How do learning management systems differ on accessibility?

Date Updated
01/06/20

Learning management systems (LMS) such as Blackboard, Canvas, Desire2Learn, and Moodle allow instructors to provide online courses within the context of a consistent standard interface. One accessibility benefit of using an LMS is that many students with disabilities have the greatest success in accessing web content when it is presented using a consistent layout. If an educational institution standardizes on a particular LMS package, students at that institution will likely encounter the same online course interface for many of their classes throughout their academic career.

Most major LMS vendors have worked extensively on the accessibility of their products, and some of the details about their accessibility support is available through their websites:

However, the accessibility of the LMS interface is only part of the solution. Even in a fully accessible LMS, an instructor or course developer can easily create an inaccessible course by creating inaccessible pages within the course that don't include proper heading structure or that include images without alt text. They can also break accessibility by uploading inaccessible PDFs or other digital documents, videos that lack captions or audio description, and other inaccessible course materials.

Also, most LMS products support the addition of plugins, including many widely available plugins that work across products via the Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard. An instructor or course developer can introduce accessibility problems to an otherwise accessible course by choosing to use a plugin that is not designed with accessibility in mind.

The potential for introducing accessibility problems to online courses underscores the importance of all instructors and course developers receiving at least a basic education on technology accessibility. The University of Washington addresses this need by providing a website titled Getting Started with Accessibility. Also, tools such as Blackboard Ally and University of Central Florida's Universal Design Online Content Inspection Tool (UDOIT) check accessibility of content that's added to a course and provide feedback to the author, helping them to better understand accessibility, fix the current problems, and create more accessible content in the future.