As you prepare your course for online delivery, one of your first tasks will be to add digital content into your Learning Management System (LMS) course. You can help ensure your students have access to content that works better with their assistive technologies and study tools by following some simple accessibility best practices. You’ll find the accessible content you create results in higher-quality, more readable content that benefits all your students. Below you can choose the type of content you want to create or improve, and follow the steps to more inclusive learning.

  • Text Documents
  • Slide-based Presentations
  • HTML and WYSIWYG Content
  • Video Content
  • PDFs

Author Accessible Text Documents

Text documents that are well-structured and well-formatted can improve the organization of your documents and make them easier for students to read. Clearly organized documents can help save you time in the long-run answering student questions and clarifying points of confusion.

  1. Use proper heading structure. Begin your document with a Heading 1 and include Headings throughout to help keep your content organized. Think about Headings like you are building an outline for a paper with a top level and sublevels. Headings should have a consistent hierarchy.

    More on how to add Headings to your Word or Google Doc

    When you add a Heading, you might not like the default font style, color, or size. You can adjust the Heading styles to your liking. Remember that simple fonts, dark colors with sufficient contrast, and sufficient size ensure your documents are readable for everyone.

  2. Add alternative text to your images. If you add an image to your document, you should add Alt Text. Alt Text or Image Description allows people using screen readers and text-to-speech tools to hear the content of an image. Alt Text should be clear and concise (1-2 sentences) and explain the relevant content of an image. Alt Text is different from a caption, which describes the context of an image. If the image is only for design or visual appeal, you can mark the image as decorative. Depending on the authoring tool you are using, select the “Mark as decorative box” or add “” in the description field.

    More on how to add Alt Text to your Word or Google Doc

    If you add a complex infographic, chart, or graph to your document, you might not be able to explain everything in the Alt Text. You can point out key aspects of the graph or chart, such as axes or inflection points. In addition to the Alt Text, you can also create a long description next to the graphic to provide a detailed textual description of the key elements of the graphic. Also remember, if your graphic has text in it, add the text in the image to your Alt Text or to your long description.

  3. Use Tables for Tabular Data. Tables can be a great way to organize information, but if they aren’t done correctly, they can be difficult for people to navigate using assistive technologies. If you add a table to your document, make sure that you are using the table for data and not for layout. This means that your rows and columns align and you don’t have any blank cells. You also want to make sure your table has a repeating header row.

    More on how to format Tables in your Word or Google Doc

  4. Make your links descriptive. You may want to link to additional resources from your document. Don’t add the long url directly to your document. A recommendation is to create some descriptive text about where the url is directing the reader, highlighting the text, and then adding the URL as a hyperlink.

    More on how to add a descriptive link to your Word or Google Doc

  5. Upload content to your course. After you’ve finished writing your document, you’re ready to upload it into your LMS. For best access, upload it as both a Word Doc and the PDF. The native file format is better for accessibility while PDF can ensure students on devices without MS Office can still access it. When exporting to PDF, make sure to “Save as” and choose the “Best for electronic distribution and accessibility.”

Author Accessible Presentation Slides

Even if you record your lectures and the PowerPoint presentation is part of the video recording, share your PowerPoint slides in your course. The slides can be a useful resource for students to review, especially if they have bandwidth issues as they watch your video.

  1. Use the built-in slide layouts. Start off by using a template and the built-in layouts. The built-in templates will help ensure each of your slides has a title and a consistent reading order. Each slide should have a unique title, as this makes it clearer to students that they are reading a new slide. The Outline view also helps you see that each slide has a title and readable elements.

    More on how to work with slide templates and titles for Windows and Mac

    If you need to deviate from the template, you can arrange the order of the objects on a slide through “Arrange” > “Reorder Objects.” This way students using a screen reader or text-to-speech tool can understand the intended order of the content on each slide.

  2. Be concise. As you add text to your slides, consider how you intend for students to engage with the slides and why you are using slides as opposed to a text document. If you’re presenting slides in a video, try not to overload them with a lot of text, and stick to precise talking points. You might add denser slides intended for reading as an appendix to your presentation deck.

    If you add a URL link to your slides, remember to add some descriptive text about where the url is directing the reader, then highlight the text, and add the URL as a hyperlink. You’ll take up less space on your slide and students will have a clear understanding of the purpose of the link.

  3. Make your slides easy to read. Designing visually appealing slides can be fun and engaging for students, but try not to compromise the readability of your slides. Use a consistent font that’s easy to read. If you’re creating emphasis in text by using color, also bold or underline the text for those who may be color blind. You’ll also want to make sure that there is sufficient color contrast between your background and text. Color.Review allows you to copy and paste the RGB values from your foreground and background to see if the combination passes color contrast checks. If your colors don’t pass, you can adjust the sliders to find a combination that does.
  4. Add alternative text to images. Like with text documents, the images you add to your slides need an image description or Alt Text. An Alt Text or Image Description allows people using screen readers and text-to-speech tools hear the content of an image. Alt Text should be clear and concise (1-2 sentences) and explain the relevant content of an image. It is different from a caption, which describes the context of an image. Powerpoint presentations tend to have a lot of images or shapes that are more for visual appeal or design. You can mark these images as decorative. Depending on the version of Powerpoint, either select the “Mark as decorative box” or add empty quotes “” in the description field.

    More on how to add Alt text in Powerpoint for Windows and Mac

    If you add a complex infographic, chart, or graph to your slide, you might not be able to explain everything in the Alt Text. You can point out key aspects of the graph or chart, such as axes or inflection points in the Alt Text. In addition to the Alt Text, can also create a long description next to the graphic to provide a detailed textual description of the key elements of the graphic. Remember, if your graphic has text in it, you’ll want to add that text to the Alt Text or to your long description.

  5. Upload your presentation to your course. Once you’ve finished your Powerpoint presentation, you’ll want to upload the presentation into your LMS course. If the Powerpoint file size is large because it contains a lot of images, you can shrink the file size down. Selecting “Compress Pictures” in the File menu. Uploading the Powerpoint file is best for accessibility. You might also export the Presentation to PDF and upload the PDF for students accessing the content on a device that does not have MS Office, but remember that PDFs exported from Powerpoint files may have accessibility issues not present in the original file.

    More on how to compress your images

Author Accessible HTML with your LMS Content Editor

Take advantage of the authoring tools available in your LMS courses. These tools can improve the user experience of your students. You can more clearly organize how your students navigate through your course, and you can avoid making students download your content and engage with it outside your course. Because the content you create with the LMS tools is web-based, it also tends to be more accessible and easier to read on mobile devices.

  1. Use proper heading structure. Like with a text document, headings are an important part of keeping your content organized and providing a navigation structure for your students. Make sure you start with a (or the highest heading available in your editor) and have a consistent hierarchy. When writing paragraph content, don’t use a heading for style, use the style.

    If you don’t like the default heading or paragraph styles, you can maintain the structure while adjusting font type, size, and color. Remember to use easy-to-read fonts, maintain sufficient font size, and avoid using light colors on white backgrounds to maintain sufficient contrast. Learn more about best practices for designing with colors.

  2. Properly format your lists and tables. Beyond headings, you might use lists and tables to organize your content. Use a number list when sequence matters and bullet list when it doesn’t. Avoid creating lists using the style and instead use the bullet list or number list tool for optimal accessibility. If you’re familiar with formatting in HTML, you might be tempted to use a table for visual layout, but this can result in content that is difficult to understand for people who use a screen reader, text-to-speech tools, and mobile devices. When you use a table, make sure that the rows and columns align and there are no blank cells so that people can clearly navigate information in the cells.
  3. Add alternative text to your images. When you embed images into your content, make sure to include Alt Text for people who use screen readers and text-to-speech tools. Most LMS editors prompt you to add an Alt Text, but it is important to remember that your Alt Text should be different from the file name. Alt Text should be clear and concise (1-2 sentences) and explain the relevant content of an image. It is different from a caption, which describes the context of an image.

    Graphics with text make HTML pages more visual, but remember that screen readers and speech-to-text tools can’t pick up on text in an image. Make sure to add the relevant text in the alt text. Or, if there is detailed information in the image, create a textual description outside the alt text for students.

  4. Be consistent. As you create additional content items, keep a consistent style and form so that students can grow familiar and comfortable with your content. Organize your content items in modules however you like, just keep things consistent so students can easily navigate through your course content week to week.

    You can link between content items to provide a flow for students to follow from one activity to another, just make sure to use a descriptive link. Avoid “Click here” and instead describe exactly where a hyperlink is taking the student to next.

Produce Accessible Videos

Videos can be a great way to engage your students and explain complex topics in a multimodal format. Accessible videos ensure everyone can benefit from that content, and can enhance understanding.

  1. Have a clear plan and organization. Just like when writing a paper or preparing a lecture, you’ll want to have a clear plan and organizing strategy for producing your lecture video. Even if you don’t plan to read from a script, a script helps you organize your talking points, avoid rambling, and it also comes in handy later for captioning purposes. Also, creating a storyboard outline can be helpful to better coordinate timing with your visuals.

    Upload your scripts and storyboard outlines along with your video for students. The storyboard outline can help students quickly identify content in the video that they need to re-visit for review. A script or direct transcript of the video can be useful for students who want to skim the content for review, or for students with bandwidth issues who may be having trouble streaming the video content.

  2. Produce quality audio. When recording your video, higher-quality audio is more important than higher-quality video. Clear audio, good pacing, and clear annunciation help students both hear the content better and stay engaged. It also helps later with captioning. Also remember to clearly describe the visuals in your video. For example, the content of PowerPoint slides or animation overlays. For students with visual impairments or students with bandwidth issues that may compromise image quality, these audio descriptions of visual content provide better access for everyone.
  3. Add captions. After you’ve finished your video, you should add captions. Captions are of course imperative for the deaf and hard of hearing, but also help second language learners and have even been demonstrated to improve comprehension and retention for all learners. Adding accurate captions can be a time-consuming process, and automatically-generated captions tend to have accuracy issues. However, you can use automatically-generated captions as a starting point, and then edit for clarity. Or, if you follow your script, you can often upload the script to generate accurate captions.

    Your institution may have a suggested video host, but if you are looking for a place to host and caption your videos, YouTube can be a good option. Learn more about captions on YouTube.

  4. Keep it short. There are several benefits to keeping your videos under 10 minutes in length. First, it can help keep students engaged and more easily find specific parts or themes in the videos when reviewing. Smaller files sizes also make it easier to upload videos and decrease the load time for students with low bandwidth. Ideally, you’ll account for duration in your planning so that each video has a clear theme, beginning, and end. Otherwise, you can chunk longer videos into shorter videos as chapters. Include a text outline to describe key elements in each chapter.

    Upload your Powerpoint slides, scripts, outlines, and any other materials relevant to your video to provide students with multiple options to engage and review your lecture materials. Organize your content in an HTML item or page with a consistent structure so students don’t feel overwhelmed by the additional resources, but can access them when needed.

Address PDF Accessibility

PDFs can be one of the most challenging file types for accessibility because editing PDFs often requires specialized tools. Remember that you can avoid accessibility issues with the content you create using MS Word and Powerpoint and upload those files in their native file format in addition to saving the file for electronic distribution. Otherwise, the PDFs you use in your course may be from publishers or 3rd parties, but that doesn’t mean they are accessible. Even if you can’t fix all the accessibility issues with PDFs yourself, being aware of the issues can help you anticipate challenges your students may face so that you can reach out to accessibility experts on your campus for help.

  1. Make sure the native file is accessible. When you’ve finished creating a document using MS Word or Powerpoint, you can use the built-in accessibility checker to make sure you didn’t miss anything before you save to PDF for electronic distribution. You can also use a tool like the File Transformer to convert your native file to a Tagged PDF, as some versions of PowerPoint fail to generate a properly Tagged PDF even when the original is accessible.

    More on how to use accessibility checkers for Word and PowerPoint

  2. Avoid scanned PDFs when possible. Scanned PDFs are generated when print materials like books are scanned into electronic form. Since the scans are just an image of the text, they pose significant accessibility barriers, and often limit effective study strategies like searching for keywords and copy + paste for note taking. You want to avoid Scanned PDFs whenever you can, but if you are in a situation where a scan is your only option, your first step is to ensure that the scan is as clear as possible. Make sure all words are legible, there aren’t markings or discolorations on the pages, and the book binding hasn’t distorted the words. If you have a clean scan, you can at least use a free OCR tool (Optical Character Recognition) to extract the text from the document for a more accessible version.

    Use the File Transformer to download your scanned PDF as an OCRed PDF

  3. Use tags in your PDFs. Missing tags is also a common accessibility issue with PDFs. Tags are essentially electronic markers within the document that help people using screen readers navigate the document, as they inform the reading order of the content and the type of content within a document. You need specialized tools like Adobe Acrobat Pro, to tag a document. Adding tags can be both a time-consuming and knowledge-intensive task. If you have access to Acrobat Pro, you can try auto-tagging the PDF as a first step, but like automated-captions, there can be accuracy issues with the tags.

    More on PDF accessibility with Adobe Acrobat Pro