Teaching & Learning

Accessibility Best Practices: Captioning, Graphics, and Alt Text

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Today, we’re going to dive into some accessibility best practices to implement into your courses. We’ll be looking at media in this post, and in our next, we’ll be talking about color and text.  


Captioning is likely one of the first things people think of when considering accessibility, and rightfully so. But it isn’t only beneficial for people who are deaf. Captions are helpful when people are in a loud, distracting, or public environment, especially if they forgot earbuds at home. With a captioned video, a student who forgot earbuds in the dorm could still work on that last piece of homework while all their roommates are having a movie night in the unit lounge.  

And captions can help increase focus for some. Studies have shown that people pay more attention to videos when they have captions and have better recall (Gernsbacher). Personally, I’m able to focus more on videos when they’re captioned – whether I’m watching educational videos, Netflix, or even Instagram stories (and I do skip Instagram stories that don’t have captions). We recommend setting your captions so students have a choice – those who would benefit from captions can turn them on, and those who do not wish to have them present can leave them off.  


We’re going to take a slight turn and talk about some best practices for including graphics in course content. These can be excellent resources, providing examples and illustrating points. There’s so much that can be discussed about graphics, but today we’re focusing on the most important – avoid flattening text, or saving text as an image, thereby removing the ability for a screen reader to capture any of that information.  

So, we know that’s bad. But there’s this really cool graphic you have that does have a lot of text in it, and now you’re stumped with what to do. Consider how else that information could be presented. If it’s something presented in a table-like format, add it as a table to your content! If it’s a list of items, or a section called-out for emphasis, display that same text just set off in some kind of text box (easy to do in Word or Canvas).  

For example, this is part of a table that we’ve included in a previous post about using icons inside Canvas. It was presented as an actual table in that post, but I’ve created an image of it for here. Notice that the image is a fixed size, and text can’t be copied from it. Additionally, a screen reader cannot interpret all the information in this image.  

Screenshot of the below table to illustrate how it flattens the text and makes it unreadable to screen readers. All information is present in the table below.

When the information is presented as a table with proper headers and actual text, it can be interpreted by screen readers! If your table includes images (as this one does), remember that those images will still need alt text.  

IconIcon use
puzzle iconCourse objectives, module objectives, module overview
gear iconTechnical Support – any place you’re linking to technical support (for Canvas, an external tool, etc.) for the students to access. 
book iconContent – any place that you’re assigning content for students to read or view
clipboard iconAssessments – any place where you have an overview of the assessments students need to complete or to indicate a list of various assignments
magnifying glass over paper iconAssignment overview – the most basic information about an assignment or the assignment prompt

However, if you have a there’s-absolutely-no-other-way-I-must-flatten-this-text-situation, then make sure you cover all of that beautiful textual info in your alt text.  

Alt Text 

Speaking of alt text, every image you use should have alt text added to it. Alt text is used by screen readers and will also be shown if an image isn’t able to be loaded.  

Writing alt text can seem intimidating (what do I include? How detailed do I have to be?), but it doesn’t have to be. Imagine you are reading your content aloud to a friend, and you come to an image. How would you describe that image to your friend?  

For example, this is a screenshot from the popular game Among Us that I’m planning to use in the next post for this series.  

The wires task from the game Among Us. There are four colors of wires for players to connect from one terminal to the other, and each color of wire has a unique symbol on it.
The wires task from popular game “Among Us”

If I’m describing this to a friend, I might say something like “the wires task from the game Among Us. There are four colors of wires for players to connect from one terminal to the other, and each color of wire has a unique symbol on it.”  

I’d then use that description for my alt text, double-checking to make sure the phrasing was clear.  

For another example, we’ve used this image in an earlier post:  

A MacBook, iPad Pro, and coffee in a Ninja Turtles mug sitting side-by-side on a wooden coffee table

And we used “A MacBook, iPad Pro, and coffee in a Ninja Turtles mug sitting side-by-side on a wooden coffee table” as the alt text! Alt text doesn’t need to include every single speck of detail – it just needs to be enough for people to understand the image.  

And that wraps up this part of our exploration into accessibility (and usability) best practices. Next time, we’ll talk about colors and text, but please ask us any questions below or via ctl@cedarville.edu in the meantime.  


Gernsbacher, Morton Ann. “Video Captions Benefit Everyone.” Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol. 2(1), 2015, pp. 195-202.  

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