You can significantly improve accessibility in your course by following three relatively simple practices as you design course materials and by keeping accessibility in mind as you think about activities and assessments. Designing for accessibility ensures that your course is ready if any disability accommodations are required and makes your content clearer for all students.
There are four major categories of disability, and each requires different considerations when designing online courses. These disabilities can be permanent or temporary and may result from genetics, disease, injury, or age-related changes.
Visual disabilities include blindness, low vision, and color blindness. Individuals with visual disabilities may:
Hearing disabilities include partial and complete deafness. Individuals with hearing loss may not be able to hear the audio in podcasts, voice-over PowerPoints, videos, and other online media.
Cognitive disabilities include learning disabilities and other disorders that make individuals especially distractible or unable to focus on, process, or remember information. Individuals with cognitive disabilities may:
Motor disabilities include paralysis and limited fine or gross motor control. Individuals with motor disabilities may:
The following video Keeping Web Accessibility in Mind (Smith, 2012), demonstrates how people with disabilities access online courses.
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.
Panopto and YouTube have Auto-Captioning that is created when you record your videos. But these are not at the 100% required level of accuracy. Choices are to supply a transcript along with your video, or to Correct Auto Captioning.
Using built-in styles and layouts improves the both the usability and accessibility of Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, Canvas courses, and other files. As you create these files:
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.
See WebAIM’s page on links and hypertext for more information.
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.
In addition to the items listed above, both usability and accessibility can also be improved by:
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.
Some video services offer mechanical captioning using speech to text technology. 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, it is likely that you will need to review the captions and make corrections.
Panopto Video offers a closed caption view as well as transcripts. We urge all faculty to use Panopto for lecture recordings and uploading video into Canvas.
Although the three simple practices described on the previous page 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:
Syllabus Template: Use this face-to-face syllabus template created by the Instructional Design Team. It’s set up to be highly accessible and usable for students.
Online syllabus Template: Use this online syllabus template created by the Instructional Design Team. It’s set up to be highly accessible and has additional information for online students.
Canvas Accessibility Design Guidelines: This page lists best practices for creating accessible content in your Canvas courses.
Canvas Accessibility Checker: Use the built in accessibility checker to see if there are accessibility issues in your Canvas pages, announcements, etc. The interface provides quick and easy solutions to accessibility problems.