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Creating Accessible Materials

By Adam Nemeroff and Erin DeSilva

Accessible materials create access to documents and materials so that they are usable by all students in your class. Most of these changes have the dual benefit of simultaneously helping students with specific accommodations, while also improving the experience for the other users in your class. The following is a guide for creating materials with these types of considerations in mind. In this guide, we include both general guidelines as well as specific steps to follow for specific tools and materials.

This guide from Auckland University gives a wonderful overview of these similar guidelines.

The University of Auckland describes how to create Inclusive Online Courses.
The University of Auckland describes how to create Inclusive Design for Online Accessibility. Here is a downloadable PDF.

Updated March 12, 2018 - An earlier version of this guide was published in 2016. We updated the guide recently to include updates to the Canvas and documents sections. For Canvas, we added specific directions for accessibility features in Canvas (using the accessibility checker and UDOIT). We also posted a screencast video explaining how to use these tools. For documents, we included more extensive directions on creating accessible document and converting them with SensusAccess, a new document conversion tool at the College.

Canvas Content

Based on both standards established in Section 508 and General Accessibility Design Guidelines from Instructure, we recommend considering the questions below when designing content in Canvas:A

Accessible Canvas materials should include:

  1. Headings that describe section contents and hierarchy
  2. Alternative text describing images
  3. Include both table headers and table captions
  4. Colors that promote contrast
  5. Descriptive links to resources

There are two options for checking existing Canvas sites for accessibility problems. First, you can use the Accessibility Checker built into the Rich Content Editor. Second, you can use UDOIT, a new tool in Canvas that allows you to check for and resolve accessibility issues across your course. Check out the video we created that explains how to use both of these tools within your Canvas site.

The following are other site design recommendations intended to promote accessibility:

  • Does your course site design facilitate readability and ease of use?
  • Do you introduce students to the structure and organization of your course site?
  • Is accessibility information included for all technology (other than Canvas) used in the course?
  • Does your Canvas site design promotes mobile-first and responsive design?  Refer to Will Canvas work on my mobile device? Avoid the use of Flash content, tables used merely as a design or layout tool, and the use of fixed with when presenting tabular data or information.


All videos used in your course should include human-verified captions. YouTube has a machine-generated captioning tool that allows for human verification and editing. Canvas allows users to generate captions with Amara (an external tool) and upload caption files with videos.


Both Microsoft Office and Adobe PDFs, utilize the built-in features to provide accessible materials to your students. For Microsoft Office documents, please refer to Microsoft’s documentation on the Accessibility Checker. For PDF documents, refer to the University of Washington’s guide on Fixing Inaccessible PDFs Using Adobe Acrobat Pro.

For scanned documents, make sure that you have a “clean” copy of the document free of any margin notes or highlights, generate a high quality scan from your scanning device, and check if character recognition was performed on your PDF after the scan. You can use Sensus Access, a document conversation tool provided by Student Accessibility Services for the Dartmouth community, to both convert materials and check for character recognition on the final document.

Creating accessible materials is the the first point in creating an inclusive course centered on universal design. Contact a Learning Designer at EdTech to learn more today.

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