Preparing Accessible Courses

Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota believes that disabilities are a valuable aspect of the diversity of our college community. Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota is committed to maintaining an inclusive and accessible environment across all learning platforms for all students.

For students with documented accommodations, please contact Access Services for more information and guidance.

General guidelines

  • Make your syllabus and basic course content available to students 1-2 weeks prior to the start of the course. Access Services requires this time to review and discuss barriers that a student may identify in the course and work with the student to discuss reasonable solutions. This also provides at least two weeks for any document conversion that is necessary. This is part of our student centered approach recognizing our commitment to inclusion.
  • Per 20 U.S. Code § 1015b, report your textbook(s) to the bookstore 3-4 weeks prior to the start of classes.
  • When selecting materials for your course such as books, technology tools, third-party videos, etc., vet them for accessibility. Access Services or Instructional Technology teams can support you in this vetting process.
  • Include the Saint Mary’s Accessibility Statement and Access Services Website on your syllabus for resources.
  • Utilize the accessibility report via Canvas and Ally to understand and access your course’s accessibility score.
  • Adhere to the Canvas Minimum Usage transition document.

Digital accessibility checklist

Clear and consistent course/document layout and navigation structure
  1. Take advantage of the Canvas course template to help organize content.
  2. Ideally, students will learn the course organization at the beginning of the semester and then never have to think about where to find things again. Be consistent in the organization of course content from module-to-module/week-to-week.
  3. Same elements are named the same. For example, a “discussion board” is always referred to as a “discussion board” throughout the course, not a “blog” or a “forum.”
  4. Use white space to parse out information so that it is easily read and consumed by students. Having white space helps students with cognitive load and positively impacts all students, but especially those who experience dyslexia or other cognitive challenges.
Headings styles in the LMS, in Word, Google documents, etc.
  1. Use the provided heading tool (H1, H2, H3, etc.), rather than manually enlarging and/or bolding font
  2. Be sure that headings are in hierarchical order of the content.
  3. Heading structures in online courses and documents help all users navigate content more easily, but it is especially important for assistive technology users.
  4. Give all headings clear, unique titles and keep them consistent with the language in your syllabus and elsewhere throughout the course.
  5. Text that is not a heading should be “normal” or “paragraph” in Canvas, Google, or Word documents.
Text font style and size
    1. Simplicity in typeface is critical. The sans serif font family is the most simple and easy to read.
    2. Minimize the number of font styles in a single course/document. If you choose to use more than one font, use the same font for the same type of content. For example, headings may all be one font and text may be another. Do not use more than two or three fonts.
    3. Avoid using italics and ALL CAPITAL LETTERS; they are often difficult for low-vision users to read. If you must emphasize the text, bold can be used, but it is better to note the importance: e.g.,: “Important: x, y, z” or “Note: x, y, z.”
    4. Text and background colors should have a high contrast. For example, grey text on a white background is difficult to read.
    5. Reserve underlined text for hyperlinked text. Using underlined text for non-linking purposes causes confusion.
    6. Font size is equally important. Generally, text should not be less than 12 points.
    7. Avoid animated and blinking text or graphics.
    8. Do not use colored text alone to convey meaning.

An improper use of color:

Assignments (optional extra credit assignments indicated in blue): collaborative writing assignment, proposal for final project, journal entry.

A proper use of color may be:

Assignments due this week: collaborative writing assignment (required), proposal for final project (required), journal entry (optional extra credit).

Lists, ordered and unordered
  1. Use the bullet or number list tool, rather than manually entering dashes or numbers in Canvas, Word, Google, PowerPoint, or other document types.
  2. This tool properly formats your lists so that all students benefit from clear structure and presentation of textual content, particularly those using screen readers.
  3. Manually created lists lack the coding needed for assistive technologies.
  1. Name hyperlinks so that all users know where they will be taken when they click on the link. In other words, make hyperlinks that are self-describing (see examples below).
  2. Links that go to the same page or document are named the same.
  3. Avoid using link phrases, such as “click here,” “read more,” “learn more,” etc.
  4. Descriptively named links aid all students, but especially those who may use assistive technology to navigate the page.
  5. The only underlined text in your course or document should be a hyperlink. Do not use underline to underscore information. For example:
  1. Contrast and color use are vital to accessibility. Text and background colors should have a high contrast. For example, grey text on a white background is difficult to read.
  2. High contrast should be present in images also.
  3. Never use color alone to convey meaning in text, images, etc. As an example, highlighting text in a color to indicate meaning will not convey information to students who rely on assistive technology or are color blind.
  4. When possible avoid red and green; there are a high number of people with red-green color blindness.
Images and Charts/Graphs
  1. Provide concise, meaningful alternative text for images (drawing, maps, diagrams, charts, graphics, photographs, etc.) and tables. Note: For tables, use the Microsoft Accessibility Checker (see Documents section below). For more complicated elements such as math, accounting, charts, etc., consult with Access Services.
  2. Text must be provided to students which presents the content and function of the images within the context of the content.
  3. Do not include “Photo of…” in the image’s alternative text.
  4. Images that serve a decorative purpose and do not contribute to understanding can be marked as “decorative”.
  5. Be sure images, graphics, etc. are “inline with text.” This enables assistive technology to provide information about the object in the correct reading order.
  6. Avoid text as an image. If the image contains text, the alternative text description must include the text.
  7. See above regarding color contrast.
Pre-recorded Videos and Audio Files
  1. Closed captions should be available for all videos; students should be able to turn them on/off, as desired.
    • All videos created in, or uploaded to Panopto are automatically captioned by the auto-caption generator. These are not ADA compliant but offer a great starting point.
    • If there is a student with accommodations in your course, please be aware that Access Services will need a minimum of 3 weeks to ensure ADA compliance.
  2. Closed captions should match the audio, not have misspellings, and be 99 percent accurate.
  3. Be selective when choosing third-party videos, including movies, for your course. Avoid videos that do not have closed captions and/or a transcript.
  4. Audio files should be descriptively named and a transcript should be provided for the audio file.
  5. Captions should be used in other technology tools also such as FlipGrid, VoiceThread, and audio added to PowerPoints.
Live streaming video (Zoom or Google Hangouts)
  1. When posting a recording of a live streaming session, follow the above captioning process.
  2. For courses where there is a Deaf or hard of hearing student, consult Access Services at least 1 month ahead of time to schedule a live transcription service.
  3. Activate live transcription features in Zoom (Zoom Pro accounts only).
LMS and instructional tools
  1. LMS Tools: Canvas has a built in Immersive Reader that allows all users to alternatively view pages.
  2. Ally: The accessibility report and alternative formats offer insights into how to improve access to course materials
  3. Video Capture: Panopto allows for instructors and students to make videos. All videos created or uploaded into Panopto are auto-captioned.
  4. Speech Recognition: Google Read and Write is a great application that provides comprehensive reading and writing supports for Google Docs and the web as well as PDFs, ePubs, and files stored in Google Drive. Install Google Read and Write.
  5. For a further list of the recommended tools, along with directions and tutorials please refer to the Accessibility Toolkit.
  1. Follow the above accessibility guidelines to ensure accessible documents.
  2. Many Microsoft programs (2011 or newer) have an accessibility checker tool; use it to ensure your document is accessible.
  3. Do not scan a printed document to create a PDF. All accessibility features will be lost. Instead create a PDF by exporting Word documents to a PDFs.
  4. Further information can be found in the NCDAE Cheatsheet for application(s) often used.