Barrier-Free Accessibility How-To
It’s not only physical barriers that make interactions between people with and without disabilities difficult. It is also necessary to address mental barriers, insecurity, and a lack of knowledge and experience.
Below, we’ve put together short checklists with tips and recommendations to eliminate barriers for people studying and working at WU and to make it easier for people with and without disabilities to work together.
Word, PowerPoint, etc.: Designing Barrier-Free DocumentsThis checklist includes some things you can do to create accessible, barrier-free documents. von barrierefreien Dokumenten
Use sans-serif fonts like Verdana
Choosing the right font is very important when designing barrier-free documents. As a general rule, you should not use fonts with a lot of serifs (small additional lines), like Times New Roman. In its print publications and on its website, WU uses the sans-serif font Verdana.
Color contrast is especially important for people with severe visual impairments. Strong contrast makes texts easier to read. It’s better to use black-white contrast instead of red-green or blue-orange contrast.
Use styles to structure your documents.
If you use styles in Word, you can designate items in your text as headings to make sure they are recognized as such by screen reader software.
Use line breaks and tab stops
Please avoid using spaces to indent paragraphs because screen reader software will read out every single space. You can use tab stops instead (tab key). Similarly, please don’t use the Enter key repeatedly to insert a page break. Use the Ctrl + Enter keyboard shortcut or click “Insert > Page Break” instead.
Add captions or alternative text to explain images
Blind people or people with severe visual impairments are unable to perceive images in a document. To give such readers an idea of what’s shown in visuals, it’s important to insert alt text to describe pictures or graphics. Alt text is a verbal description of an image. It can easily be added to visuals in Word. Just right-click the image, and select “Format Picture.” A menu will appear on the right side of the document. Click on the second symbol from the right, entitled “Layout & Properties.” Now you can add alt text to describe the image.
Screen reader software converts text to speech and will typically spell out hyperlinks one letter at a time, “W, W, W,” etc. To avoid that, you can simply embed the hyperlink and add it to a specific word in the body of the text.
Check your document for accessibility
Microsoft Word includes a feature that lets you check your documents for accessibility. To use that feature, click “File > Info > Check for Issues > Check Accessibility.” The results of the check will be displayed on the right-hand side of the screen.
Dos and Don’ts for EventsThis checklist is intended to assist you in planning, preparing, and holding barrier-free events.
Ensure physical accessibility of the venue
To make sure that your event is accessible to people with reduced mobility and wheelchair users, choose a venue where all rooms can be accessed without stairs. If there are steps, you may be able to use ramps to make the venue accessible. Please also make sure that the emergency exits and evacuation routes are barrier-free, too. Door openings should be at least 90 cm wide.
Reserve wheelchair spaces when planning the seating layout
Please keep in mind that wheelchair users need more space between the rows of seats, and that not all wheelchair users necessarily want to sit in the front row. Do not use the same seating layout in all rows. Include some wider-spaced rows with extra space for wheelchair users and additional seats for interpreters.
Ensure good lighting and acoustics
Good visibility is crucial for people with vision impairments, so please carefully check your venue’s window blinds and lighting systems. In addition to good lighting, good acoustics are also very important, especially for people with hearing impairments.
Provide tables with enough knee clearance and make sure that enough power outlets are available
Blind people or people with severe visual impairments often use their laptops to take notes, so please make sure that enough power outlets are available. To accommodate the needs of wheelchair users, tables and desks should be height-adjustable and have enough knee clearance for a wheelchair to fit under the work surface.
Use height-adjustable standing tables
Make sure that any standing-height tables used at the venue are adjustable. If there is a standing buffet, please make sure to provide tables with different heights, some chairs, and enough space for wheelchair users.
Label foods and drinks clearly
Use clearly legible food labels with high-contrast letters (black/white, font size at least 12 pt.). For many people, food allergen labels are very important. We recommend that you ask your caterer to provide allergen labels. In addition to regular glasses, make sure to also provide stemmed glasses and drinking straws for people with reduced mobility.
In your invitations, use strong contrast and sans-serif fonts
Please choose a sans-serif font like Verdana. Be sure to use strong contrast and a font size of at least 12 pt. When providing route maps and directions to the venue, try to include a verbal description in addition to the visual information. If you use any digital documents, please make sure that they meet barrier-free accessibility standards.
In the invitation or on the sign-up form, ask the participants if they need any specific assistance
On the sign-up form, you should ask the participants if they need a sign language interpreter or speech-to-text reporter, large-print documents, a seat close to a power outlet, or any other type of specific assistance. Make sure to set aside extra funding for assistance in your event budget.
Make sure that the venue is accessible and easy to reach
Prior to the event, check if the venue can be reached by public transportation and if the route from the public transportation stops to the venue is barrier-free. If this is not the case, you can for example offer individual transportation services. Indicate barrier-free access routes in the invitation and on signs at the venue.
Source: Deutsches Studentenwerk (2012). Informations- und Beratungsstelle Studium und Behinderung (IBS)
Accessible TeachingThis checklist is intended to help ensure barrier-free accessibility in the courses you teach.
In the first class of the course, tell your students that you are available for any questions or requests students with a disability or chronic illness may have (during your office hours, after class, by phone or email). Tell your students that they can turn to you if they need your assistance (e.g. sending them course materials).
Provide reading lists and written materials/lecture notes
For blind or visually impaired students, it can be very helpful to have a list detailing all the required materials a few weeks before the start of the seminar/course. Blind or visually impaired people need to scan books in advance to be able to read them on a computer using assistive software. Providing reading lists in due time before the course is also helpful for students with other types of disabilities or chronic illnesses.
All students can benefit from an instructor who speaks loudly and clearly. This is true especially for people with disabilities or chronic illnesses. Students with hearing impairments follow classes by reading the instructor’s lips, so it is very important for the instructor to articulate clearly.
Use teaching aids
The use of teaching aids makes it easier for students to process and retain the material you present to them. Especially students with disabilities and/or chronic illness can benefit greatly from teaching aids, if these are used in a way that is clear and easy to understand. If you write on a whiteboard or show a presentation, for instance, students with hearing impairments have a much easier time processing the material.
Tell your students about WU’s Disability Commissioner (Herbert Loicht)
The WU Disability Commissioner will support students in making alternative exam arrangements (more time, the opportunity to work in a separate exam room, assistance by a tutor, taking an oral instead of a written exam, larger exam papers, etc.). Please note that alternative exam arrangements are intended to compensate for the disadvantages students with disabilities are facing, and not to give them an unfair advantage.
Let students with disabilities participate actively in your classes
Make sure that students with and without disabilities participate equally in your classes (e.g. in discussions, preparatory work, presentations, and group work).
Ensure diversity-sensitive teaching
Make sure to create a discrimination-free classroom culture (no degrading or sexist images or statements, awareness of appropriate personal proximity and distance, mutual respect) and avoid any bias in performance assessment (don’t base assessments on stereotypical assumptions). Raise awareness of social and cultural diversity among your students (e.g. the diversity of personal backgrounds and individual abilities, life contexts, values, etc.).
Sources: Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz FHNW (2010): Gelebte Gender-Kompetenz. Check-listen für Hochschulen und Dozierende
Let’s talk: Attentive and Appreciative Communication Instead of IsolationBelow you can find a number of tips and recommendations to ensure an appreciative and respectful atmosphere in the interactions between people with and without disabilities.
Approach people and talk to them
A communicative culture marked by honesty and trust, where it is possible to address uncertainties and insecurities, helps to create a conflict-free atmosphere. As a person without disabilities, try to approach people with disabilities and talk to them. Dare to address your own insecurities, and make sure to talk with people, not about them. You should never address only the assistant accompanying a person with disabilities. As a person with disabilities, try to create an atmosphere of trust by showing openness toward the other person.
Offer support and wait for the other person to respond
Ask if your help is needed before you do anything. Being helpful is great, but keep in mind that people may not always need or want help from others.
Many disabilities are not immediately visible
Keep in mind that many types of disabilities are not outwardly visible. Behavior that may come across as unusual or impolite (e.g. no response) might be due to a disability that you can’t see.
Remain attentive when interacting with people and don’t pigeonhole them
When dealing with people with and without disabilities or new situations, try to remain open and attentive without judging or pigeonholing them, and don’t succumb to preconceived judgements or knee-jerk reactions. You can do that by making sure that you listen to the other person with focused attention. Don’t let stereotypes influence your perception of other people.
Appreciate diversity and see its potential
Create an inclusive work and/or academic environment by showing appreciation for people’s different individual attributes and allowing people to contribute their different abilities in the workplace. This will allow you to benefit from the diversity of people’s knowledge, skills, and experiences and tap the creative and innovative potential that diversity can offer.
Create a positive work environment
You can create a positive environment by providing appreciative feedback. Show your appreciation if you really mean it, and praise people for how they handled specific situations or for specific achievements. Positive feedback makes teams stronger and makes people feel safer and more secure in their work relationships with colleagues.
Call out discriminatory or unwanted behavior
If you experience or become aware of any discriminatory behavior, talk about it and explain why it is perceived as discriminatory or unwanted. When dealing with diversity, it is essential to address situations where people are put at a disadvantage or are discriminated against. Be aware, however, that ambiguities and ambivalence cannot always be resolved.
It’s Easy: How to Become a Registered BeneficiaryIn the following paragraphs, you can find information on how to apply for an official notification confirming your status as a registered beneficiary under the Disabled Persons Employment Act. Below, you can also find out more about the advantages this offers.
You have to meet several criteria to be eligible to apply for registered beneficiary status with the appropriate provincial office of the Sozialministeriumservice. You need to have a degree of disability of at least 50% and provide the following documents:
Certificate of citizenship, personal identity card, or passport
Proof of refugee status or residence permit including proof that the validity period has not expired yet
Medical documents (medical certificates that document your health status)
Official notifications on any care benefits you receive or pensioner status
Additional documents, e.g. academic degree certificates
How to apply
Complete the appropriate Sozialministeriumsservice (website in German) application form for registered beneficiary status (download the 2018 application form, in German).
Send your application and the required documents to the appropriate Sozialministeriumservice provincial office. An address list is included in the application form.
Once your application has been approved, an official notification (the Feststellungsbescheid) will be sent to your private mailing address or to your employer. Holders of such a notification have the status of a registered beneficiary under the Disabled Persons Employment Act and can benefit from all the advantages this entails.
If, at some point, you would like to return your notification and revoke your status as a registered beneficiary, e.g. due to planned career moves, please contact the appropriate Sozialministeriumservice provincial office to do so.
Please note: Holders of an identity card for disabled persons are not automatically classified as registered beneficiaries under the Disabled Persons Employment Act.
Advantages for employees with registered beneficiary status:
Increased protection against dismissal
Before a registered beneficiary can be dismissed, the employer has to obtain approval from the Disabilities Committee at the Sozialministeriumservice. This increased protection against dismissal becomes effective after six months if the employment contract was signed in the time up until and including December 31, 2010. Employment contracts signed on January 1, 2011 or later are subject to newer regulations, with the increased protection against dismissal becoming effective after a period of four years. Employment contracts signed on January 1, 2011 or later with people who do not have registered beneficiary status but become registered beneficiaries later on during their employment are subject to increased protection against dismissal that becomes effective after six months (§ 8 of the Disabled Persons Employment Act).
Financial aid and support
Registered beneficiaries can obtain financial support for covering expenses for assistive workplace equipment or workplace assistance (§ 6  of the Disabled Persons Employment Act).
Extended annual leave
Extended annual leave is granted if provided for in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, an operational agreement, or the applicable employment regulations. At WU, the following regulations apply with regard to extended annual leave for registered beneficiaries:
Employees under the Collective Bargaining Agreement for University Staff (§ 19 ): Depending on the degree of disability, annual leave is extended by 2–5 days
Civil servants (§ 72 of the Civil Servants Employment Act): Depending on the degree of disability, annual leave is extended by 16–40 hours (= 2–5 days)
Contractual employees (§ 27b of the Contractual Employees Act): Depending on the degree of disability, annual leave is extended by 16–40 hours (= 2–5 days)
Income tax exemption
People with a degree of disability of 25% or more can apply for an income tax exemption with the appropriate fiscal authority.
Advantages for employers
Financial support for people with disabilities, e.g. trainees with disabilities
A Barrier-Free WorkplaceTax discounts
Fulfilling the statutory quota for the employment of registered beneficiaries under the Disabled Persons Employment Act; please note that civil servants with registered beneficiary status cannot be counted towards the statutory quota because they are employees of the federal government, not of WU.