Instructional Materials – Accessibility & Universal Design

Per university, state, and federal policies and laws, all instructional content must be accessible to all students. Most critically, this includes all students with disabilities, which can be visual, auditory, physical, and/or cognitive in nature. Fortunately, accessible design that is implemented in the pursuit of such mandates has a secondary benefit of helping all students learn on a more equal footing.

This secondary benefit is the idea behind Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which assumes that good design is inherently beneficial for all learners regardless of ability or background. To this end, there are simple steps that online instructors can take that have a major impact on the accessible design of their courses.

Tips for designing accessibility into online courses:

  • Use templates provided by campus learning management systems (LMS) such as Canvas, as they have already been developed for accessibility.
  • Carefully follow all directions in the LMS and include all requested information, e.g., image descriptions for blind or visually impaired students using screen readers.
  • Use tools such as Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Word that can make tagged PDFs.
  • Save and use original digital documents rather than using scans of documents whenever possible, as they are not intelligible to screen reader software. If necessary, contact the McBurney Center’s Document Conversion Service.
  • Provide alternative means of access to all multimedia content in a course such as transcripts and captions. If necessary, contact the McBurney Center’s Media Captioning Service.
  • Include accessibility statements (or a statement to the effect that none could be found) for all technologies required in a course.
  • Select textbooks early – and ask about accessibility options for purchasers – to allow time for conversion when accessible versions aren’t available.