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What is accessibilty?

Accessibility in education is an attempt to make educational materials and activities accessible for all people - including those with disabilities or special needs. This includes making materials compatible with the use of assistive technology.  Federal law requires UAS to provide accomodations for those who needs assistance.  Students should contact Disability Services who will help document any special needs and determine any required accomodations. However, research shows that accessibility benefits everyone, not just those who identify with special needs. When faculty take steps to ensure their online course materials and activities are accessible it not only smooths the way for students needing accomodations but also benefits all their students.

This video from Portland Community College describes their web accessibility guidelines and how supporting students with disabilities is a shared responsibility across that college. Video includes stories from students whose education is impacted by inaccessible web content and ways faculty and staff can improve online course materials to make course content more accessible. 

What faculty can do

The tabs above explain some of the steps faculty can take to create accessible documents and audio or video course materials.  

What is an accessible document?

An accesssible document can be read by a screen reader.  This means it is text-based (rather than a scanned image).  More than that, it also means the document has structure that allows the person using the screen reader to do more than just read the document word-by-word.  Like a sighted reader, they can skim through the document reading headers and locating links.

The following video demonstrated how a screen reader can operate:

Creating Accessible Documents

When you create documents using a word processor there are a variety of steps you can take to make them accessible.  Among those are to use "styles" such as headers (rather than simply making text larger or bold), adding alt-text for images and creating tables with clear and simple structure.  The following slide-show demonstrates how to do some of these things in Microsoft Word. Use the controls at the lower left to advance slides.  The Accessibilty in Word document is also available as a pdf.

Transcripts and Closed Captions

Closed captions and/or transcript not ony make material accessible for those who are hearing-impaired but also benefit a wides variety of other leaners.  These include those who absorb text-based information better than audio and those to whom english is a second language. Providing a transcript also allows all students to more quickly review material when preparing for exams.

A study by Oregon State eCampus Campus Technology Report: Video Captions Benefit Virtually All Students which surveyed over 2,000 students enrolled in online classes showed that over 70% used transcripts when provided, even those with no hearing difficulty.

Transcripts are one step in providing accessibility but closed captions are required when the audio portion of a video needs to be associated with relevant images. Closed captioning tools are available in most video editing software. Closed captioning is also available when videos are uploaded to YouTube. Videos on YouTube can be automatically closed-captioned and then those captions can be edited to provide proper spelling and punctuation.

Closed Captioning on YouTube

As with most Google products, YouTube is in constant flux - following slideshow demonstrates how YouTube creates automatic closed captioning and how the captions can be edited. The slides for Youtube Closed Captioning are also available as a pdf.

Text based content

Headings provide document structure 

For any document or text longer than a few paragraphs you should provide headings and subheading.  These must be formatted using "styles" so that a screen reader can scan and read the headings.

Learn more about headings

Text for links provides direction

A screen reader can also scan and read the links on a page.  The text that is selected for the link should let the reader know what information is found when the link is followed.  Links should not read "click here" or provide a long URL.

For example: Do not write "Click here to learn about our programs and degrees" with "click here" the only text selected. Instead write "Go to "Programs and Degrees" to learn more".

Use punctuation

Punctuation, such as periods at the end of phrases" indicates stops or pauses for the screen reader.

Visual Content: Images and Colors

Do not rely solely on color to convey information

Remember that some of your viewers may be color blind. If there is information to be conveyed provide clues in addition to colors. Examples include additional text or other visual indicators such as asterisks (e.g., "Alert: School Closing" not just "School Closing")

Use sufficient color contrast

Use combinations of light and dark that allow the color-blind to distinguish text from background.

Learn more about color contrast and color selection 

Tools for assessing color contrast

Use descriptive alternative text for images, chart, graphs and tables 

Alternative text, also known as alt-Text, will be read by a screen reader in place of the visual element.  Alt-Text for tables allows the reader to more easily understand the purpose of the table.

More about alternative text

Using alt-Text to describe images

Multimedia, animation, video and audio

Video and audio files are closed captioned and/or transcribed

A a mininum transcripts should be provided for audio and video.  It the video has a meaningful connection between the audio and visual elements then it should be closed captioned.

Learn more about closed captions


Ensure any animations are necessary to provide relevant information. Flicker rates should be less than 2Hz or greater than 55Hz - flicker rates that are within that range may trigger seizures for vulnerable persons.

Speed checker and changer for animated gifs

PDF Accessibility

PDFs encorporate searchable text

PDFs should use searchable text - not just images of text. As a first choice you may be able to find an article with your library's database or obtain an alternative electronic format from a publisher.  Optical character recognition by a program such as Adobe Acrobat Pro and soemtimes be used to convert images to text.

More about making PDFs searchable using Adobe Acrobat Pro

A free tool for creating searchable PDFs

Check the accessibility of your PDFs

Use the features "Make Accessible" or "Accessibility Checker" in Adobe Acrobat Pro to check the accessibility of your PDF

Learn more about PDF accessibility

More accessibility features for your class

Syllabus statement

Include a statement regarding support for students with disabilities in your syllabus. Refer students to UAS disability services as needed.

Establish a plan to provide equal alternative forms of access

Your class may include links to external web content or other classroom activities.  Determine whether these are accessible and have a plan in place for alternative forms of access if they are not.  Note that alternative forms may be useful to all students, not just those with identified disabilities.


Content maintained by Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching.