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Key Concepts

Using Personas

Designers use personas to represent the different types of people who may be accessing a website or product. In this toolkit, we have used personas to help you keep in mind the various types students and their various abilities while you’re developing content. We’ve also used these personas to introduce you to different types of hardware and software that students typically use.

We’ve adapted the personas from Sarah Horton and Whitney Queensbury’s book A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experience to be more specific to post-secondary students with print disabilities in British Columbia (based on data from CAPER-BC and the students who attended our focus group).

These are some of the students who will be reading the open textbooks that you write.


Mark has a learning disability. He absorbs information best by hearing it.

Mark is 17 years old. He is a future heavy-duty mechanic with a learning disability that was diagnosed in Grade 8. Mark absorbs information best by hearing it and enjoys making and fixing stuff with his hands. He’s in his first semester of college taking trades courses and loving it. Mark can’t wait to complete the foundation courses and move into his first apprenticeship placement. He lives at home with his family who shares one computer.

Ability: Difficulty absorbing a lot of information when reading it

Aptitude: Basic technology user

Attitude: Prefers to do things himself, but can get easily frustrated or impatient, especially with technology

Assistive technology: mp3 player

Format preference: mp3 so that he can and listen on the go

Listen to an mp3 recording of a synthetic voice [New Tab].


Jacob is blind

Jacob is a fourth-year business administration student who is blind and a bit of a geek. Jacob is 28 years old and can’t wait to get his last few classes out of the way so he can start his career. He shares an apartment with his girlfriend.

Ability: Blind since birth

Aptitude: Skilled technology user

Attitude: Digital native, early adopter, persists until he gets it

Assistive technology:

  • Screen reader (JAWS on his laptop, VoiceOver on his iPhone)
  • Victor Stream
  • Audio recorder (to take notes)
  • Refreshable Braille display

Format preference: Electronic text, which he can easily use in JAWS and with VoiceOver; detests PDFs

Watch a student using JAWS [New Tab] (4:08-6:18s)

Listen to a computer-science student’s screen reader [New Tab].


Diana has poor vision and needs enlarged text or uses text-to-speech software.

Diana is retraining to be a personal coach after she experienced vision loss and was unable to continue working as a bus driver. She is 48 years old and taking many of her classes online. She lives with her husband.

Ability: Gradual loss of vision; can read using magnifier easily, but eyes fatigue

Aptitude: Intermediate technology user

Attitude: Has a routine and likes to stick to it

Assistive technology:

  • ZoomText
  • Text-to-Speech software (TextAloud)

Format preference: PDF or electronic text that she can enlarge on her computer or listen to using TextAloud.

Watch a student using ZoomText [New Tab] (0-1:31)


Trish has a physical disability. She prefers ebook formats and print.

Trish is a college student taking university transfer courses. She has a physical disability and uses print books. She is 18 years old and lives with her family.

Ability: Brain damage in accident caused paralysis and motor issues

Aptitude: Basic computer user, intermediate iPad user

Attitude: Generally dependent on family, so enjoys reading and studying independently

Assistive technology:

  • iPad
  • Motorized wheelchair

Format preference: e-book formats, such as PDF, that can easily be loaded onto her iPad


Ann has a learning disability that makes it difficult for her to concentrate.

Ann is a chemistry major with ADHD, a learning disability that makes it difficult for her to concentrate. She is 20 years old and hopes to become a pharmacist. Ann lives in a dorm on campus with two other female students.

Ability: ADHD, has difficulty concentrating

Aptitude: Intermediate computer user

Attitude: Struggles at times, but very appreciative of how much learning software has helped her

Assistive technology: Learning software (Kurzweil on laptop)

Format preference: Reading and listening at the same time

Watch a student using Kurzweil on a computer [New Tab] (1:32-4:07)


Steven is deaf
Steven is an English major who is deaf. He is 23 years old and likes the flexibility of taking online classes. He lives by himself.

Ability: Native language is ASL; can speak and read lips

Aptitude: Intermediate technology user

Attitude: Can be annoyed about accessibility, such as lack of captions.

Assistive technology:

Format preference: No preference for textbook format, but without captions video is meaningless.


Jacob: “WFE003: Jacob” by Rosenfeld Media is used under a CC BY 2.0 Generic Licence.

Trish: “WFE002: Emily” by Rosenfeld Media is used under a CC BY 2.0 Generic Licence.

Steven: “WFE005: Steven” by Rosenfeld Media is used under a CC BY 2.0 Generic Licence.

Mark, Diana, Ann: Original artwork by BCcampus is under a CC BY 4.0 International Licence.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Using Personas by BCcampus is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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