universal design

Making reading assignments clear to students who use electronic formats

When reading assignments are assigned in the form “Read pages 75-100 in the Book of Subject Relevance”, it creates a problem for students who use electronic formats such as Kindle or Bookshare. Those formats often do not include page numbers, and it can be difficult-to-impossible to know what to read just by seeing page numbers.


There’s a simple solution that allows students to do the assignment:

  • If you’re assigning a whole chapter, tell students which chapter you mean.
  • eg: “Read Chapter 3 in the Book of Subject Relevance (pages 75-100).
  • If you’re not assigning whole chapters, include the first and last sentence in the assignment.
  • This allows students to use the search function to find the place you’re talking about.
  • eg: “Read pages 75-100 in the Book of Subject Relevance. (From “I have a slightly plausible theory.” through “In conclusion, I have shown that I am definitely right.”)

It’s good to also include the page numbers, because that’s better for students who use the print edition, and it gives all students a sense of how much reading there is.


tl;dr Giving reading assignments in page numbers causes a problem for students who aren’t reading the print edition. There’s a simple solution to this. Scroll up for details.

Getting real about physical accessibility

Something I’ve noticed:

There are a lot of ramps, seating areas, lifts, and other such things that aren’t available to wheelchair users because they are constantly full of people pushing children in strollers.

Sometimes, this is because people are astonishingly inconsiderate, but often it’s the result of terrible design.

People assume that accessibility features are only useful for chair users. Then they design them to only have enough capacity for the (small) number of chair users they expect to be there. Then, everyone with a stroller uses them, and the building remains almost as inaccessible to wheelchair users as it was before.

When you are creating an accessibility feature, do not fall into this trap! Design it to have the capacity for all of the things it will be used for.

Some concrete examples:

  • If your building has multiple high-traffic entrances, it needs to have multiple ramps
  • Elevators need to have enough capacity to accommodate the number of kids in strollers, chair users, and people with luggage who will come through on a regular basis.
  • Family restrooms should be accessible. So should some of the stalls in the regular men’s/women’s/unisex bathrooms.

Just, generally speaking, keep in mind that in order to make an access feature usable, there has to either be enough to go around, or enforcement preventing unauthorized use. Unless you want to chase mothers and infants away from your ramp, make it big enough to accommodate traffic from both wheelchair users and strollers.