As you create or update course materials, identify and correct any that are improperly formatted, inconsistent, or disorganized.
Barriers to information are the primary causes of inaccessible classroom situations. When designing or modifying your course materials, first consider what online and face-to-face classroom barriers your students may face rather than focusing on types of disabilities.
Then, make sure your course materials are clear, consistent, organized and formatted correctly so that all your students can access, understand, and learn from them.
Dos and Don'ts
Provide Clear Deadlines and Consistent Information
When you teach the same course semester after semester, or when you inherit the teaching of a course you didn’t design, it’s easy to accidentally expose information left over from a previous semester. Assignment-related information is a particular barrier for students that can lead to confusion, demotivation, and lower grades.
For assignments with multiple steps, clearly list the steps for assignments and exact due dates for each step.
List exact due dates instead of the day of the week, i.e., write "due February 25," not just "due Monday."
When you make a significant change to the syllabus, such as changing an assignment deadline, let students know by using your course website's announcements or messaging features.
For downloadable documents, make sure the filename (e.g., final report.docx) is the same as the name of the assignment on the course website, so students can find the downloaded document again on their desktops.
Ensure you always refer to an assignment by the same name, e.g., always refer to it as the "final report" rather than variations such as "final research project" and “final assignment.”
List all assignments and exact due dates in both the syllabus and on the course website (even if you mentioned them in class, this information should also be on the course website). Double check to make sure you are consistent with your terminology across your course. For example, make sure you have the same title in the syllabus, schedule, discussion, and assignments:
Don't forget to update old due dates, incomplete assignment instructions, or name changes to course activities or assignments.
Use Accessible File Formats
Some students utilize technology, such as screen readers, text-to-speech programs, or screen magnifiers to read text documents. Adaptive technologies like these can’t read documents that have been saved or reproduced incorrectly. Poor document quality also can affect the extent to which a student can access the material.
Make documents available in large print or in a word processing document format.
Link to articles from Libraries’ databases, ejournals, digital books, and accessible websites instead of your personal photocopies of course readings. The Libraries will find library-licensed versions of articles and readings for you and place them on an eReserves webpage specific to your course.
Use Library Course Reserves and Digital Course Packs. When the library staff creates or receives a new PDF for course reserve or for a course pack, they automatically OCR (Optical Character Recognition) the material to make it possible for students to digitally annotate or listen to it with a screen reader.
Make PDFs accessible by running optical character recognition on them.
Contact the Document Conversion Unit, part of the Disability Resource Center, to convert textbooks and other resources to digital formats.
If you require students to purchase materials and textbooks, send your syllabus to them before the semester starts so they can arrange document conversion in advance. Sending students your syllabus before the semester begins also allows them to better prepare for your course.
Caption or write alt text for all images in documents and slide decks.
Verbally describe (or ask a student to describe) images, diagrams, and other visuals that are referenced in class.
Properly format text-based documents so that students can use adaptive technologies to listen to or read them and easily skim them if not using adaptive technologies.
Don't save documents as images or scan PDFs.
Don't assign materials that are available only in hardcopy format.
Don't distribute a photocopy that has been recopied or scanned repeatedly.
Don't include an uncaptioned or inaccurately captioned video (for example, don't rely on automatic captions without taking the time to correct them) or some of your students won't have access to the same information as their peers.
Don't include an image on a Canvas page that doesn't have a caption or alt text, or show a PowerPoint slide without describing its content, because everyone in the class won't see and interpret them the same way you do.
Format and Organize Your Materials
Improperly formatted and organized course materials can make it difficult for students to scan and efficiently find the information they’re looking for. Students may therefore miss important details or deadlines. Such materials also can prevent students from being able to focus on the content of your course.
Create or use multiple means of representation and organize information in a way that empowers students to make connections.
Get in the habit of accessibly formatting your course materials. Use descriptive headings, bullets, and section breaks to differentiate content in your syllabus, course documents, course presentations, and Canvas web pages.
Don't distribute cluttered, disorganized, and lengthy documents or course pages that are improperly formatted.
Don't provide incomplete, unclear, or inconsistent information.
Augment Text Content with Multimedia
Augmenting your text-based web page or document with media, such as audio, video, or animation, can enhance your content and support student's learning processes better than text alone.
Create a script before recording.
- As you write the script, make sure everything you plan to show on the screen, you also voice in the narration.
- Not only does a script help you create a more focused recording, but it can then be repurposed as a transcript to accompany audio or captions for a video.
Ensure that video with unvoiced content (e.g., information that appears on the screen but is not part of the narrated content) is added to the video file as audio descriptions.
Choose a playback tool that is both mouse- and keyboard-navigable, and that allows the user to adjust the quality and speed of playback.
Follow other dos and don'ts for creating accessible video and audio.
Contact a Disability Resource Center access consultant about specific access needs or about how to reduce barriers more broadly in your course.
If you’re unsure whether a technology or feature in it you’d like to use is accessible, request a consultation by emailing [email protected].
- Canvas: Design an Accessible and Usable Course Site
- Canvas: Create and Organize Content
- Canvas: Use UDOIT to Scan a Course for Accessibility Issues