Accessible File Formats in School Environments
As university faculty and elementary and secondary school teachers become more comfortable using technology in their classrooms, they are increasingly providing materials to students in electronic formats such as Portable Document Format (PDF), Hypertext Markup Language (HTML-the formatting code used to create web pages), word processing formats such as Word or Word Perfect, presentation formats such as PowerPoint, spreadsheet formats such as Excel, and graphical formats such as BMP, TIFF, and JPG. The most commonly used formats in schools tend to be PDF, HTML, Word and PowerPoint. For example, a professor might create a website or use a courseware management system such as Blackboard or WebCT to post materials so that students can access them when they are off-campus. Some of these materials might be posted in HTML. The professor might also upload documents such as articles and course notes for students to read. These documents might be in PDF or Word format. Finally, the professor might post the presentation overheads used during lectures. These files would likely be in PowerPoint format.
All of these formats can be created in ways that make them accessible to individuals with disabilities who use assistive technologies such as screen readers or text-to-speech software. However, without careful forethought, these materials can also be created in ways that block access for users with print disabilities (for example, blindness or low vision, learning disabilities, or motor control issues that prevent an individual from holding a book). In such circumstances, information technologies that could provide significant benefit to individuals with disabilities instead become an impediment.