Learn a wide range of accesibility tools and functions available in VU Collaborate

Screen Reader Functions

VU Collaborate is a learning management system that enables you to access course material online. There are a number of learning tools within the system that contain course content. This topic discusses how the system is formatted, and how different functionality, settings, and preferences benefit individuals that navigate the system using a screen reader (or other assistive technologies that interpret the contents of a page).

This topic does not document how to use specific assistive technologies. Please refer to help material for the software or device you are using if you want to learn about its specific functionality, shortcuts, and commands.

This guide covers the following topics, use these links for easier navigation:



The Login page for VU Collaborate has three form elements: Username, Password, and Login. The Username field has focus when you enter the page. The Password field and Login button are the next tab options.

login menu with student ID field

password field

login button

There are two additional options displayed as links:

1. The Forgot Password link opens a new window where you can request a password reset link be sent to the email address associated with your username.

2. The FAQ link, which leads you to page explaining how to log into MyVU, including contact information in the case you need to reset your password but haven't nominated password retrieval options.

problems logging in


 Log Out

The Logout link is available in your personal menu on the minibar at the top of all pages. The personal menu opens when you click on your name on the minibar. You can access your personal menu using an assistive technology links list, or by tabbing through the minibar links at the top of the page.

account settings logout button

System time-outs

The system may log you out if you are inactive for an extended period of time. (180 minutes) A JavaScript warning will provide an option to remain logged in before your time expires by performing an action once.


 Site Organisation

VU Collaborate is typically organised into two levels of information; organisation related information and course related information. Organisation related information typically appears on the VU Collaborate Home page, while course related information typically appears on Unit Space Home pages and different course tools.



VU Collaborate Home

The Home page is generally the first page you access when you log into VU Collaborate. It is a central area for checking institution-wide news and events, and accessing organisation-level tools.

Like all pages in VU Collaborate, VU Collaborate Home has a navigation area across the top of the page. This navigation area includes the minibar and navbar. The minibar contains links and menus specific to you, such as links to your courses and alerts about events related to you. The navbar typically contains links to different tools. The navbar on the VU Collaborate Home page contains a singular menu, Help which has links to the VU Collaborate Help Site, the VU Library website, Learning Support, and other miscellaneous help for students.

Other VU Collaborate Home content is organised in widgets. Typical widgets include: News, My Spaces, Office 365, My ePortfolio and Calendar. You can navigate and search for widgets by the biggest headings on the page, and navigate sections within a widget by the smallest headings.

To access a Unit Space Home page, you must select it from the waffle (identified in the red square in the above picture) in the top centre of the minibar or the My Spaces widget.

Space Home is the first page you visit when you enter a course. It is a central area for accessing course specific information. Like VU Collaborate Home, Space Home pages have a navigation area across the top of the page and a number of widgets that contain information and links. Information and links on Space Home are specific to that course (unless they are for course-independent tools). For example, the navigation area for a Space Home might contain links to Grades, Discussions and Quizzes for that specific course. Use your screen reader to navigate the page by biggest to smallest headings.

VU Collaborate Space Home with communication dropdown menu open

vu collaborate space home with assessment dropdown menu open

Back to top


General Page Layout

Navigation area and Skip to main content links

At the top of each page is a navigation area that includes the minibar and the navbar. Screen readers provide the option to skip the navigation area on any page by selecting the Skip to main content link.

The minibar appears at the top of every page. It contains links to VU Collaborate Home, a course selector (the waffle) that enables you to switch between courses, alerts about events and updates specific to you and your courses; and a personal menu for setting your preferences and logging out.

VU Collaborate topbar with minibar identified

You can jump to the navbar by selecting the heading "Navigation".


Headings and ARIA landmarks

Headings and ARIA landmarks are used throughout the system to help you navigate pages. Heading 1s and Main landmarks are used for page titles. Heading 2s are used for widgets and major page sections. Heading 3s are used to organise information within widgets and major sections. Navigation, Search and complementary ARIA landmarks are used to provide context.

Note: If you do not set the accessibility preference "Show secondary windows as pop-ups," under Account Settings your screen reader's heading and landmark lists will read two heading 1s and two Main ARIA landmarks when you open dialog boxes.


Tool Navigation and Action Buttons

Tool navigation and action buttons are used to navigate areas and perform tasks within a specific tool. Typically, the tool navigation links are used for complicated tools that need to be divided into different types of tasks.


Context Menus

While tool navigation and action buttons are used to navigate between tool areas and perform tasks, context menus are used to select an action for a specific item on a list page. Every context menu has unique link text that references the item it applies to. For example, a file in your Locker will have a context menu beside it named "Actions for [file name]" which opens a menu with item specific actions.



Tables (grids) are often used to organise content within a tool.

All tables use proper table summaries and headings. However, the easiest way to navigate items in a table is by a check box, since most table items have a Select [item] check box before their name.

Most items also have a context menu after their name. These menus contain item specific actions. Each context menu has unique link text so you can use a links list to locate the context menu for the item you want to perform actions on.

You can also select multiple items from a table using the Select [item] check boxes and then selecting an action that can apply to multiple items. Actions that can apply to multiple items appear at the top and bottom of a table and use the alt text format [action] Selected Items. For example, you could use a links list to "Select Topic 1" and "Select Topic 2" and then "Edit Selected Items".

Complex tables often have drop-down lists for filtering information in the table. For example, some tables have a View drop-down list that allows you to change how information is sorted. Most drop-downs have an accompanying Apply or Go button that initiates the action.

A few drop-downs, such as per page drop-downs, update on selection so you must use Alt + Down Arrow (Windows/Linux) or Option + Down Arrow (Mac) to open the drop-down and then use the Up Arrow or Down Arrow and Enter key to select an option.

If there are more items in a table than will display on a single page, use the Page drop-down list,  Next Page icon, or  Previous Page icon to navigate to other pages.



Pages that use form fields for entering data or changing settings have a logical tab order. If a page is divided into multiple tabs, your screen reader may read the tabs as tab stops or as links. You normally cannot open a secondary tab until you have filled in all the mandatory fields on the first tab. Mandatory fields are indicated with an asterisk (*). The last options on a form are usually Cancel and Save. Sometimes the Save button is called something else related to completing the action, such as Select or Upload.

Many forms allow you to create content using the HTML Editor (WYSIWYG). The HTML Editor is fully accessible by keyboard, but lacks non-visual feedback when options or formatting are selected in the editor view. You can make changes in the source view so you can read your changes in the code as you work, or turn off the HTML Editor in your Account Settings. If you turn off the HTML Editor it is replaced by text fields that accept HTML.

Some form pages contain links to additional actions, which may not be recognized as form elements by your screen reader. For example, there is a link to create a New Folder on the Add Contact form in Email. Always check for links when filling out a form in VU Collaborate and other VU Collaborate products.

Most form pages provide either a confirmation or error message when you submit the form using an ARIA alert. The message appears at the top of the page and should take focus. If there were errors in your submission the message explains each error and provides links to the appropriate fields so you can resolve the issues.


Treeviews and Frames

We have tried to keep page layouts as simple as possible. However, some tools, such as Manage Files and Email, use treeviews and frames to layout complicated lists of items and options. Most of these pages have options to Hide Tree (Manage Files) or Show (or hide) the folder list pane (Email). Check the tool's settings and tool bars for ways to simplify the page layout.


Help Text

Many forms contain inline help; help icon Help icons and links to additional help material appear either immediately after the page heading or section heading, or after individual fields. It is a good idea to read the entire contents of a form before filling it out, and to look for help text or a help link immediately after a field if you have difficulty understanding its purpose.



Some pages contain sections that are collapsed by default. Collapsed sections contain advanced or supplemental information that is not required to complete standard tasks. To expand a collapsed section using a keyboard or screen reader, select the appropiate expand icon Expand or Show link.


Load More

When a list contains more items than the page currently displays, a Load More link appears at the bottom of the list as the final list item. Clicking this link appends more items to the list.



Some links open secondary pop-up windows for completing page-specific tasks. These links should indicate that they open in a new window through a title attribute. Use the Down Arrow and Tab keys to read the contents of the pop-up. The last options should be buttons to cancel or complete the task. Occasionally, these buttons are in a separate frame.

Important: Some secondary pages use modal dialogs instead of separate windows to display information. If you primarily navigate the web using a screen reader we recommend that you select Show secondary windows as pop-ups in the Account Settings tool.



Most pages that contain lists of items or users have a Search For field near the top of the page. To perform a search, enter a word or partial word in the Search For field and select the Search button or press the Enter key.

Use the Show Search Options link to select advanced search options.

Use the Clear Search link to clear the Search For field.


WAI-ARIA Support

VU Collaborate uses WAI-ARIA markup in a number or areas to help support navigation by keyboard and assistive technologies. For example, WAI-ARIA markup is used for tabs, context menus, error and confirmation messages, and for page navigation landmarks.

Back to top


Personal Settings

The minibar includes a personal menu with links to tools that store your personal information and settings. To open the personal menu, select the link that is your name. The following links are available:

  • Profile:  Edit your shared personal information.
  • Notifications:  Set how you receive notifications about activity in your courses.
  • Account Settings:  Change display settings for VU Collaborate. 

For more in-depth information on customising VU Collaborate to suit your accessibility needs, please refer to the following article here.

Back to top


Screen Reader Accessibility Features

The VU Collaborate Learning Suite includes a number of features aimed at improving the usability of the system for assistive technology users. The following list outlines some of the design decisions that benefit screen reader users:

  • Standard page designs. Similar functionality is located in the same place and accessed in the same way across tools.
  • Simple heading structure. Heading 1s are used for page titles. Heading 2s are used for widgets and major page sections. Heading 3s are used to organise information within widgets and for subsections.
  • Unique, contextual link and button names.
  • Title attributes on links that open in a new window. We recommend that you adjust your assistive technologies settings to read the title attribute when different from link text if you want to be warned when a link opens in a new window.
  • Descriptive alternative text on all system images and graphics. VU Collaborate also prompts course designers to include alternative text when uploading images.
  • Table row and column markup and table summaries.
  • Toggle icons (such as show/hide) indicate the state of the control.
  • Skip navigation links and ARIA landmarks so you can skip sections of a page.
  • Account Settings for simplifying the layout of many tools. Additional settings specifically related to accessibility, including the ability to change system fonts and font size, change modal dialogs to windows, and turn off the HTML Editor (WYSIWYG).
  • Full keyboard accessibility. The tab order is logical and tab focus visually indicated. Drag-and-drop and other dynamic features have keyboard alternatives.
  • WAI-ARIA markup is used for tabs, context menus, and error and confirmation messages to help improve navigation.
  • Support for browser and assistive technology scaling and contrast options. System content uses styles that can be overwritten by cascading style sheets (CSS), although the complexity of the system requires detailed style sheets.

Back to top


Getting Additional Support

If you are having difficulty using VU Collaborate to complete your course work, consider seeking help from your instructor, the help documentation for the assistive techologies that you use or an Accessibility Liaison Officer at VU. VU campuses have support staff to assist students with disabilities on campus.  

  • Assistive Technology: There is a wealth of assistive technology products available to help people use computers and the internet. A few examples include: special keyboards and mice, speech recognition software, screen magnifiers, screen readers, and Braille displays. Investing the time to find the hardware and software that is right for you, and then learning how to use it effectively, is worthwhile. Take advantage of help documentation and tutorials to learn commands, shortcuts, frequent tasks, and special tips.

For more information, there is an extensive disability and accessibility support page on the VU website - here

Back to top

See also