Top Course Accessiblity Tips

Table of Contents


This page is a list of the top things you can do right now to make your course more accessible. Each tip is followed by explanation of how to apply it to your course.

Tip #1

Make sure your Syllabus is Accessible

Please consider including a statement in your course syllabus explaining the disability support services that SPU can offer. Recommended statements:

Example 1:

In accordance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, SPU students with disabilities who qualify for academic accommodations should contact Disability Support Services in the Center for Learning in Lower Moyer Hall. (Call x2475 or email The Disability Support Services office will then send a letter to the instructor indicating which accommodations have been approved for the student. If you need this syllabus and/or class handouts in alternative format, please speak with the instructor.

Example 2:

Any student who feels she/he may need an accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact Disability Support Services at x2475 or via email at, or stop by the office (Center For Learning) to confidentially discuss specific needs and coordinate reasonable accommodations for a documented disability. If you need this syllabus and/or class handouts in alternative format, please speak with the instructor.

Tip #2

Use Captioned videos (even in the absence of a specific accommodation letter for a student)

Many video capture tools, such as Panopto and YouTube have automatic captioning. Unfortunately, most auto generated captions are incredibly inaccurate. To ensure good captions, you will need to create them yourself or outsource them to trusted person or company. There are some steps that you can take to make the captioning process easier. First and foremost, if you create a script for your screencast or video, save it! Writing captions from a script that has already been created can be as simple as copy/pasting. Next, when you record a video, be sure to speak clearly, to enunciate, and when possible, look at the camera so that a person who lip reads can do so easily.

Many educational videos, such as PBS videos, come with captions and descriptive text already inserted. It is a good idea to search for educational content that already includes captioning. DSS contracts with a company that will add captions to video for a fee. 

View the tutorials on captioning videos in:

Tip #3

Make sure your PDFs are accessible 

Like most other universal design elements, making PDFs accessible to students with disabilities has benefits for all students. Accessible PDFs can be edited and highlighted, making it easier to select intriguing passages and take notes on digital documents. Then, all students can choose to listen to their documents on the go.

While PDFs are convenient and are a great way preserve document formatting, they are not always compatible with screen reading software. Documents need to be converted to PDF in a way that allows text to be recognized as text, rather than an image. If you scan a document (for example, a chapter from a text book), first be sure that the glass is streak free, that the book is straight and that the resolution and brightness are clear and readable. Rotate any pages that were scanned sideways. You will then need to make the text recognizable when you scan documents. To do this in Adobe Acrobat Pro simply open the document and select "tools" and then recognize text in this document or in multiple documents. If the conversion fails to recognize some objects in your document, try using the OCR Suspects tool as well.

Take these two easy steps to recognize the text.

  1. Tool bar in Adobe Acrobat Pro 
  2. Recognize text in Adobe Acrobat Pro

Tip #4

Use headings to edit text documents

When using any text editor, such as MS Word, or the Blackboard text editor, use the headings/paragraph, lists, and bullet point formatting tools to format a document both visually and for a screen reader. For example, rather than simply increasing the font size and selecting "B" or "bold" to create the title of your page, use the "Heading 1" format tool. Increased font size is not recognized by a screen reader, but a heading indicator is. This will allow the user to get a better sense of flow and organization of a document. Otherwise, what visually appears as a carefully formatted document will become a large, space free block of text in a screen reader. For this same purpose, avoid using charts unnecessarily or only for formatting purposes. Only use charts for information that truly needs to be categorized because of the difficulty charts can cause for screen readers.heading menu in MS word

Tip #5

Use high contrast colors in documents and presentations 

Try to avoid a dark backgrounds with dark text, it is difficult to read. In addition, try to include white space and headers in your documents, rather than creating a document that is an large block of text.

red writing on black background text that is difficult to read

Serifs are the small extensions on the ends of some letters. A sans serif font is cleaner and crisper, and is easier to read on a digital device. You don't always have the choice to change your font. Depending on your writing platform, there may be a default font set, however, if you have a choice choose a sans serif font such as Veranda for your  digital documents.

Tip #6

Add alternative text to images 

When ever you upload a photo or picture into a document or website, you have the opportunity to add alternative text so that people who have a visual impairment can still understand what is happening in your presentation, website etc. When you add an image in Blackboard, there is a "description" box. The text in this box can be read by screen reading software such as JAWS. If there is no place to add a description to the image, it is still possible to add a caption to the photo that describes what is taking place in the image.

Alt text box in Canvas

Tip #7

Use an accessibility checker on websites you have students visit

You can use an web accessibility check such as to plug in a website you want students to use and make sure it is accessible. The checker will report any problems.

Tip #8

Use tables only to display information that needs to be displayed in a table (don't use simply for layout purposes) 

It is best to use tables only to display information that must be displayed in a table format, such as a bank statement. In order words, avoid using tables simply for formatting. Screen readers often present the information in tables in awkward and confusing chunks. Information that can be displayed in a simple numbered or bulleted list is preferable. When tables are necessary, be sure to include appropriate column and row heads to make the information easier to decipher .

Tip #9

Try to deliver content in more than one format, try to assess students in more than one way 

Building in various activities, in addition to different methods of content delivery and assessment will create more access points for your course. Providing multiple learning pathways, making learning strategies explicit, and scaffolding learning by providing students with a conceptual framework are all steps you can take to make your course accessible to students with physical or mental disabilities.

Assessment can be more than a final paper. When it comes to assessment, think both formative and summative. Alternative forms of assessment could include infographics, TedTalks, digital stories, blogs, short films and "maker" or rapid prototyping projects. Including a few different options for assessment gives students a chance to be creative, work in teams and try something new.

Tip #10

Make the objectives for each course clear to students before each class

After gaining the attention of your students the next event is walking your students through your course’s learning objectives. Gagne, along with others, suggest taking time early on in a course to review the learning objectives to continue creating your course’s narrative arc and to begin to create meta-cognitive hooks on which students can hang the information to start creating denser knowledge structures out of the information. See more on the CSFD website.

Bonus tip:

Make sure that the emails you send to students are accessible 

Avoid sending emails as images, rather, type your messages in Outlook, MS Word or another text editor using the appropriate headings and formatting. This is beneficial for all students, as emails that are sent as images cannot be enlarged and are difficult to navigate on most devices. While beneficial for all, it is imperative students who use assertive reading devices (screenreaders) because those computer programs will not recognize text that is saved as an image. Likewise, avoid using email signatures with images, as they are not accessible.

You can work with Computer Information Systems (CIS) for internal communications, or University Communications (UC) for external communications to get help making an accessible email template. Alternatively, you can attach a transcript of digital postcards to email messages to make them more accessible. Lastly, you can add alternative text to images in emails (desktop version of Outlook, not Webmail), however, be advised that lengthy messages in the "Alt text" box are not ideal. Instead, try adding an image in your email, then writing your text, and then adding another image at the bottom of your message. In this way you can "sandwich" readable text in between two images.

Bonus tip #2: 

Plan your courses early, it can take several weeks to complete a request of an accommodation (ex. finding a captioned version of a documentary, or converting a math textbook to Braille).