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What is accessibility?

The Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education defines accessibility as “when 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 integrated and equally effective manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use.” 

Research shows that accessibility benefits everyone, not just those who identify as having a disability. When faculty take steps to ensure their online course materials and activities are accessible, it not only smooths the way for students needing accommodations but also benefits all students. Federal law also requires UAS to provide accommodations for those who need assistance, and students should contact Disability Services who will help document any special needs and determine any required accommodations. 


Use the tabs above to find specific resources for accessible documents and closed captions, as well as an accessibility checklist.

This video from Portland Community College describes their web accessibility guidelines and how supporting students with disabilities is a shared responsibility across that college. The video includes stories from students whose education is impacted by inaccessible web content and ways faculty and staff can improve online course materials to make course content more accessible. 

What is an accessible document?

An accessible document can be read by a screen reader.  This means it is text-based (rather than a scanned image).  More than that, it also means the document has structure that allows the person using the screen reader to do more than just read the document word-by-word.  Like a sighted reader, they can skim through the document reading headers and locating links.

The following video demonstrated how a screen reader can operate:

Creating Accessible Documents

When you create documents using a word processor there are a variety of steps you can take to make them accessible.  Among those are to use "styles" such as headers (rather than simply making text larger or bold), adding alt-text for images and creating tables with clear and simple structure.  The following slide-show demonstrates how to do some of these things in Microsoft Word. Use the controls at the lower left to advance slides.  The Accessibility in Word document is also available as a pdf.

Additional Resources for Accessible Documents:

Transcripts and Closed Captions

Closed captions and/or transcript not only make material accessible for those who are hearing-impaired but also benefit a wide variety of other leaners.  These include those who absorb text-based information better than audio and those to whom English is a second language. Providing a transcript also allows all students to more quickly review material when preparing for exams.

A study by Oregon State eCampus Campus Technology Report: Video Captions Benefit Virtually All Students which surveyed over 2,000 students enrolled in online classes showed that over 70% used transcripts when provided, even those with no hearing difficulty.

Transcripts are one step in providing accessibility, but closed captions are required when the audio portion of a video needs to be associated with relevant images. Closed captioning tools are available in most video editing software. Closed captioning is also available when videos are uploaded to YouTube. Videos on YouTube can be automatically closed-captioned and then those captions can be edited to provide proper spelling and punctuation.

Closed Captioning on YouTube

As with most Google products, YouTube is in constant flux - following slideshow demonstrates how YouTube creates automatic closed captioning and how the captions can be edited. The slides for Youtube Closed Captioning are also available as a pdf.

Text based content

Headings provide document structure 

For any document or text longer than a few paragraphs you should provide headings and subheading.  These must be formatted using "styles" so that a screen reader can scan and read the headings.

Learn more about headings

Text for links provides direction

A screen reader can also scan and read the links on a page.  The text that is selected for the link should let the reader know what information is found when the link is followed.  Links should not read "click here" or provide a long URL.

For example: Do not write "Click here to learn about our programs and degrees" with "click here" the only text selected. Instead write "Go to "Programs and Degrees" to learn more".

Use punctuation

Punctuation, such as periods at the end of phrases" indicates stops or pauses for the screen reader.

Visual Content: Images and Colors

Do not rely solely on color to convey information

Remember that some of your viewers may be color blind. If there is information to be conveyed provide clues in addition to colors. Examples include additional text or other visual indicators such as asterisks (e.g., "Alert: School Closing" not just "School Closing")

Use sufficient color contrast

Use combinations of light and dark that allow the color-blind to distinguish text from background.

Learn more about color contrast and color selection 

Tools for assessing color contrast

Color Blind Vision Simulator

Use descriptive alternative text for images, chart, graphs and tables 

Alternative text, also known as alt-Text, will be read by a screen reader in place of the visual element.  Alt-Text for tables allows the reader to more easily understand the purpose of the table.

More about alternative text

Using alt-Text to describe images

Multimedia, animation, video and audio

Video and audio files are closed captioned and/or transcribed

At a minimum transcripts should be provided for audio and video.  It the video has a meaningful connection between the audio and visual elements then it should be closed captioned.

Learn more about closed captions


Ensure any animations are necessary to provide relevant information. Flicker rates should be less than 2Hz or greater than 55Hz - flicker rates that are within that range may trigger seizures for vulnerable persons.

Speed checker and changer for animated gifs

PDF Accessibility

PDFs incorporate searchable text

PDFs should use searchable text - not just images of text. As a first choice you may be able to find an article with your library's database or obtain an alternative electronic format from a publisher.  Optical character recognition by a program such as Adobe Acrobat Pro and sometimes be used to convert images to text.

More about making PDFs searchable using Adobe Acrobat Pro

A free tool for creating searchable PDFs

Check the accessibility of your PDFs

Use the features "Make Accessible" or "Accessibility Checker" in Adobe Acrobat Pro to check the accessibility of your PDF

Learn more about PDF accessibility

More accessibility features for your class

Syllabus statement

Include a statement regarding support for students with disabilities in your syllabus. Refer students to UAS disability services as needed.

Establish a plan to provide equal alternative forms of access

Your class may include links to external web content or other classroom activities.  Determine whether these are accessible and have a plan in place for alternative forms of access if they are not.  Note that alternative forms may be useful to all students, not just those with identified disabilities.

Click on a thumbnail below to see a full sized poster:
Low Vision Poster  Physical or Motor Skill Poster  Screen Reader Poster
Hard of Hearing Poster  Dyslexia Poster  Autism Poster

An accessible version of the posters are below.

Designing for users
with low vision


  • use good contrasts and a readable font size
  • publish all information on web pages (HTML)
  • use a combination of color, shapes and text
  • follow a linear, logical layout -and ensure text
    flows and is visible when text is magnified to 200%
  • put buttons and notifications in context


  • use low color contrasts and small font size
  • bury information in downloads
  • only use color to convey meaning
  • spread content all over a page -and force user to
    scroll horizontally when text is magnified to 200%
  • separate actions from their context

Designing for users
with physical or motor


  • make large clickable actions
  • give form fields space
  • design for keyboard or speech only use
  • design with mobile and touch screen in mind
  • provide shortcuts


  • demand precision
  • bunch interactions together
  • make dynamic content that requires a lot of
    mouse movement
  • have short time out windows
  • tire users with lots of typing and scrolling

Designing for users
of screen readers


  • describe images and provide
    transcripts for video
  • follow a linear, logical layout
  • structure content using HTML5
  • build for keyboard use only
  • write descriptive links and heading –
    for example, Contact us


  • only show information in an image or video
  • spread content all over a page
  • rely on text size and placement for structure
  • force mouse or screen use
  • write uninformative links and heading –
    for example, Click Here

Designing for users
who are D/deaf or hard of


  • write in plain English
  • use subtitles or provide transcripts for video
  • use a linear, logical layout
  • break up content with sub-headings, images
    and videos
  • let users ask for their preferred communication
    support when booking appointments


  • use complicated words or figures of speech
  • put content in audio or video only
  • make complex layouts and menus
  • make users read long blocks of content
  • don’t make telephone the only means of
    contact for users

Designing for users
with dyslexia


  • use images and diagrams to support text
  • align text to the left and keep a consistent layout
  • consider producing materials in other formats
    (for example, audio and video)
  • keep content short, clear and simple
  • let users change the contrast between
    background and text


  • use large blocks of heavy text
  • underline words, use italics or write capitals
  • force users to remember things from previous
    pages – give reminders and prompts
  • rely on accurate spelling – use autocorrect
    or provide suggestions
  • put too much information in one place

Designing for users
on the autistic spectrum


  • use simple colors
  • write in plain English
  • use simple sentences and bullets
  • make buttons descriptive –
    for example, Attach files
  • build simple and consistent layouts


  • use bright contrasting colors
  • use figures of speech and idioms
  • create a wall of text
  • make buttons vague and unpredictable –
    for example, Click Here
  • build complex and cluttered layouts

Content maintained by Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching.