Canvas Accessibility Considerations

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Summary: Canvas has an accessible foundation (on the level of the software code). Instructors who apply the six core skills of accessibility are off to a good start in accessifying their courses.

Canvas is built on a platform of accessible code. However, like any web-based system, the person who inputs information into it must also follow basic accessibility best practices, including the six core skills.

Set up your Canvas site

 

Create a landing page

The home page is the entry point for any Canvas course. That is, it’s the first thing students see when they go to your course website. 

While you can set the home page to display any type of Canvas activity (e.g., activity stream, assignment list, syllabus, page), the most accessible option is to create a landing page that can help orient the student to the way you have your site laid out. 

The landing page shows your students where they are “located” in the architecture of the course and what actions are available to them. Your design should work well as a landing page both for first-time Canvas users and throughout a full semester, as your students will visit this home page every time they come to the course website.

This screenshot of a sample Canvas course site shows an accessible home page that welcomes the student to the site, offers support for students new to Canvas, and tells them what to do next.

 

Limit the items that appear to students in the course menu

While you as an instructor can see all the types of activities available to you in the Course Menu at left, you should limit the number of activity types that students can see. Reduce your Course Menu to include only the tools you are using in your course, to mitigate visual overwhelm.

Use the module layout to arrange your course materials

The module layout (Canvas’s default layout, pictured here), is the most accessible way to arrange course materials on your course website. 

A well-organized Canvas module includes a page introduction (here “Ancient Egypt Introduction”), headings that group sections of content into digestible chunks, and due dates and point values (both displayed automatically in the module view, wherever you’ve entered this information).

The module format has accessible navigation by default. However, you will need to do some additional organization and planning to make the module more usable (see next section, “Arrange materials in a module”)

Arrange materials within a module

Here are five best practices for creating a usable experience for students that is also cohesive across all the modules in your course website:

  1. Begin each module with a page that introduces students to the topic, lets them know what to expect, and provides guidance for proceeding.
  2. Create descriptive titles for all activities. Students should be able to tell exactly what the activity is about without having to click into it first. And they should be able to scan down the contents of the module and get an overview of the topic just from the descriptive titles.
  3. Define and group content using text labels.
  4. Use indenting to clearly define the hierarchy of the content.
  5. Add due dates and point values for each assignment and activity. Canvas automatically displays them on the module overview.

Caution: module overview may not be viewed!

The downside to Canvas navigation is that it’s possible to navigate a whole Canvas course without ever seeing the module overview that you’ve so carefully put together. For instance, students might click the Assignments link from the Course Menu and just complete the assignments they see listed there.

To combat this, make sure it’s clear on your Canvas landing page how to get to each of the modules on your site.


Organize content pages

A well-organized content page has clear headings and links to other materials, as shown in this screenshot:

Using the six core skills in your Canvas website

Canvas also does not have the built-in accessibility checker that Moodle pro users have had access to in the text editor, so you need to be extra familiar with the six core skills of accessible digital communication in order to create an accessible Canvas site.

Format headings using paragraph styles

The text editing options in Canvas are similar to Moodle’s. Canvas offers headings from H2 to H4, preformatted text, and normal paragraph (plain) text. Both course management systems also allow you to edit the HTML code directly. 

Hyperlinks

Adding a descriptive, embedded hyperlink in Canvas is simple. Just highlight the text you’d like to become the link, click the link icon, and enter the link address. This creates a link that opens the new address in the same window (which is the accessibility recommendation). Simple!

While it’s easy to add a good link, it’s just as easy to add a poorly designed link. Canvas will not alert you when you write links like “click here” (or something equally imprecise). It’s up to you to learn to write descriptive links.

Color and contrast

While you do have the ability in Canvas to change font size, color, highlighting, and alignment, we recommend you stick with the default size, color and left justification, and that you avoid formatting your text using the highlight tool. Insufficient contrast and ineffective use of color are significant issues for students who have low vision. 

Instead, rely on succinct wording and frequent paragraph breaks to emphasize important material in your pages.

Alt text

Adding alt text in Canvas is simple. When you click the image icon in the rich content editor to add an image, you’ll see properties for the image; type your alt text here. 

The alt text dialogue box in Canvas includes options to add alt text, as well as change the dimensions of the image display.

You can always add to or update your alt text later on.

Are there any drag-and-drop quiz question types or other inaccessible question types in quiz or lesson tool?

Canvas has not implemented “drag and drop,” “image hotspot,” or any other question types which may raise accessibility concerns.

Third-party applications may create barriers for some of your students

Some of the activities available in your Canvas site (VoiceThread, etc.) were actually created by third-party vendors and are not actually part of the Canvas system. These tools therefore may not offer the same level of accessibility found in other parts created by Canvas developers. 

For example, VoiceThread presents a number of barriers because it combines so many types of media and relies on each user (both instructor and student) to add their own closed captions.

If you would like to utilize any of these tools in your course, see our advice on using them in this Moodle article or contact teachingsupport@umn.edu for a consultation on creating an accessible experience for all your students.

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