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Accessibility Guide for Digital Content

Creating accessible content is not just for students with disabilities but benefits all learners. Learn how to design course content or documents to be accessible.

What is Accessibility?

Accessibility is intentionally designing a course or document so that people with visual, aural, cognitive, motor, or other disabilities can access it.  Digital accessibility has a number of benefits to you and your audience. Beyond making your course compliant with federal law, creating accessible content has been shown to aid all students, not just those with disabilities (Linder, 2016). Also, some students never disclose a disability, and others may do so after beginning a course, so creating content that is accessible is a proactive approach.

A man assisting a blind student using a laptop

Image by Sergio Parella licensed under CC BY 4.0

See the page titled Why Accessibility? to learn more about the rationale for making your digital content accessible.

Visit the Creating Accessible Content pages for principles and tool tips. 

Short on time? See below for a quick overview.

Brief Overview

The following list is not exhaustive, but it will get you going in the right direction. Note that a “screen reader” is software that reads web pages for individuals with visual impairment.

Organizational Structure

Use headers in Canvas or styles in Microsoft Office to convey the organization of content on a page. If you merely enlarge the font size or add boldface to show that something is a title or subheading, your visually impaired students will not grasp the meaning. However, a screen reader will alert its user whenever a header or style is in place. Also, use headers in order, i.e. Header 2 before Header 3, to help screen-reader users grasp their level of importance.

In Canvas: Use the paragraph drop-down menu within the rich content editor to create headers.

In MS Office: Use Styles on the Home tab.


When creating a link, use words in the hyperlink that describe where it will take students.  “Click here” is not descriptive, whereas “course syllabus” is. “Visit this site” is not specific, whereas “Visit the State of Idaho website” is. Descriptive, specific text in hyperlinks helps anyone using a screen reader and makes links user-friendly for everyone.

In Canvas: See creating hyperlinks in the rich content editor for more information. (Note that the hyperlink you just read is descriptive and therefore easier to read than the URL

In MS Office: Visit the Microsoft site to learn how to create or edit a hyperlink. Be sure the Text to Display is your specific word or phrase for the link.


Use alternative text – or “alt text” – for any image or picture inserted into Canvas or Microsoft Office files.  Make the text descriptive of the image.  If the image is a building where the architecture is important, the alt text should explain it. If the image is used for decoration, write “null” so that a screen reader skips over it.   

In Canvas: See the embedding images with the rich content editor page to learn how to insert an image and update “alt text” in Canvas. Use the checkbox to note if an image is decorative only.

In MS Office: Visit the Microsoft support site and search for “alt text” with regard to the version of Word, PowerPoint, etc. that you are using.

Color and Contrast

Avoid color alone or underlining to show the importance of text. People with difficulty distinguishing colors can misconstrue your intent, and underlining generally implies that a hyperlink is present. If text must stand out, use boldface and/or italics with or without color. The WebAIM site includes a useful Color Contrast Checker.


Be cautious when using tables in Canvas or Microsoft Office. Screen readers can find tables difficult to read unless the tables are formatted for accessibility. The content of a table helps to determine how best to make the table accessible.

  • Using a table to help with layout: A simple, single-row table with one column for an image and one column for text is usually acceptable. A screen reader will read the information for the image and then the text (or vice versa) in a linear fashion, thus both will be understandable. Visit the WebAIM site for details on layout tables.
  • Using a table to display data: Row and column headers are essential to help screen readers make sense of the order of the data. A caption is also very helpful. See the WebAIM site for information on data tables.

Regardless of table content, set the width and height of your table using percentages rather than pixels. The former can adapt to whatever device a student is using.

In Canvas: Create the table. Highlight the desired row. In the Table menu, select Row Properties. For Row Type, select Header. To add column headers, use Cell Properties to select Header Cell.

In MS Office: Create the table, then use Table Properties or Table Design to designate the top row as a Header Row.

Video and Audio

For multimedia, be sure to create a transcript or captions to go with audio content, either before or after recording multimedia. YouTube’s speech-to-text tool creates captions that are about 80 percent accurate. You can then edit the automatically generated captions yourself or ask for TAs to assist. Another option is to use or to edit the video using Camtasia

Accessibility Checkers

Take advantage of Accessibility Checkers to scan for and fix errors.  Both Canvas and MS Office contain built-in tools that, when activated, will list accessibility issues for screen reading software and address how to repair them.

In Canvas: Visit the instructor manual to learn how to use the Canvas Accessibility Checker.

In MS Office: Visit the support site to learn how to use the Microsoft Accessibility Checker.


Linder, K. (2016). Student uses and perceptions of closed captions and transcripts: Results from a national study. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit. Retrieved January 3, 2017, from

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