Canvas Accessibility

Young woman wearing headphones looking at her laptop.

What can I do to improve accessibility in my course?

By employing a few simple techniques when creating your courses and materials that maximize accessibility, you won't be scrambling when a student needs an accommodation, because you will have done most of the work already. Many accessibility problems in instructor-created course content can be prevented by three relatively simple practices that will significantly improve accessibility for your course.

Use headings and other built-in style features

Using built-in styles and layouts improves the both the usability and accessibility of Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, Canvas pages, and other files. As you create these files:

  • Use headings (e.g., Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3) to format and mark headings and indicate the organization of the content. Headings help everyone recognize ordinal and co-ordinal relationships between topics and enable those using screen readers to skim the page and find what they need.
  • Use built-in bullet lists and numbered lists instead of trying to create them using tabs and spaces. The built-in lists provide a navigational structure for those using screen readers.
  • Use built-in layouts in PowerPoint rather than building your own with text boxes. The built-in layouts include mark-ups, similar to the headings described above, which ensures that information is presented in the correct order for those using screen readers.

Write concise and meaningful link text

If link text is meaningless or too long, students using screen readers have trouble figuring out where the link will take them. Keep link text concise and make sure that it makes sense out of context.

  • "Click here" is problematic.
  • "Contact your advisor" is better than "Click here to contact your advisor" or "Link to academic advisors."
  • Use URLs as link text only if the URL is very short and meaningful.
  • If an image serves as a link, the alternative text of the image serves as the link text, so make sure that it follows the guidelines for links.

See WebAIM's page on links and hypertext for more information.

Provide a text alternative for images where appropriate

Alternative text (also called "alt text") is invisible text attached to images. It is read aloud by a screen reader, enabling someone who can't see the image to access the meaning of the image. Programs such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint enable you to add alternative text to images. In Canvas, you add alternative text to the Image Attributes when you add an image.

Alternative text is required for all images, and writing it can be tricky, so the WebAIM "How to Write Appropriate alt Text" tutorial is highly recommended. (You can skip the parts about HTML.) To get you started, here are some basic guidelines for writing it, depending on whether the image is active, informational, redundant, or textual

Active Images - The image serves as a link or a button. Clicking it or hovering over it causes something to happen. Use alt text that conveys the function of the image (for example, "View map of Antarctica").

Informational Images - The image is not active but conveys information that is not given in a caption or the body of the content. Use alternative text that contains the same information as the image.

Decorative/Redundant Images - The image is redundant to the text or conveys no information. Use alt="" for the alternative text.

Textual Images - The image is of text. Use alternative text that is the same as the text in the image.

Improving accessibility and usability at the same time

In addition to the items listed above, both usability and accessibility can also be improved by

  • using easy to read fonts. Using san-serif, non-italicized, monospaced (fixed-width) fonts especially improve readability for students with dyslexia.
  • making sure any PDFs of articles or other documents not created by you are actual documents and not just images of journal pages. This assists both students using screen readers and students who like to be able to search the content of an article or document to find and review information.
  • using scripts when recording presentations. Scripts can then be provided as transcripts to students with hearing difficulties or for whom English may not be their primary language.

How do I know if my Canvas course is accessible?

Use the Canvas Accessibility Checker to create accessible:

  • Tables
  • Images
  • Text

PLEASE NOTE: The Canvas Accessibility Checker does not check for accessibility of uploaded resources such as documents, slideshow presentations, or videos. To find out if your documents are accessible, you can use the following guides:

Some content on this page is based on the Online Teaching course created by the Trustees of Indiana University.