, I recommend typing the assignment title in the “Title” box.
Here is how I recommend using each of the headings:
Different from the Title heading, I use Heading 1 to label assignment sections, such as formula sheets, word banks, short stories, and similar items. If the assignment does not have any of these sections, users can type question numbers as headings so that users can easily jump between sections. I don’t recommend typing out full questions as it can be difficult for screen reader users to jump between questions.
I typically type out question numbers in the Heading 2 format if I am working with a large amount of questions. In this context, I would use Heading 1 to label the Questions section, and then use Heading 2 to show the question number. For less detailed assignments/questions, it is acceptable to type out questions in the Heading 2 format.
For questions with multiple parts, I recommend typing the question number in the Heading 2 format, and then typing out each part of the question as Heading 3. For example, if problem 8 has three parts, I would type “Problem 8” as Heading 2, and then “8.1”, “8.2”, and “8.3” as Heading 3.
Underneath Heading 2 or Heading 3, I will add additional text that is otherwise not included in a heading. This can be in the form of questions, further instructions, or other information.
Adding audio recordings for questions
While screen readers can read information out loud, some users may prefer to use audio files to read information out loud. Instead of displaying text, users can instead choose to insert audio files into their Sway by following these instructions:
- Click on the plus icon at the bottom of a Sway card
- Select the “Media” tab
- Select the “Audio” option
From there, users can either record audio directly within the Sway by selecting the “Record” button on the card, or selecting the option to add an existing audio file. I typically record audio within Sway because it’s fairly quick to do and I can do it from a mobile device with no issues.
Creating hyperlinks to other websites
I love including other links within my Sway so that I can access information from outside sources such as tutorials or other helpful websites. Users can select the “Link” option within any of their cards, which will prompt them to type out a label for their link and paste the URL. Make sure to use meaningful link labels that can easily be deciphered- “link here” is not a meaningful label!
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Inserting images and writing alt text
Microsoft Office Sway makes it easy to insert images and add alt text/image descriptions that can be read out loud by screen readers. While some alt text can be automatically generated, I prefer to write out my own alt text as it takes less than a minute.
To insert an image into Sway:
- Click on the plus icon at the bottom of a Sway card
- Select the “Media” tab
- Select the “Image” option
- Select the source for an image from the drop-down menu- users can search the web, upload from OneDrive, or upload from their device
To add alt text to an image in Sway:
- On the image card, select the “Details” button
- Scroll to the section for Alt Text
- Type in a description of the image that could be understood by someone who isn’t able to see the image
- Tap outside of the card to close the menu
For items such as charts or graphs, make sure that all relevant information is included in the alt text, not just the chart type. This can include axis labels, data points, and how data is displayed.
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Finalizing details and sharing the Sway
Before sharing a Sway, I recommend going through the “Design” tab and changing the display to “Vertical” so that users will be able to scroll through information naturally, like a website. Visual settings such as background color, font type/size, and other settings can also be configured within this menu. I also recommend using the Accessibility Checker, which can be found under the “More Options” section and can alert users to important information such as missing alt text.
After finalizing the design of a Sway, users can click the “Share” button and copy/paste a link to their Sway that can be shared just like any other web link. It can be emailed, posted to a class website, or posted on social media. While Sway documents do not show up in search engine results, they are visible to anyone who has the link.
Completing assignments with Sway
While Sway itself does not give users the option to edit or add in their own text for a Sway they did not create, many users will read the information for an assignment in a Sway and then type out their answers in an outside program such as Microsoft Word. After finishing the assignment, users can upload or send their documents with the completed answers to their teacher.
I love finding new and creative ways to use my favorite software programs, and had a lot of fun developing this post on how to create accessible assignments with Microsoft Office Sway. I hope this post is helpful for teachers and professors looking to create accessible assignments that can incorporate multimedia content!