View of the 2012 AT Expo Exhibition space
Exhibitors at the 2012 SC AT Expo

2012 SC AT Expo Makes an Impact

With the theme "Making an Impact," the 2012 SC Assistive Technology (AT) Expo, held March 13 at the Brookland Banquet and Conference Center in Columbia, proved to again be a great resource for learning more about best practices in the selection and application of assistive technology. With 12 concurrent sessions and more than 50 exhibitors, the areas of focus ranged from assistance with daily living to educational concerns.

As an attendee at this year's event, my particular interest was in learning more about how to make the types of information products we routinely develop (i.e. PowerPoints, pdf files, and videos) more accessible. I've highlighted content below from the sessions I attended and included correlations to how what was presented connects to and supports the practices of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a set of principles for instructional design and delivery that we want to always keep at the forefront as we develop online and instructional content.


What is UDL?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for curriculum development and instruction that aims to offer equal opportunities for success to all learners, with our without specific physical or cognitive limitations. UDL relies heavily on the flexibility offered by the growing number of digital technologies and a hallmark of UDL is the availability of choices in information is taken in and acted upon as well as options aimed at increasing learner motivation and interest. Within UDL, these are referred to as multiple means of representation, action or expression, and engagement. UDL recognizes that three brain networks are involved in learning: recognition, strategic, and affective networks. The recognition network is specialized in its ability to address information or the "what" of learning. The strategic neurological system addresses strategy or the "how" of a learning task. The affective network addresses the "why" of learning, which includes learner motivation.

What is Assistive Technology?

Assistive Technology (AT) has a formal definition in federal legislation. A brief version of the definition is that assistive technology is any object, piece of equipment, or product system, used to increase or maintain the functional abilities of individuals with disabilities. In practice, this includes everything from pen grips to the most sophisticated, switch-based, computer controls.


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Expo Sessions About Creating Accessible Materials

Mark Gamble presenting at the 2012 SC AT Expo

Video Captioning for Accessibility and Usability

Presented by Mark Gamble, Media Specialist for the SC Vocational and Rehabilitation Department, this session focused on the differences between subtitles and captions and considerations in adding them to video content. As Mark explained, there are various options for accomplishing this, but each presents its own challenges. He described how subtitles and captions differ, but how both can be used to convey information about the auditory content of a video to individuals who cannot hear. His presentation highlighted the various technical requirement differences of captioning for television vs. the web and noted issues that you may encounter in selecting a font to use. His list of ones not to use included Helvetica, Arial, any narrow or condensed font, as well as any decorative or overly fancy font. The font guidelines for captioning that he suggested to follow were:

  • Use the fonts Rockwell, Verdana, or a similar slab serif, proportionally spaced font;
  • Make the text 24-38 points, depending on font; and
  • Aim for wide spacing between words.
How does this relate to UDL?

Captioning auditory content reflects UDL Principle I, "Provide Multiple Means of Representation." If you are following the checklist in developing instructional material, you would see this specifically addressed as "Checkpoint 1.2 – Offer alternatives for auditory information." The CAST site ( explains further why this is important:

"Sound is a particularly effective way to convey the impact of information, which is why sound design is so important in movies and why the human voice is particularly effective for conveying emotion and significance. However, information conveyed solely through sound is not equally accessible to all learners and is especially inaccessible for learners with hearing disabilities, for learners who need more time to process information, or for learners who have memory difficulties. In addition, listening itself is a complex strategic skill that must be learned. To ensure that all learners have access to learning, options should be available for any information, including emphasis, presented aurally."

Editor's Note: Since having attended the Expo, I have tried the closed captioning process for the first time for a screencast hosted on YouTube. There are a number of ways to accomplish that, but the one I chose was to use Screencastomatic (the Pro Version, but there is also a free one.) The application sends a caption file along with the screencast as it is uploaded, but I found that I had to clean-up the caption file quite a bit after it was rendered on the YouTube site. If you try it, an important thing to remember that isn't readily clear is that you will need to give YouTube a while (I think for me it was less than an hour) to render the associated caption file. This article outlines some of the recently developed options for generating captions ( You can see my completed screencast about using Google apps and UDL here:


Steve Cook presenting at the 2012 SC AT Expo

Creating Accessible Word, PowerPoint,
and PDF Documents

Presented by Steve Cook of the SC Commission for the Blind and Matt Polkowsky of the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control, this session was described as presenting "important basic principles that everyone should know about making these documents accessible and usable to people who use screen readers, and/or have cognitive and mobility challenges." Their best practice recommendations were centered on the importance of using templates and the built-in structural elements provided within programs such as Word and PowerPoint. By building content using these elements, screen reader utilities are able to more efficiently navigate the completed files. They also addressed the correct use of tables, how to add alt-text to images in PowerPoints, and how to make use of the Notes pane as an alternate location for descriptive information about graphical non-text elements on a slide. Their session concluded with information about what constitutes a "tagged" pdf and steps you can take during the file creation process to ensure that your pdf is "tagged" and as as accessible as possible.

This presentation provided a lot of great information and you can get the PowerPoint from the session here or at the SC ATP Web site (

How does this relate to UDL?

As with the previous workshop content, making digital files such as Word documents and PowerPoint presentations maximally accessible to individuals using screen reader technology reflects UDL Principle I, "Provide Multiple Means of Representation." If you are following the UDL checklist in developing instructional material, you will see this specifically addressed as "Checkpoint 1.3 – Offer alternatives for visual information." The CAST site ( details why this is important:

"Images, Graphics, Animations, Video, or Text... are often the optimal way to present information, especially when the information is about the relationships between objects, actions, numbers, or events. But such visual representations are not equally accessible to all learners, especially learners with visual disabilities or those who are not familiar with the type of graphic being used...To ensure that all learners have equal access to information, it is essential to provide non-visual alternatives."


Related Resources

Assistive Technology Definition on the Virginia Department of Education's Web site ( This pdf contains more elaborated versions of the definition of the term as it appears in federal legislation.

CaptionTube ( CaptionTube is a free, Google-based resource for creating and uploading video transcripts and closed captions in multiple languages to YouTube.

HOW TO: Add Captions To Your YouTube Videos ( A good overview by Samuel Axon of some of the most recently developed options for adding YouTube caption.

YouTube - Captions and Subtitles ( YouTube provides a how-to intro on the options available for adding caption tracks to your YouTube videos.

Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) ( CAST is the premiere source for information about UDL including learning tools, online modules, and utilities.

SC Assistive Technology Program ( The SCATP is part of the USC School of Medicine and provides a wide range of Assistive Technology related services to consumers and professionals statewide, including producing the AT Expo each spring.

WebAim ( WebAim is a valuable resource for practical tips on making online content accessible and covers Web pages, PowerPoint, Word docs, pdf and more.