Imagine you’re taking an online course as a student. What is your main concern? Perhaps you feel distressed about consuming learning material from a computer screen, or maybe you are uneasy about interacting with your instructor and peers in a virtual space.
Now imagine you’re taking an online course, and in addition to your concern, your sight is severely limited. Or you have a hearing impairment. What if you have a condition that interferes with cognitive processing? Now what barriers to learning might you encounter? What adjustments would you need in order to fully interact with the course?
Accessibility isn’t about catering to a single group of students; it’s an instructional approach that benefits all learners by optimizing their learning experience and providing multiple avenues for interacting with the course content.
Accessibility is Proactive
The key to an accessible course is a proactive instructor—being mindful from the beginning (i.e., the design and development phase) and designing course materials that are functional for all learners. In turn, your students will spend more time actively engaging with their learning, not trying to figure out the course materials. In addition, learners with disabilities can access the content, and you’ve alleviated potential learning barriers. As a result, you maximize your time on instruction and greatly reduce the work (and stress) of having to make last-minute changes.
To help create optimal learning environments, we’ve developed a basic accessibility checklist that incorporates ADA and WGAC standards. This tool can help you check all of your boxes (literally and figuratively) in making course design approachable and accessible for learners. By using this checklist, you can confirm that a course is:
- Designed in accordance with federal law and university policy
- User friendly
- Accessible to students with different learning needs, styles, preferences, and interests
- Populated with frequently requested accommodations
So grab a pen (or mouse), and let’s check out your course! Keep in mind that there may be some unchecked boxes, and that’s okay. The checklist is intended to identify specific course elements and guide you in making them accessible. If you’d like assistance with your checklist analysis or adjustments, reach out to us at CIRT. We’re happy to support you with your accessibility goals!
We’ve also included a list of resources below to help make your course more accessible. If you’d like to further explore these or any other resources, just let us know.
Accessibility and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) | General information and examples for supporting accessibility and UDL in your online course.
Online Course Templates | Adopting a CIRT Course Template is an easy way to support accessibility in your online courses.
CIRT Events Calendar | Check our Events Calendar for regular workshops on accessibility.
Canvas Course Accessibility Checklist
The goal of creating accessible courses is to remove barriers that students with disabilities face and help create an equitable learning environment for the diverse student population here at UNF. These needs can be met by making small changes to the design and creation of materials, which will benefit everyone in the long run.
The items below highlight some important considerations to give you a starting point for making course content accessible.
Include an Accessibility Statement on your Course Overview or Help/Support page. Refer to any of the CIRT Online Course Templates for an example.
Text should be easily read by students and screen readers. Consider the following:
- All text content is created using the Rich Content Editor in Canvas.
- All text content is selectable. It can be highlighted, copied, and pasted.
- All text content is searchable. Specific words or phrases can be detected using the Search tool (Ctrl + F or Command + F).
- Font size is at least 12-point.
- Bold font is used sparingly.
- Italics are avoided.
- Underlined text is only used for hyperlinks.
- Hyperlinks are semantically meaningful—each hyperlink provides a brief description about the linked content.
- The font color is in high contrast with the background color.
- Headings are used to organize the content and group related information.
- Headings are created using the Change Text Style tool from the Paragraph drop-down menu.
- Formatted lists are created using the Bulleted List or Numbered List tool.
Images and Multimedia Content
Images and multimedia should be supplemented with means of alternative access.
- Images are populated with alternative text, commonly referred to as “alt text.”
- Videos include closed-captioning or a transcript. There are tools in Canvas Studio and YouTube for self-generation of captions, which typically require some correction. CIRT also contracts with a third-party provider to generate caption and transcript files. Please contact us for assistance in obtaining captions and transcripts.
- Audio files are accompanied by a transcript.
- Tables are created in the Rich Content Editor with defined cell properties.
Canvas, Microsoft Office programs, and Adobe have built-in accessibility checkers.
Course Navigation Design
In addition to making your course accessible, here are some other best practices that help to make your course more user-friendly.
- Course design should be consistent. Each module (or week) follows the same structure, resulting in a familiar learning environment.
- A course should be easy to navigate. Learners can easily determine where they can access the materials they need.
Do's and Don'ts for Creating Accessible Content
Ask for help! Instructors are not alone in making their courses accessible. Contact CIRT at firstname.lastname@example.org or (904) 620-3927 for any questions or concerns.
Use legible fonts (i.e. Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri, Verdana, and Tahoma) with a minimum size of 12 points.
Use fonts that are difficult to read and small font sizes This makes content hard for any user to read.
Use simple colors with high contrast. Black text on a white background is the most preferred. Maintain at least a contrast ratio of 4.5:1. Use WebAIM’s Color Contrast Checker to verify the ratio.
Use bright contrasting colors or colors with low contrast. This makes content hard for any user to read, but especially those who are color blind or have low vision.
Use lists, separate content, provide text labels, or use icons for explaining information.
Use color coding or highlighting as the only way of conveying information. This is called “color reliance” and should be avoided as it is not accessible for individuals with visual impairments.
Use built-in headers to break up content.
Use pseudo-headers, which are created by increasing font size and using bold typeface. These will not be read aloud to a screen reader and will make navigation difficult.
Provide alternative text for images and graphics that are descriptive and accurate.
Use the image name for alternative text or provide text that does not provide enough information. If the image is complex, consider providing a caption. This will be beneficial for individuals with visual impairments.
Provide captions and/or transcripts for audiovisual materials.
Turn captions off, forget to edit captions, or assume that individuals will be able to use the material without them. Captions and transcripts are beneficial to all students, as it provides an alternative route for comprehension. This will also benefit individuals that are deaf or hard-of-hearing by providing.
Use the hyperlink tool with a descriptive phrase indicating what the link is for. This makes the content visually appealing and easier for individuals that use screen readers to navigate.
Copy and paste a URL into content and use phrases like “Click here.”
Use tables for presenting data. Be sure to include headers that repeat on each page and caption in the table settings.
Use tables for formatting content. By forgetting to include a table header and a caption, the table is inaccessible and confusing for individuals using a screen reader. Repeated headers will make the table easier to read for all users.
Use original documents or link to articles available through the UNF Library.
Rely on scanned documents. These are not accessible and if they are low quality, can be hard to read.
Use built-in accessibility checkers for Word, PowerPoint, Adobe PDF, Canvas Rich Content Editor, and Ally for Canvas files.
Assume that course content is accessible. Accessible course content provides a better learning environment for all students.