Dyslexia Awareness Month/Week/Day – Reading and Notetaking Strategies

Across the world Dyslexia awareness is being championed in various ways during October. There is a week in the UK and a month is USA. But when looking around at all the expertise available for students it seemed a good moment to link to ideas around notetaking as this is a subject that we feel is very important for college and university students.

Studies on learning have shown that actively engaging with a topic by listening and then summarising what has been said helps understanding and provides a way of remembering content in the future.

Dominik Lukes has been studying the wider aspects of note taking that include reading and writing in his collection of web pages explained in a recent JISC presentation about Oxford University Reading and writing innovation lab where you can also download the transcript. Below is the Slide Share version of the video slides which allows you to pause and study the various technologies that might help in the process of reading and note taking.

Dominik has also developed a series of web pages including a series of Academic Productivity: Tools and Strategies and a 2022 Dyslexia Awareness Week challenge that included really useful tips

  1. About dyslexia and its immediate impacts on fluent and accurate reading and writing
  2. Structured, undistorted text is dyslexia friendly for everyone
  3. Listening to text reduces the processing overload
  4. Dictating instead of writing can reduce the spelling overhead
  5. Some other things that make reading easier for everyone

But what happens if there is just too much information and it is all rather overwhelming and anxiety creeps in as John Hicks describes in his blog “What Can It Feel Like To Take Notes When Dyslexic?”. John also adds some useful strategies.

bulb, two pencils and a rubber on a piece of paper.

 However, on the whole notetaking applications do not automate the process of synthesising the key points. Machine learning and natural language processing has made it easier for automatic summarisation to occur in recent years and some provide key words, but there is still the need for human intervention!

What is considered a key word by an algorithm may not necessarily be what an individual wants to focus on! Also, what is missed may be rather important! Therefore, evaluating the different summarisation systems would seem to be vital in order for us to improve the systems. We are discovering that this is not easy!

Nevertheless, our aim is to try to make this an automatic process in a way that can show that automatic summarisations with key wording have the potential to be consistent, fluent and relevant. But for now more reading and note taking about the subject is needed!


Lukes, Dominik (2021) Towards a digital reading lab: discovering and learning new affordances. Journal of Academic Development and Education Special Edition (Becoming Well Read). ISSN 2051-3593

G. Salton et al., “Automatic Text Structuring and Sum-marization,” Information Processing & Management,Vol. 33, No. 2, 1997, pp. 193-20

Fabbri, A.R., Kryściński, W., McCann, B., Xiong, C., Socher, R. and Radev, D., 2021. Summeval: Re-evaluating summarization evaluationTransactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics9, pp.391-409.

W3C WCAG 2.2 is on its way with interesting additions!

globe with social media icons.

For those interested in web content accessibility the WCAG 2.2 guidelines will have some newly added Success Criteria (SGs) that will build on WCAG 2.1 when they are published in September 2022. The additions aim to tackle some of the latest barriers found in various web services. It is not easy with multifactor authentication changes, dynamic data driven pages and the different types of web and mobile apps.

Ensuring the maintenance of conformance levels and checking for potential accessibility issues has become harder. If you are someone who spends time evaluating web content and have become reliant on the automated checkers, it is worth being aware of their limitations! Watch out for the automated results that give you a 90 -100% score! Can they reach the parts of multi-factor authentication that we have to use? Are they including visual focus checks to track when keyboard access is hidden? Just two of the many issues that can catch us out.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.2 W3C Editor’s Draft (25 August 2022) – the full document

The following Success Criteria are new in WCAG 2.2:

Of all the new Success Criteria it is felt that Visual Focus is not always understood but its links with keyboard accessibility have alwys been important. WebAim talk about focus indicators and provide several tips on the subject before linking out to an  ARIA authoring practices document written by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) team that may help developers. WAI also offer advice about mobile accessibilitiy checks.

help keyboar button

Finally the Bureau of Internet Accessibility have provided a blog on 5 Quick Ways to Check Your Site Against New WCAG 2.2 Standards

TPGi also offer the ” new SCs in WCAG 2.2, describing their requirements in plain language, and discussing how to meet them.”

Exploring the embedding of accessible image descriptions into image metadata

Time to move into images as part of the accessible package we can offer students when working online! If you are a Graphic Designer or Photographer using tools to embed accessibility tags please check what I am saying makes sense!

Many in the world of digital accessibility know the work of W3C WCAG and image accessibility, and are used to adding alternative text and long descriptions for informing users about the contents of an image, diagram, photograph etc, in particular for screen reader users. These tags are added by those who upload the image to a web page, document and other publications. Matt Deeprose (University of Southampton) recently posted some videos on the subject “What is alternative text? How do I write it for images, charts, and graphs?” These videos are really helpful if you are a content provider.

But what about enabling the designer or photographer to add the ‘alt text’ and ‘long desc’ to their image as they save it? This may not suit all situations, but it has the potential to ensure accessibiity ‘metadata’ (data about the image in this case) is always in place when sharing takes place. The data can be adapted later if necessary and those uploading images can still add tags, if the original metadata cannot be read by certain screen readers or applications.

My journey into improving image accessibility all started when i wanted to add some metadata to pictographic symbols and I was exploring how to work with accessible Scalable Vector Graphics (.svgs) in CorelDRAW, because they are much more responsive to size changes and Deque had highlighted their accessibility advantages and most browsers now support the .svg file format

graphics designer working at a desk on drawings - image metadata wth URL, name size etc but no alt tag or description.
https://jimpl.com/ offering online image metadata information – No list item or property telling us that there was no alt text or description, just no location!

I needed to learn why I was failing to find a way of achieving the embedding of additional accessibility metadata and Chris OShea from PPA Training introduced me to a set of editable properties that are available and then shared the link to Adobe Bridge to enable their applications to carry the accessibility tags. The secret is to find a format that is part of a recognised standard for example the Extensible Metadata Platform (XMP) standard so this can also be machine read by various digitial asset management tools.

In 2021 The “International Press Telecommunications Council IPTC’s Photo Metadata Standard included the two essential properties: Alt Text (Accessibility) and Extended Description (Accessibility).” The IPTC blog announcing this news said that

“IPTC’s new accessibility properties will make it easier for platforms and software to comply with WCAG requirements and deliver images that are inclusive for everyone. Embedding accessible image descriptions into the photo metadata will make it possible for alt text and extended descriptions to travel wherever the image goes on the web or in books or other documents provided as EPUBs.”

IPTC October 27th 2021

However this is not going to happen overnight because Chris and I discovered when testing the procedures, that not all software companies allow the accessibility metadata to be added to their graphics packages in a way that can be read by a screen reader. Richard Orme, CEO Daisy Consortium, kindly got in touch about his paper on “Making use of IPTC alt text accessibility metadata” where I learnt that at the moment the use of the ExifTool by Phil Harvey is the stepping stone that we need!

AVPreserve Exiftool Tutorial Part 1 on YouTube (22 Nov 2013, 4.45 mins) https://youtu.be/CWcMrAfhlKI

Exiftool is not a new tool and has been used by those setting up photographic repositories for many years and neither is the discussion about using it for adding accessibility metadata as the NCAM Potential Use of Image Description Metadata for Accessibility paper (2011) illustrates. A 2021 Exiftool set of instructions by Chris Blackden describes how metadata can be seen by everyone and removed or added. There is a very helpful video, but as yet he does not describe the addition of alt text and long descriptions.

So for those wishing to try Exiftool with a set of command lines, Phil Henry has examples on his Exfitool pages and Richard Orme has offered examples for adding the accessibility metadata

ExifTool command line utility

Rename the executable to exiftool for command line use

To set metadata use:

exiftool filename -AltTextAccessibility=”Your alt text here.”

exiftool filename -extDescrAccessibility=”Your extended description text here.”

To read the metadata use:

exiftool filename -AltTextAccessibility

exiftool filename -extDescrAccessibility

Hopefully, soon all graphic design software packages will include the additional properties for accessibility metadata and digital asset management tools will support the IPTC standard, so that users of assistive technology such as screen readers and text to speech apps will be able to find the accessibility tags when available!

It all seems much more complicated than I first thought whilst Artificial Intelligence and machine learning have moved the goal posts into new realms of digital image recognition. However, just allowing an image to be saved with embedded accessibility information did not seem such a knotty problem when I started on the journey!

A tangle of wires on a telegraph pole

Multifactor Authentication types across 50 universities

When considering the different types of Multifactor Authentication (MFA) it is clear that many could be a challenge for students with a wide range of disabilities. However, when you add the use of assistive technologies and customisation or potential personalisation the barriers begin to come down. That is as long as the actual website or app hosting the required verification of a sign up or log in is accessible.

With these caveats in place it seemed that as long as students were provided with at least three or more choices it would be possible to navigate MFA. That thought led to a mini survey of around a third of the universities in UK to see what was on offer.

graph of MFA choices in 50 universities
Vertical axis has the MFA options and the horizontal axis is the number of universities offering that type of option

Several universities offer a password as their main login method and then additional security for certain more sensitive areas. 42 out of 50 universities offer apps, but only two apppear to provide 2 options for the type of app, such as Microsoft and Authy on a desktop, which can be very helpful for assistive technology users who do not have smart phones or find their desktop AT easier to use.  8 universities offer hardware tokens and 6 offer at least 5 options but 9 had no alternatives that could be easily found and 14 universities made searching for support difficult by not having easy to reach information pages.

Microsoft authentication app, a text message to a mobile phone or a call to either a landline or mobile, were the most common verification methods after a login email and password had been generated. 

So in summary…

  • many students have limited options if they do not want to or could not use the Microsoft Authentication app or do not have a smart phone.  
  • there are rarely more than two options if using an app is not possible and one includes the use of a landline, which may not always be possible in a college or university setting
  • it often took more than ‘three clicks’ or selection choices to reach any supporting materials and these rarely mentioned the use of assistive technologies.  However, there was usually a contact form or email address available.



We have created 6 computer science student personas who need to use different ways of accessing online materials and elearning systems to highlight some of the issues encountered. In some ways these personas aim to fit into the NNgroup definition in their article on Personas vs. Jobs-to-Be-Done. Page Laubheimer in 2017 said “Jobs-to-be-done focus on user problems and needs, while well-executed personas include the same information and also add behavioral and attitudinal details.”

multiple flavours in spoons

We hope our personas are ‘well executed’ and the features mentioned relating to accessibility and usability will help support individual preferences when using the web. However, there may be overlaps and there will be techniques and criteria that you may feel are missing. So it is important to think of the content as just being a flavour of what can be offered when creating inclusive content, design and development. Follow the links for more information about individual criteria. Content will also go out of date and need checking, so do contact us if you spot any issues.

Each Persona has a video relevant to particular issues that might be encountered when web services fail to be accessible and cause barriers. Matt Deeprose and the team from the University of Southampton have provided a wonderful explanation about several aspects of web development in a video ‘The impact that high quality mark-up can have on accessibility, performance, and discoverability‘. Matt’s Github example web page of how he has used the code he discusses, also has the video transcript and links to many other resources. A good way to start on the accessibility, usability and inclusion journey.

Persona – Umar enjoys video games and using his Xbox

Persona – Faith keen to explore the use of virtual reality and accessibility

Persona – Paul enjoys designing and finding technological solutions

Persona – Carlos as a bilingual computer science student

Persona – Amber, activist for inclusive education.

Persona – Eum, a would be computer scientist who needs magnification

Persona – Umar enjoys video games and using his Xbox


face of a man with dark hair, dark eyes and stubble.

Age: 31 years

Course: Computer Science 2nd Year

Hobbies: video games, travel, family and children


Umar used to spend all his time on is computer which has been adapted to suit his needs as he really enjoys interacting with friends online playing video games.  Now, his family takes up much his time outside university and they often travel between his home country and the UK.  

Umar has always worked in universities and was a lecturer before deciding to take up computer science as a second degree.  Formally linguistics was his main interest and he taught students English in his home town and often helped out with translations from Arabic.  He grew up in a household that encouraged him to compete at school in all activities despite his cerebral palsy that made him appear very uncoordinated, affected his mobility and dexterity. 

Umar has always spoken rather hesitantly, but relatively clearly, so lecturing was not a problem, although speech recognition never really worked for him.  He also tried eye gaze in order to access his computer, but found it very tiring because keeping his eyes fixed and still on an object was difficult.  So Umar largely depends on keyboard short cuts, predictive software, with built in macros using autohotkey, filter keys and a programmable position joystick.  Recently he was also able to afford an Xbox Adaptive Controller that made all the difference to the speed at which he could play games once it had been set up to suit his preferences with his mixed access technologies depending on the time of day and feelings of tiredness.  

Keyboard access still takes time, but as long as Umar has his specialist expanded keyboard and uses his own computer he can work successfully along with his fellow students.  However, where barriers do occur such as being locked out due to timeouts, with for instance online banking or secure applications, his patience can be sorely tested. 

Umar needs to take breaks but finds that additional ergonomic aids such as a good chair, two raised monitors linked to his laptop and the spring back keys on his keyboard, help to prevent some of the effects of fatigue.   In the past he used his phone with a Bluetooth connection to his keyboard, so that he could type messages, but he has found several companies now offer better links to apps, his joystick and other assistive technology devices such as Tecla.  He also finds adapting the phone notifications, so they appear automatically stops him worrying about missing events and larger fonts and app icons have also helped.  Bigger buttons mean there is more likelihood the touch screen can be used. Umar has also tried other accessibility options that are available on both the Android and iOS systems.  

Strategies to overcome Barriers to Access

Make dynamic content accessible 
Keyboard Access for navigation -  heading, links and buttons etc
Multifactor authentication
Keyboard remapping available in applications 
Media Player features need  keyboard access
Skip Navigation Links

Multifactor authentication.  Umar has set up a series of three-word passwords with a macro and uses a password manager for initial log-ins but if multifactor authentication is required he prefers to use finger recognition as long as he can keep his hand steady.  The problem is that biometrics are rarely used for website access so that is when Umar has to depend on his password manager and the Microsoft authenticator app to access secure sites such as his university login and for remote learning. (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.2 Success Criterion 3.3.7 Accessible Authentication)

Keyboard Access is essential for Umar as he really finds using his joystick with the pointer accuracy required for some tasks difficult.  Single tabbing and using link lists and headings with macros all help with navigation but depend of the accessibility of the website.  He sometimes prefers to use his Xbox adaptive controller when feeling tired, as it offers switch access that can also be mapped to various access actions. Microsoft offer a list of keyboard shortcuts in apps

Tetralogic YouTube Video 1.02mins Watch this it is short and to the point! Quick accessibility test: Keyboard support

Keyboard remapping available in any application helps Umar as much as it helped Faith.  The WebAim team provide a very useful table that covers the standard keystrokes, but Umar tends to use his autohotkey personalised keyboard mapping

Skip Navigation Links  can be really helpful when wishing to get to the main part of the screen rather than having to tab all the way around and for Umar it is important that he sees this feature as he does not use a screen reader (Webaim guidance).  WCAG Success Criterion 2.4.1 Bypass Blocks  “Because navigating by headings or regions is not supported in most browsers, WebAIM recommends a “skip” link (in addition to headings and regions) to best support sighted keyboard users.”

Make dynamic content accessible this applies to everyone, but for Umar it is essential that all types of dynamic content react to keyboard use not just a mouse hovering over an item or a modal window that appears without activation or error messages that prevent an escape route.  IBM offer some potential Coding interactions – Dynamic content.   “Success Criterion 3.2.1 On Focus (Level A): When any user interface component receives focus, it does not initiate a change of context.

Headings for easy access.  This is not just about using consistent Heading order but being clear about titles and their meaning to help Faith quickly scan down content especially if there are important instructions.   This can help her concentration as well as make it easier to navigate.

Media player access.  Once again this is about using the keyboard to control:

  • play and pause buttons
  • the volume
  • screen size and exiting from full-screen and position
  • closed caption settings
  • caption and audio description settings
  • advance, rewind and timestamp
  • chat, share, embed and downloads
  • any other available player features and settings

Mozilla offer a guide to accessible multimedia

Key points from Umar

“I find small links, such as individual letters in an alphabet list really annoying when having to access a glossary if a search is not provided – too small to touch accurately or use with my joystick and too long for constant keystrokes. Either add white space around them or offer an alternative!”

Tetralogic YouTibe Video 3.15 – Browsing with a Keyboard YouTube

AbleGamers have produced a really helpful guide for developers about making ‘Accessible Player Experiences (APX)‘ that can be applied for any app development.

Webaim Motor Disabilities – Key Concepts for accessibility

IBM Coding Interactions – Keyboard interactions