What does it mean to create accessible content?

“‘Accessible’ means a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally effective and equally integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use.”  (US-DOJ Resolution Agreement. 11-11-6002)

A student’s disability may be a physical disability (mobility, visual impairment, hearing impairment, etc.) or a cognitive disability (ADD / ADHD, dyslexia, traumatic brain injury, etc.). Learn more about designing your content with cognitive disabilities in mind.

Why does creating accessible content matter?

Federal law, including laws like the Higher Education Opportunity Act (2008), the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), and the Rehabilitation Act (1973); legal settlements; Dear Colleague letters from the Departments of Justice and Education; and voluntary industry and advocacy group guidelines have all defended the rights of all individuals to receive a meaningful and equal education. The responsibility faced by educators and educational institutions is real.

On a more personal level, we assume that you went into teaching driven by a passion for your content and for working with students. You have something to share! It would be unfortunate to let the manner in which the content is currently presented stand in the way of communicating your points to students. When students cannot access content, they miss out – and we, as a classroom, a campus community, and a society also miss out on all the connections and contributions this student might have made.

Guidelines for Accessibility for Course Content

The guidelines below are based on internationally accepted, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines: WCAG 2.0 AA. Follow these guidelines or the step-by-step product-specific instructions in the How to Create Accessible Content section below to create and make your course content accessible.

  • Use properly formatted headings to structure the page.
  • Format lists as lists.
  • Write meaningful link text.
  • Create tables with column and/or row headers.
  • Maintain a proper reading order in documents, web pages and slides.
  • Use sufficient color contrast.
  • Don’t use color alone to convey meaning.
  • Ensure that any action that uses a mouse, can also be completed by keyboard alone.
  • Provide alternative text descriptions for images.
  • Design clear and consistent navigation.
  • Eliminate or limit blinking / flashing content to 3 seconds.
  • Don’t require inaccessible applications be used.
  • Optional materials must include a balance of accessible options.
  • Write math and science equations accessibly.
  • Include the Disabilities Statement in your syllabus and link to accessibility or assistive technology user information for software or web applications that are required in the course. Download one of the  Syllabus Templates for the latest statement.

How to Create Accessible Course Content

Review Microsoft’s Accessibility training pages for information about making your content accessible in Outlook and Excel.

Publisher Content and Third-Party Tools and Links

Online materials provided by publishers, software required for class and links to websites must be accessible. If not, you as the instructor will need to provide an accessible, equally effective learning experience option for each inaccessible one. Ask your vendor/publisher these questions before adopting their tools and materials.


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