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To Highlight or Not to Highlight: Ways to Emphasize Content on a page
Highlighting text (bold, underline, colors, etc.) can be an effective way to draw a sighted reader’s attention to important points, but screen readers, used by blind or low vision users, do not generally convey this to the reader.
Some screen readers do speak aloud the visual styles of text (bold, underline, colors, etc.), but not all screen readers have this capability–and this feature is not enabled by default. In fact, this option is rarely used because it usually adds too much irrelevant information. All the extra words can add confusion to meaningful styles and styles used purely for visual decoration with no meaning attached to them.
In this article, we will look at two strategies to draw attention to text for students who are blind.
Highlighting with Key Words
If you want to emphasize a point or idea within a paragraph, add in a key word like “Attention,” “Warning,” or “Important” to note special attention should be given. Below are two examples.
Example 1: Original paper prompt
Below are two guiding questions for the end of the semester paper. If you would like to propose your own guiding question on a topic from our readings to use instead, please submit it by November 1.
Example 1: Paper prompt revised for students who are blind
Below are two guiding question for the end of the semester paper. IMPORTANT: If you would like to propose your own guiding question on a topic from our readings to use instead, please submit by it November 1.
Example 2: Original assignment prompt
This week we will meet in the laboratory to do an experiment. If you do not bring safety glasses to class, you will not be able to take part in the lab experiment and lose your daily participation points.
Example 2: Original assignment revised for students who are blind
This week we will meet in laboratory to do an experiment. WARNING: If you do not bring safety glasses to class, you will not be able to take part in the lab experiment and lose your daily participation points.
Emphasizing text for scanning
Sometimes text is highlighted to emphasize key dates or ideas. In this case, a secondary way to emphasis the text is helpful. Below is an example.
- Week 1: What is accessibility?
- Week 2: Why is it important?
- Week 3: Overview of disability types, Project 1 Due
- Week 4: Physical disabilities
- Week 5: Sensory disabilities
- Week 6: Cognitive disabilities, Project 2 Due
- Week 7: Creating accessible digital materials
- Week 8: Project Presentations, Final Project Due
To make this accessible to a student who is blind add this secondary way to communicate project due dates:
Project Due Dates
- Project One: Week 3
- Project Two: Week 4
- Final Project: Week 8
Highlighting Can Be Beneficial for Sighted Users
Despite the weakness of highlighting for blind users, highlighting can be effective for visual users, because it draws their attention to important parts of the document. This can actually be an accessibility benefit for sighted users, especially users with reading disorders or cognitive disabilities.
Use highlighting where appropriate. Just be sure to supplement it with text that conveys the same meaning, for the benefit of blind users.
Written for the Accessibility Network by CET&L's Assistant Director.