Checking the accessibility of teaching materials ensures that we are supporting the success of all students.
How do I make content accessible?
Heading styles are pre-formatted headings that structure content in logical order. They enable readers to engage more strategically with your content, making it easy to view and navigate. In particular, for those who use screen readers, visually-impaired and/or dyslexic students), heading styles are essential because the software communicates levels of hierarchy.
Headings in Word
Headings in Canvas
Heading one as the page title
Heading two as a section title
Heading 3 as a sub-section title
Plain language is easily understood, concrete and descriptive. If used thoughtfully, plain language has the power to convey complex ideas without being overly simplistic.
A meaningful name tells people where they are going. Long linked text that goes across lines does not always open properly and can be confusing. Write links that make sense out of context and either say exactly what the link is about, or what the user is meant to do with it.
- Keep linked phrases short, 3-5 words.
- Links should be in contrasting colour to be mindful of learners with low vision or colour blindness. Make sure that colours are not your only method of conveying links – e.g. use underlined text to make the link stand out.
- Links that are underlined provide guaranteed link visibility when scanning a web page; Underlined links is an online stylistic element that is widely understood.
- Avoid linking headings and never use a URL for link text—screen readers will read out the URL verbatim.
Never use handles (or drag the boundaries) to resize a big image in Canvas. This may seem to work, but it doesn’t necessarily make any difference to the file size and can affect the quality badly. You might also pull the image out of proportion, causing distortion and degradation. This causes frustration for everyone, not just low-vision users.
Additionally, low-vision users need to zoom-in or enlarge an image so it is best if the image has not been degraded prior to this.
Resizing images in Windows
Open your image in the Photos application pre-installed in Windows and select Resize from the menu.
Then select the medium option (this will be greyed out if your image is smaller than the medium image profile).
Resizing images in MacOS
Use the Preview App on a Mac computer to resize your image.
Screen readers cannot display images but can read text labels to describe images for learners.
Alternative (alt) text is needed to describe the content and function of the image, and any text that is part of an image.
Adding alternative text in Canvas can be easily done from the Rich Content Editor.
Colour contrast is the difference between text and background colours. Most people prefer white text on a black background (high contrast) over orange text on a red background (low contrast). This is especially the case for people with low contrast sensitivity or colour blindness, who may struggle to discern meaning when insufficient contrast is provided.
Conversely, some people with high contrast sensitivity (e.g., Irlen Syndrome or visual stress) may struggle with extreme contrast. This can lead to discomforts, such as eye strain and headaches.
Providing balanced colour contrast is therefore very important to ensure accessibility.
Colour and screen readers
Colour is a helpful visual signpost of hierarchy and/or meaning; however, screen readers are unable to recognize it. It is therefore best used in combination with text or symbols. Using colour alone to denote hierarchy and/or meaning will limit accessibility for those with visual impairments (e.g., colour blindness or low vision).
Documents and files
Page layouts need to be clear, consistent and easily navigated. Font family size and colour should be easily legible. For example, a single column with chunked content is more easily navigated than double columns.
Your content will be scanned by screen readers as well as accessed by low vision users. If you create your page layout for these readers, everyone will benefit.
Video captions and transcriptions
Video can be demanding for many types of learner. Textual descriptions, or captions, can at least help to describe what is happening on screen.
Multiple factors can affect the accessibility of online video, from technical limitations such as low bandwidth or poor connectivity, to individual preferences and limitations. Many learners prefer textual representations but, for visually impaired learners, these are essential.
Read about providing video captions and transcriptions in the FAQs section.
How do I check accessibility?
In-built Canvas accessibility checker
Canvas has an in-built accessibility checker which will highlight accessibility issues needing attention.
The accessibility checker is visible at the bottom right hand side when you open the Rich Content Editor.
Checking accessibility of materials created outside of Canvas?
Microsoft offers built-in accessibility checkers for Word and PowerPoint – see the Office Accessibility Checker
Similarly Adobe Acrobat provides a built-in checker – see Create and verify PDF accessibility using Acrobat Pro
Inclusive Design for Online Accessibility (PDF)
Learning difficulties and teaching inclusively (PDF)
Inclusive Design for Canvas course
Canvas design templates