By employing a few simple techniques when creating your courses and materials that maximize accessibility, you won’t be scrambling when a student needs an accommodation, because you will have done most of the work already. Many accessibility problems in instructor-created course content can be prevented by three relatively simple practices that will significantly improve accessibility for your course.
Use headings and other built-in style features
Using built-in styles and layouts improves the both the usability and accessibility of Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, Canvas/Oncourse pages, and other files. As you create these files:
- Use headings (e.g., Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3) to format and mark headings and indicate the organization of the content. Headings help everyone recognize ordinal and co-ordinal relationships between topics and enable those using screen readers to skim the page and find what they need.
- Use built-in bullet lists and numbered lists instead of trying to create them using tabs and spaces. The built-in lists provide a navigational structure for those using screen readers.
- Use built-in layouts in PowerPoint rather than building your own with text boxes. The built-in layouts include mark-ups, similar to the headings described above, which ensures that information is presented in the correct order for those using screen readers.
Write concise and meaningful link text
If link text is meaningless or too long, students using screen readers have trouble figuring out where the link will take them. Keep link text concise and make sure that it makes sense out of context.
- “Click here” is problematic.
- “Contact your advisor” is better than “Click here to contact your advisor” or “Link to academic advisors.”
- Use URLs as link text only if the URL is very short and meaningful.
- If an image serves as a link, the alternative text of the image serves as the link text, so make sure that it follows the guidelines for links.
See WebAIM’s page on links and hypertext for more information.
Provide a text alternative for images where appropriate
Alternative text (also called “alt text”) is invisible text attached to images. It is read aloud by a screen reader, enabling someone who can’t see the image to access the meaning of the image. Programs such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint enable you to add alternative text to images. In Canvas, you add alternative text to the Image Attributes when you add an image.
Alternative text is required for all images, and writing it can be tricky, so the WebAIM “How to Write Appropriate alt Text” tutorial is highly recommended. (You can skip the parts about HTML.) To get you started, here are some basic guidelines for writing it, depending on whether the image is active, informational, redundant, or textual.
Even if you don’t have a student with hearing difficulties in your class, captions can be quite helpful to other students. Students for whom English is not their primary language, students with certain cognitive challenges, and students watching your videos in noisy environments can all benefit by the addition of captioning. Canvas provides captioning services through the Studio tool where you can manually upload your own captions or have the tool generate them for you using speech to text technology.
Some video services such as YouTube also offer mechanical captioning. If you have a strong accent, if there are multiple people in the video, or if you are in a field where use of terms not commonly found in everyday conversation is common you will need to review the captions and make corrections.
Improving accessibility and usability at the same time
In addition to the items listed above, both usability and accessibility can also be improved by
- Using easy to read fonts.
- Using san-serif, non-italicized, monospaced (fixed-width) fonts especially improve readability for students with dyslexia.
- Making sure any pdfs of articles or other documents not created by you are actual documents and not just images of journal pages. This assists both students using screen readers and students who like to be able to search the content of an article or document to find and review information. Using Adobe Acrobat Pro, you can run optical character recognition on any pdfs.
- Using scripts when recording presentations. Scripts can then be provided as transcripts to students with hearing difficulties or for whom English may not be their primary language.
Accessibility in a course you didn’t design and can’t change
The best case scenario is to work with the faculty member or committee that designed the course to improve accessibility. When you review the course for usability, it is a good idea to document potential accessibility concerns such as document and page formatting, textual images, non-captioned video, and links without meaningful text, as well as use of additional tools that may not be accessible for students with visual, hearing, or motor disabilities.
Bringing accessibility concerns to their attention is the first step toward getting them addressed. If you have a student who has requested accommodation in your class your campus accessibility center will contact you and may connect you with the appropriate individual to provide materials, assignments, and assessments in a way that is accessible to that particular student.
When should I ask for help to ensure my course is accessible?
Although the three simple practices described above are rather easy for anyone to do, some practices that improve accessibility are more difficult or time consuming and will likely need professionals trained in accessibility accommodation to implement. The following are a list of “triggers” for you to contact your campus accessibility center:
- You are using non-Canvas integrated, third-party tools – especially those with known issues like Adobe Captivate, Adobe Presenter, Articulate Storyline, and Quizlet
- You are using third-party tools offered by your text-book publisher – especially those with known issues like Pearson Mathlab or ALEKS from McGraw Hill
- You are linking to many different websites which you want students to read/watch/listen to the material.
- You are presenting a large amount of material that is highly dependent on a single sense (e.g., multiple images; a lot of music; data visualizations that are highly dependent on color)
- You are requiring students to use a specific software tool or package (e.g., SPSS, ArcGIS, etc.)
National Center on Universal Design for Learning Website : Provides universal Design Guidelines.
Microsoft Accessibility : Instructions on how you can improve accessibility within Microsoft products.
IU Accessibility Tutorial : IU provides some general guidelines and tips for creating accessible PowerPoint presentations.
Microsoft PowerPoint Accessibility Information : This tutorial provides best practices for creating accessible PowerPoints (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and online). It also provides instruction on how to alt text for graphic, hyperlinks, and accessible design tips.
IU Accessibility Tutorial : IU provides some general guidelines and tips for creating accessible PDF documents.
The content found here was designed by Indiana University and adapted for use by the Institute for Faculty Development at Vanguard University. This material is offered under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license and should be considered under this license unless otherwise noted. The original content was imported from “Designing and Teaching for Impact in Online Courses” from within Canvas Commons.