Panel Presentation Summary

Panelist Ana Thompson answers a question with panelist Claver Hategekimana in the background.

Panel of Participants Sharing Promising Practices for Making Online Learning Accessible to All Students and Instructors, Including Those with Disabilities

  • Ana Thompson, University of Washington, Bothell
  • Claver Hategekimana, Skagit Valley College
  • Susie Hawkey and Doug Hayman, University of Washington
  • Gaby de Jongh, University of Washington

Accessible Design in Canvas

Ana Thompson, University of Washington, Bothell

Principles of Accessible Design in Canvas

Canvas is a very accessible format because it uses HTML and adapts to different devices. It also prints out URLs when using descriptive links. Canvas course content can also be transferred quickly to different courses and kept accessible. Canvas is user friendly and easy to update. Follow these accessibility guidelines when using Canvas:

  • Use headings for semantic structure.
  • Use ALT text for images or mark them as decorative.
  • Use built-in lists.
  • Use sans serif fonts and avoid using all caps.
  • Do not convey meaning by color alone and make sure there is sufficient color contrast.
  • Use descriptive hyperlinks.
  • Use simple tables for data only with marked rows and columns.
  • Be consistent and clear in course layout and navigation.
  • Caption videos.

Make course syllabi clear, complete, easy to retrieve, and accessible to all students. Follow these steps to create an accessible syllabus in Canvas:

  • Make the layout simple and uncluttered and use clear and descriptive headings (with page titles set to H1 and section headings set to H2).
  • Use the built-in lists within the rich text editor when you create a list.
  • Include contact information, course description and learning objectives.
  • Make the syllabus easily retrievable via the course navigation either via one page or a book of pages. The syllabus link should be used to connect to the calendar and weight of graded assignments. Consult an example of an accessible syllabus at


Accessibility Demo Examples

Claver Hategekimana, Skagit Valley College

Skagit Valley College has developed a Course Accessibility Checklist, which can be followed when creating a new course. Below are some steps and examples to consider when making your course accessible:

  • Textbooks, syllabus, and handouts: Make sure the textbook is available from the bookstore, has alternative formats, and isn’t used on the first day of class. Include an accessibility statement in the syllabus.
  • Audio and video: Make sure all audio presentations are available in transcript and all videos are captioned.
  • Webpages and LMS: Confirm clear layout with formatted headings. Do not include flashing content and avoid drag and drop activities.
  • Use of color and images: Use strong contrast, do not use colors to deliver information, and provide alt tags to describe images.
  • Canvas: Use the accessibility checker that’s built into Canvas, or use third party alternatives such as University of Central Florida’s UDOIT or Blackboard Ally.
  • Testing: Accommodate students who require extra time or alternative formats via your disabilities services office. Consider adjusting the testing tool to allow for multiple attempts.
  • Technology in classroom: Allow students to use technology for learning activities. Students may use their phones or laptops to take notes or record presentations.

UW Captioning Service

Doug Hayman, University of Washington

Many videos on campuses are captioned only as an accommodation for a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, even though they benefit many others, including English language learners, those with reading-related disabilities, and individuals who simply want to see the spelling of words spoken in the presentation. The University of Washington’s ATS Free Captioning Service promotes proactive captioning of videos on campus. By offering free captioning, the ATS is increasing the number of videos captioned on campus, educating stakeholders, and raising awareness of the importance of captioning and the processes involved adding captions to videos. The service team secured central funding, justifying it as promoting a best practice in education as well as helping the campus meet its legal obligations.

This service has worked on hundreds of hours of video content across the University. Learn more about it and apply at Creating Accessible Technology.

The Case for Ally

Gaby de Jongh, University of Washington

A significant number of documents are created by UW faculty each quarter and many of these are often inaccessible and provide barriers for students with disabilities. During Winter Quarter 2018, 3817 classes were offered in Canvas, using a total of 349,058 documents (an average of 91 documents per class). On average per quarter (based on Winter 2018):

  • Scanned but no OCR: 17,498
  • Contrast Issues: 57,345
  • Untagged: 51,213
  • No Headers: 38,134
  • Images without Alt text: 36,781
  • Average pages per quarter (not including science, technology, engineering, and mathematics content!): 3,207,315
  • Average number of hours spent fixing inaccessible documents at DRS: 32,073 hours (an average of $481,097 per quarter)


  • Many campuses have purchased Blackboard Ally, an LMS plugin created to identify inaccessible documents and other features of an online course.
  • Ally can also convert PDF documents to text-based documents, but is not capable of ensuring proper formatting for full accountability.
  • This tool can be confusing to instructors, so it is important to collaborate with department chairs and program coordinators to offer training regarding accessible content. Train content creators, administrators, librarians, and others to remove basic accessibility barriers.

Question and Answer

What is SensusAccess and is it a worthwhile tool?

SensusAccess is an easy tool to correct PDFs and other documents into a more accessible format. However, it is automated for remediation. It can assign heading levels and format lists, but does not do well with tables and some other aspects of documents. It can be useful to individuals who need an alternative format of a document when the disability services office is not available to help.

Which course survey tool is the most accessible?

ATS staff looked at Google Forms, Microsoft Office Forms, Catalyst WebQ, Survey Monkey, Survey Gizmo, etc. We checked basic required fields, radio buttoms, likert scale, etc. None of these tools are perfect. They all have made some effort to improve accessibility of their HTML forms, but they all have problems. ATS has filed bugs with the various vendors, in hopes of improving the situation.

How is YouTube accessibility compared to other platforms?

Computer-generated captions are easy to edit by the video owner. However, if you are not the owner, it can be hard to start the dialogue with the channel owner to fix the captions. For videos that do have captions, YouTube is excellent at providing users with flexibility to control the appearance of the caption text, including font size, color, background color, and transparency.

I realized I should be including accessibility requirements for my students as well. Do we have any lessons or curriculum on accessibility topics that can be used for various classes?

Highlight a few things, such as captions or heading structures in documents. Include accessibility topics within the learning objectives and reference accessibility issues throughout the course. Some possible content can be located through the DO-IT Knowledge Base at knowledge-base

Can you address accessibility in relation to Google Docs and Google Sheets?

Google Docs support accessibility features such as headings and alt text for images. However, if you export to PDF Google does not create a “tagged PDF”, therefore all accessibility features are lost. There’s a third-party plugin called Grackle Docs ( that fixes this shortcoming; it also includes an accessibility checker and other features that enhance accessibility within Google Docs.