Accessible Technology

Designing Accessible Online Courses

Technology is increasingly used in delivering academic courses and resources. Some courses are offered completely online; others combine on-site and online components into a hybrid format.

It is important to ensure the IT components of a course are accessible to and usable by all students. These include documents, videos, and websites. These digital resources often need to be remediated for accessibility as an accommodation to one or more students with disabilities. This presents tremendous challenges for faculty and staff, and creates a burden for students as they fall behind while waiting for accessible resources. Therefore, it is always best to proactively ensure all digital resources are accessible from the onset.  This enables all students with and without disabilities to participate fully in the course, and the accessibility solutions often benefits all students (see below for specific examples).

The following sections provide additional guidance for making online course materials accessible.

Creating Accessible Documents

Some digital documents are more accessible than others. The most accessible document format is HTML, so the best choice for distributing content is a web page, created using the rich text editor in a content management system such as WordPress or Drupal or learning management system such as Canvas. Care must be taken to ensure web pages are accessible. For example, headings must be tagged as headings at appropriate levels to form an outline of the document content, and images must be briefly described for non-visual users by entering “alt text” in the relevant form field when adding the image. For additional information see Developing Accessible Websites.

If you choose to distribute documents in another format such as Adobe PDF, Microsoft Word or Microsoft PowerPoint, know that these formats support accessibility, but documents are not accessible by default. Authors must take care to follow the guidelines for creating accessible documents. Many of the issues are the same as for web pages (e.g., use appropriate headings, add alt text to images) but the techniques vary across document authoring tools. For additional information see Creating Accessible Documents.

The UW’s Canvas learning management system includes an integrated tool called Ally, which provides feedback to instructors about the accessibility of their course content. For additional information, see Using Ally in Canvas Courses.

Creating Accessible Videos

Video offers an excellent medium for teaching, particularly if used to complement other teaching methods such as text and activities. However, video can present accessibility challenges to some students. Fortunately, there are standard, widely supported solutions to all the problems. For example, students who are deaf or hard of hearing need captions in order to access the audio content; and students who have blindness or low vision need to have all visual content described verbally. If this isn’t possible within the main program audio, the video can be supplemented with a separate narration track that describes the visual content using a technique called audio description. For additional information about these and other video accessibility issues, see Creating Accessible Videos.

Pedagogical Considerations

Making courses accessible involves more than technical issues; there are pedagogical considerations as well.
For details, consult the following resources: