Accessibility Lab: Sensory

Welcome to the Sensory Space to experience how we make Brightspace more easily perceivable by everyone. Here we introduce you to what digital perception constraints people with sensory challenges such as vision or hearing loss might face, and how Brightspace is designed to work with assistive technologies they use to meet their needs. We have also crafted some hands-on exercises for you if you want to learn by doing today.

Digital Perception Constraints

We perceive digital information primarily through our senses of vision and hearing. Loss of vision or hearing could happen suddenly or progressively, impacting our ability to interact with digital information systems. Assistive tools are required for access with vision loss while modification of content is required for access with hearing loss.

People with moderate vision loss experience loss of visual acquity. They require assistive tools to augment their vision through magnification and/or adjustment of the contrast between text and background colors. Vision impairment simulators such as NoCoffee on Chrome help us experience a range of vision-related challenges like color blindness, tunnel vision, cataract, and such. Don’t miss experiencing NoCoffee when you try out the hands-on exercises at the end of the page.

People with profound or total vision loss cannot see the content and controls on the screen. They are usually unable to use the mouse as they cannot see the mouse pointer on the screen but they learn to touch-type on the keyboard. They require an alternative modality of perception such as hearing (screen reader) or touch (refreshable Braille display).

People who are deaf or hard of hearing require audio content to be augmented with text captions.

Assistive Technologies

Low vision

Users with low vision might use high-contrast keyboards such as the Keys-U-See® Keyboard. The large print keys with bolder, high-contrast typeface are easier to see, even in low light. Experience this keyboard set up with the laptop at the Sensory Space.

Keys-U-See High-contrast USB keyboard

Keys-U-See® Keyboard

Users with low vision might also magnify the display or improve color contrast through browser tools or operating system tools. Some tools are introduceded in the hands-on exercises at the end of the page.

ZoomText® is a popular piece of commercial software that helps low vision users interact easily with digital systems. Brightspace is designed to work well with ZoomText. The video below shows Yvone, an accessibility tester with low vision from Fable Tech Labs demonstrating how she uses ZoomText® to submit an assignment on Brightspace using her Android phone.

Video duration: 7 minutes 6 seconds

D2L uses the services of Fable Tech Labs for testing products and features with users with different disabilities.


Users with significant vision loss use a software tool called screen reader that reads out the text from the screen along with text labels for non-text items.  Many of them also use a refreshable Braille display to experience the content from the screen reader in Braille via touch. JAWS is the most popular commercial screen reader on Windows. NVDA is a free screen reader on Windows. VoiceOver is a screen reader that is built into Mac computers, iPads and iPhones. Learn how to use your iPhone with the display turned off using Voiceover through a hands-on exercise.

In the video that follows, Carin, a member of D2L’s accessibility team and a screen reader ninja, demonstrates how she uses Brightspace with the JAWS screen reader.

Video duration: 3 minutes 26 seconds

For those of you who are curious to learn screen reader interaction in greater detail, here is a longer demo of the same task where Kathy, a member of the Accessibility Interest Group, has explained the steps using the NVDA screen reader.

Video duration: 11 minutes 57 seconds

Carin Headrick from D2L’s accessibility team will be happy to show you how her Refreshable Braille Display works and answer your questions about screen readers.

Hands-on Exercises

The laptop in the Sensory space is equipped with NoCoffee Vision Impairment Simulator, several interesting bookmarklets, as well as some browser extension tools used by low vision users. A high-contrast keyboard and two iPads with VoiceOver are also available. You can try out some hand-on exercises using instructions in this document: Accessibility Lab – Hands-on Exercises – Sensory.