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Create accessible online course materials [UW-Madison]

All students, with and without disabilities, benefit from accessible course content. Best of all, planning for accessibility in your course materials is much easier than you might imagine. By following a few accessibility guidelines, you can create an accessible and inclusive foundation so that students in your course are able to access course content in a timely/effective manner and experience the rich learning experience you have planned for them.

    Foundational course accessibility

    • Include a written accessibility statement in your syllabus and reference it when presenting the course standards to your class. Use this sample syllabus statement as a starting point and customize it with directions for how you prefer students to contact you with accommodation requests, such as through email or an office appointment.
    • Enter textbook and reader information in the Faculty Center at least six weeks before the start of the semester and include on the syllabus.
    • Identify other reading information (articles, websites) at least six weeks before the start of the semester.
    • If sharing or recording your screen, describe what is being shown including slide numbers if a presentation. Learn more about how to present accessibly in-person and online.

    Canvas course accessibility

    Use semantic structure, style, and tags

    • Use document structure (headings, styles, and tags) to build flexible, accessible course content.
    • Use true bulleted and numbered lists, rather than using the tab key to indent, as screen readers cannot interpret tabs.
    • Use strong style (or <strong>) instead of bold and emphasis (or <em>) instead of italics, as screen readers do not understand bold and italics.
    • Long documents should contain a Table of Contents–which is easy to create when using proper Heading tags.

    Increase readability

    • Use the simplest language appropriate for your content. See for tips.
    • Convert large blocks of text to smaller, more manageable blocks of text and use bullet points.
    • Use a sans-serif font (like Arial or Helvetica) and at least 12 point font size.
    • Define abbreviations or jargon.
    • Avoid the use of ALL CAPS, which can make text difficult to read.

    Use descriptive link text

    • Use link text that describes the destination.
    • Avoid using nondescript link text like “click here” and “more info” as link text.
    • Avoid using the URL itself as link text.
    • Learn more about descriptive link text.

    Avoid color coding and use sufficient color contrast

    • Do not convey information solely by color, particularly in diagrams and graphs.
    • Use sufficient contrast between text and the background.
    • Avoid backgrounds with distracting patterns or that interfere with text.
    • Use the WebAIM Color Contrast Checker to test for sufficient color contrast. 

    Provide alternative text descriptions 

    • Use alternative text (the <alt> tag) to describe images, graphics and pictorial data. 
    • If the image is solely decorative, use the null feature of the tool or "" when using HTML.
    • More complex images or diagrams may need a caption or text description beneath the image.
    • For assistance in describing complex images or diagrams, see suggestions and tools from the Diagram Center.

    Use tables thoughtfully

    • Use the simplest table configuration possible. Tables should be used for data and tabular info, not layout.
    • Tables should have a figure designation and text description summarizing key takeaways.
    • Learn more about creating accessible tables.
    Learn more about how to create accessible course content in Canvas and accessibility of specific Canvas functionality.

    Multimedia and document accessibility

    Video and Multimedia

    • Turn off auto-play feature, if the option is available.
    • Make sure videos are captioned and audio is transcribed.
    • Captions should include who is speaking, punctuation, meaningful text that appears on screen, and vocal emotional tone and ambient sound. Professional captioning services are available at discounted pricing. If using Kaltura machine captions, proofreading and editing will be necessary.  
    • Learn how to get started with captioning and transcription.

    Adobe PDF and Scanned Documents

    • Start with an accessible document (e.g. Word or PowerPoint) before converting to PDF. 
    • Follow WebAIM’s guidelines to learn how to create accessible PDFs
    • Scanned images of text are not accessible. If you must use a scanned document, it should be high visual quality and at least 300dp resolution. Text should not be highlighted or underlined, binding shadows should not be present, lines should not be clipped, and text must be readable, even when enlarged.

    Microsoft PowerPoint

    • Use sans serif fonts like Arial, Helvetica or Calibri.
    • White space is your friend.
    • Use punctuation at the end of each line.
    • Create alternative text descriptions for images.
    • Use high contrast templates.
    • Use colorful borders instead of colorful text.
    • Learn more about accessible PowerPoint presentations.

    Microsoft Word 

    • Use uniform and hierarchical headings to structure the document.
    • Create alternative text descriptions for images.
    • Use the simplest table configuration possible. In general, tables are best for data and not layout.
    • Use link text that describes the destination.
    • Use true bulleted and numbered lists, rather than using the tab key, as screen readers cannot interpret tabs.
    • Use the built in accessibility checker.
    • Learn more about accessible Word documents.

    Keywordsaccess, accessibility, universal design, a11y   Doc ID98607
    OwnerLearn@UW MadisonGroupLearn@UW-Madison
    Created2020-03-10 12:23:05Updated2023-04-03 11:17:18
    SitesDoIT Help Desk, IT Accessibility and Usability, Learn@UW-Madison
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