Accessibility of resources and information

How do I make content accessible?

Heading styles

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 are found in on the Home tab in the Word ribbon

Headings in Canvas

Heading styles are found under the second drop down-menu to the right of font size. drop-down

For example:

Heading one as the page title

[Some content]

Heading two as a section title

[Some content]

Heading 3 as a sub-section title

[Some content]

Plain language

Plain language is easily understood, concrete and descriptive. If used thoughtfully, plain language has the power to convey complex ideas without being overly simplistic. 

Meaningful links

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.

Some tips

  • 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.
Resizing images

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.

Click on the see more (three dots in the menu) to view the full menu, then select Resize.

Then select the medium option (this will be greyed out if your image is smaller than the medium image profile).

Select the medium profile (M), the option will be greyed-out if the original image is smaller than the medium profile

Resizing images in MacOS

Use the Preview App on a Mac computer to resize your image

Alternative Text

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

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.

Use WebAIM’s Contrast Checker to test the contrast of foreground and background colours or Wave tool to test the contrast of an entire page.

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 and captions

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 transcriptions in the FAQs section.

Why is checking for accessibility important? 

Going through this process will improve the likelihood that all students understand your teaching materials.

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. 

Go to: How do I use the Accessibility Checker

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