Canvas,  Teaching & Learning

Three Tips to Improve Accessibility in Your Course

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Let’s make sure we all start on the same page by defining our terms. When talking about “accessibility” related to the web or course materials, it’s easy to think about it in a context of screen readers and disability accommodations. But it’s more than that. According to the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, accessibility means that products are not only designed in a way that people with disabilities can use them but also people who have “situational limitations” (being in a location where they cannot use their device as they typically would) or “temporary disabilities” (an injury that affects how they handle their devices). 

Today we’re going to look at three tips to help you get started thinking about accessibility and implementing best practices in courses. 

1. Write alt text for images

This tip is directly related to screen reader use. Screen readers are not able to interpret images, so we need to provide alternative (alt) text that the screen reader will use in place of the image. Canvas automatically places the image name as the alt text. However, that should be changed to something more descriptive.

For example, we included this image in a recent post.

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

The image was named “horizon_post.jpg,” but that doesn’t actually describe what’s happening in the image. The alt text needs to include the key details of the photo, so we changed it to “A MacBook, iPad Pro, and coffee in a Ninja Turtles mug sitting side-by-side on a wooden coffee table.” Alt text doesn’t have to be complex – just clearly summarize the essential details.

2. Don’t blind-link hyperlinks

It’s common to paste a hyperlink directly onto a page or use a generic word like “here” for the link text. However, it’s best practice to use a specific word or phrase for the link text that describes the link destination. Check out the difference:

View more Canvas tips, tricks, and best practices here.

View more Canvas tips, tricks, and best practices in the Canvas category on Focus

The second example tells you where you’ll find those tips, tricks, and best practices so you’re not jumping blindly across the web. This is also beneficial for when screen readers are interpreting the text and link. 

3. Use Canvas’ accessibility checker

Canvas is built to help you ensure your courses are accessible. At the moment, Canvas has provided an accessibility checker built into the Rich Content Editor. To use it, click the Accessibility Checker icon (a person in a circle) at the right of the tools ribbon. This will open a panel on the right of your screen and display any potential issues. To read more about how the Accessibility Checker works, check out Canvas’ guide “How do I use the Accessibility Checker in the Rich Content Editor.”

For more information about accessibility inside Canvas, check out Canvas’ General Accessibility Design Guidelines. We’ll be discussing accessibility and more tips here in the future. If you have questions or comments about accessibility in courses, drop a comment below!

Note: edited January 6, 2021 to update the link in the “Use Canvas’ accessibility checker” section to reflect the change to the New Rich Content Editor

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