I’ve spent lots of time talking about how to create accessible content with the free Microsoft Office Sway tool, but one topic I haven’t spoken about much is how I design Sway documents for low vision audiences. I tend to use the same design elements with all of my Sway documents because I find this style easy to read, and a majority of users with low vision agree with me as well. Here is how I optimize Microsoft Office Sway designs for low vision, and the items I configure in the Design tab.
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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How to configure Design elements
Once a user has created a Sway document, they can customize the design of their Sway by doing the following:
- Select the Design tab at the top of the screen, which is located to the right of the Storyline tab
- Once the Design tab is selected, select the Styles icon, which is on the right side of the screen
- Use the Styles section for customizing scrolling and document styles, or select the Customize option to change colors, fonts, and other settings
- To try a random design, select the Remix button
For users that prefer to browse a Sway document without any additional visuals, they can select the Accessibility View in the Options menu and browse a text-based version of the Sway that is optimized for screen reader users.
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I prefer to use vertical scrolling when working with Sway documents because I am used to scrolling up and down when browsing a document or website, and I find it easier to magnify text without swiping to another section. To me, the horizontal scrolling is a bit hard to read as well, since the columns of text can seem close together due to my double vision, and the slides scrolling option reminds me of PowerPoint. Vertical scrolling is much easier to use and focus on in my opinion.
Content Style 4
Content Style 4 features a solid colored background and black or white text, and many of the styles also feature solid-colored bars that are around the headers. This is easier to focus on than the themes that have background graphics or patterns, and are easier to navigate visually since the headings are more clearly marked than they are in other themes. It’s worth noting that some of the theme variations have subtle background graphics, though users can always customize the color scheme of the other variations if they like the color of one of the other themes.
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I don’t have any specific preference for using color palettes or color themes in Sway, as I love color and change the color used depending on the document I’m working on. With Style 4, the default display for headings is white text on a colored background, so I make sure that whatever color I choose is saturated and pops against the white background for the rest of the document.
For custom colors- Color Scheme 5
Sometimes, I like to use a custom color when working with Sway documents, such as the shade of purple I use for my website or my college’s specific branding colors. After adding the RGB values in the Color Inspiration section, I select Color Scheme 5 from the list of possible color schemes, as I have found that this is the easiest to read and features black body text with a white background.
Arial Nova font for headings and body
My favorite font for reading large amounts of text is Arial, and it’s well known as being a print disability-friendly font for users that can’t read standard text. Within the Font Choices section in the Customize menu, I use Arial Nova font for both headings and body so that my documents can easily be read. Some users with low vision prefer to use a serif font such as Benton or Rockwell Nova, though I personally prefer sans serif fonts.
Subtle animation emphasis
Within the Customize menu, I enable subtle animation emphasis because I can get vertigo/disoriented from several different animation effects, and the animation can also hurt my eyes. While I do not have issues with animations in Sway specifically, I prefer to disable animations whenever I am using any type of technology or app to make sure I don’t accidentally hurt my eyes. With the subtle animation emphasis, the bars for the headings appear with a simple animation effect on the screen as I scroll up/down in the document. Animation emphasis can be configured at the bottom of the Customize menu with a slider.
Large text size
I have trouble reading small font, so naturally, all of my Sway documents feature the largest text side, which can be configured at the bottom of the Customize menu. There are five different options for text size including small, small-medium, medium, medium-large, and large, though I like the way the large text looks the best and have never found it to be too large for my document.
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I’m glad that Microsoft Office Sway allows users to customize their documents to suit their access needs, and that there are so many options for creating Sways for users with low vision. While every user with low vision is different, I have found that these options work great for most people and are easy for me to access as well. I hope that this post on how I optimize how I optimize Microsoft Office Sway designs for low vision is helpful for others!