Accessible Course Design

Pro-actively designing your course to meet accessibility standards not only benefits students with documented accommodations, but also students who are English language learners, students working in loud or quiet environments, students with limited access to private working environments, students with visual impairments, and students who may have undiagnosed or invisible diagnosis such as dyslexia and ADHD. 

Life Design 2022

Did you know that designing your course for accessibility is a civil rights issue? Specific laws that reference disability rights include the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 (revised 2008), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (reauthorized 2004). Designing your course for accessibility ensures that ALL of your students have equal access to achieve their learning goals. 

The Center for Faculty Excellence is here to help you take a proactive approach to designing your course content to meet accessibility standards. Begin by exploring our resources below! 

Principles of an Accessible Course:

Utilizing an accessible textbook for your class not only means that the student should be able to read the content within the book, but also that the student should be able to access the book in an affordable manner. 

Ways to Make Textbooks More Affordable and Accessible

Consider one or more of these suggestions to reduce the cost of textbooks:

  • Register your textbooks as early as possible to allow students more time to compare prices and find available used books. This also allows any students with a documented accommodation to work with Accessibility Services to make sure the textbook format is accessible. 
  • Add a note in Verba to give students information about the cheapest retailer, if known.
  • Allow students to use ebooks and/or older editions.
  • Investigate ways to Alt Source Your Textbook Adoption, including using freely accessible open educational resources. Contact Emily Gattozzi at the University Libraries to discuss OER's. 
  • Put the materials on course reserves in the Jerome Library for students to use for 2 hours, 24 hours, or 72 hours.

Instructor-Created Course Documents

All course documents (Word, PDF) distributed in-class or virtually must be formatted correctly for all students to access the content. As a general rule of thumb, we suggest that instructors DO NOT use PDF documents. Students using any adaptive technology, such as screen readers, are unable to read documents that have been scanned and saved as PDFs. Remediating PDF's for accessibility is also very time-consuming. For these reasons, we suggest that instructors default to Microsoft Word for all course documents.

The key components of an accessible document include: proper heading styles, alt-text for images, properly formating tables, links and hyper links, and lists. Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat Pro DC also includes an accessibility checker that you can run after formatting your document to check for any outstanding accessibility issues. 

Refer to the following steps to create an accessible document in Microsoft Word.

Download the Accessible Syllabus Template

Found Course Documents and Articles (PDF)

Many instructors use found PDF documents and articles in their course. The majority of these documents are in PDF format and need accessibility remeditation. For these documents, we suggest that instructors reach out to an accessibility professional in the Office of Accessibility Services to check for any accessibility concerns. Instructors can also reach out to the University Libraries and work with a librarian to source articles that are already in an accessible format. If your document will be posted on a BGSU website, you can submit your PDF for remediation via the Office of Marketing and Brand Strategy. 

Is My PDF Document or Article Accessible?

How to test: Try selecting text using a mouse, or select all text using Edit > “Select All” from the Acrobat menu.
If No, this is an image file and is not accessible. Covert to text using View > Tools > “Recognize Text.”

Refer to the following steps to check for PDF Accessibility in Acrobat Pro

PowerPoint is one of the most used presentation tools for in-person and virtual instruction. When designing your PowerPoint for accessibility, you will need to follow similar guidelines as when designing your Word Document.

The key components of PowerPoint accessibility include: slide layouts, slide reading order, alt-text for images, properly formating tables, and links & hyper links. Similar to Microsoft Word, PowerPoint also includes an accessibility checker that can be run after you create your presentation to check for any outstanding accessibility issues. 

In general, we also suggest instructors to distribute their PowerPoint slides to class before their presentation. This allows for any students with visual impairments or differentiaed learning needs to review the slides before instruction. You can also enable PowerPoint to present with real-time, automatic captions or subtitles. "For best results, we highly recommend using a headset microphone connected to the device running PowerPoint. Also, the feature requires a reliable internet connection throughout your presentation." (Microsoft)

Refer to the following steps to create an accessible presentation in PowerPoint. 

PowerPoint Accessibility Principles

  • Make sure text is not too small, especially if the presentation will be viewed on a projector.
  • Do not use color as the only way to convey information.
  • Transitions and animations should be simple.
  • Complex or automatic transitions and animations can be distracting.
  • Use clear and simple language. If you have embedded video, ensure the video is captioned.
  • If you have embedded audio, include a transcript.
  • When presenting, face the class while you are speaking so that you can project your voice and allow visuals for any students who are lip-reading
  • When presenting online, enable live transcription in Zoom

“Powerpoint Accessibility.” WebAIM,

“Microsoft.” Present with Real-Time, Automatic Captions or Subtitles in PowerPoint, 

Ensuring that your course videos are enabled with accurate captioning is an essential component of accessible course design. Accurate captioning not only assists students who have hearing impairments, but also students who are English language learners, students working from a public space, students working in a loud environment who are unable to hear the video, and students working in a quiet environment who are unable to use video sound. 

Captioning Your Own Videos

There are a multitude of ways to record instructional videos for your course. At BGSU, instructors have access to use Camtasia, Canvas Studio, Zoom, and the CFE Video Recording Studio

When recording your instructional video, it is important speak clearly and slowly, only one speaker at a time, and use a headset with a good microphone. Doing so will allow for a higher likelihood that the auto-generated captions will be accurate. We also suggest that if you are using longer terminology or jargon in your lectures or instructional videos, to say the word and then spell it out before continuing on, which could help minimize editing later.  

As an instructor, you have access to record or upload videos (MP4, YouTube, Vimeo) into Canvas Studio. Once you have loaded your video into Canvas Studio, you will need to review the auto-generated captions for accuracy. Watch this short Canvas Studio Closed Captioning Tutorial to learn how to edit your captions. 

If you choose to record and upload your MP4 video on YouTube to share with your class, YouTube will auto-generate captions. Before you share the YouTube video with your class, you will need to ensure that the auto-generated captions are accurate. If you need to make edits in your auto-generated captions on YouTube, you can follow the YouTube captioning directions to make those changes. 

If you are recording a video using Zoom, it is important to enable the audio transcription for your cloud recordings. "Audio transcription automatically transcribes the audio of a meeting or webinar that you record to the cloud. After this transcript is processed, it appears as a separate VTT file in the list of recorded meetings. In addition, you have the option to display the transcript text within the video itself, similar to a closed caption display. The transcript is divided into sections, each with a timestamp that shows how far into the recording that portion of the text was recorded. You can edit the text to more accurately capture the words, or to add capitalization and punctuation, which are not captured by the transcript." (Zoom) You can then upload this transcript into YouTube or Canvas Studio to use as your captioning. 

Captioning Services

If you would like to pay to have your course videos captioned, the CFE suggests using Rev for your captioning services. English captions are listed as $1.50 per minute. Discuss payment options with your department. 

Alternative text (alt-text) is text substitute for images. You will need to include alt-text for all images used in your course documents (Word, PowerPoint, PDF, and Canvas). 

Alternative text serves several functions:

  • Screen readers announce alternative text in place of images, helping users with visual or certain cognitive disabilities perceive the content and function of the images.
  • If an image fails to load or the user has blocked images, the browser will present the alternative text visually in place of the image.
  • Search engines use alternative text and factor it into their assessment of the page purpose and content.

Writing Alt-Text for Your Images

When writing the alt-text for your images, consider the content and function of the image. Alt-text should typically...

  • be accurate and equivalent in representing content and function.
  • be succinct. Content (if any) and function (if any) should be presented as succinctly as possible, without sacrificing accuracy. Typically, only a few words are necessary, though rarely a short sentence or two may be appropriate.
  • not be redundant or provide the same information as text near the image.
  • not include phrases like "image of ..." or "graphic of ...", etc. This would be redundant since screen readers already announce "graphic" along with the alt text. If the fact that an image is a photograph or illustration, etc. is important content, it may be useful to include this in alternative text.

Alternative text. WebAIM. (n.d.). Retrieved September 12, 2022, from 

Alt-Text Video Tutorials

Alt-Text WebAIM Resources

Many times through out course instruction, you will need or want to provide links to external resources. When linking to external resources, there are a few best practices to follow:

Use Descriptive and Concise Text for the Hyper Link

Tell the student (visual reader or screen-text reader) where they are going and what they will be doing when they access the link. 

Hyper Linking Videos

Utilize descriptive and concise text, but also indicate to the student that the hyper link will redirect them to a video. It is also a good idea to note the length of the video for students before they open the link. Students are more likely to watch a video between 2 - 5 minutes in length vs. a long lecture. 

Embedding Videos in Canvas

When incorporating content into your Canvas course, you can embed videos as well as include them as hyper links. Read the following directions to learn how to embed a video in your Canvas course

Typeface and Fonts

Utilizing accessible typeface and fonts in your course documents allows for students with visual and cognitive impairments to read and understand text correctly. "Typefaces are groups of designed text characters, such as Arial, Helvetica, and Times New Roman. Fonts are sub-sets of typefaces that have a consistent appearance, such as a 14 point and bold font in the Arial typeface." (WebAIM)

There is no best typeface or font to fit all student needs; however, sans serif and serif fonts are highly recommended for readability. The most widely used accessible sans serif fonts include Arial, Calibri, Century Gothic, Helvetica, Tahoma, and Verdana. The most widely used accessible serif fonts include Times New Roman and Georgia. We suggest you use a font size of at least 12. 

“Typefaces and Fonts.” WebAIM, 

Color Contrast

Even those who do not have a color or visual impairment are aware that text is much easier to read when there is a high contrast between the text and the background. When using color in your text or on your documents, it is important to make sure that the use of color is not the sole method of conveying information. For example, highlighting an important text in red may not be visible for someone with a color impairment. However, bolding or CAPITALIZING that text will convey its importance to the reader. If you are unsure if your contrast ratio passes accessibility guidelines, use the WebAIM Contrast Checker. You can also use the accessible color palette builder. If you need to find your color code, you can use the Colorzilla extension for Chrome and Firefox to extract the color value. 

Color Contrast Resources

Canvas is the Learning Management System (LMS) system used at BGSU. All members of the BGSU Teaching Community have access to a Canvas shell that is attached to the course they are teaching. Even if you are not teaching your course in an online or hybrid format, all instructors should be using Canvas as part of the teaching strategies and to post the course syllabus. 

One way to ensure your Canvas course meets accessibility requirements is to download and use the BGSU Canvas Template. Employing a course template allows you to spend less time on course design so you can focus on your learning objectives and on interacting with students. Widespread use of this template will help ensure that students have a more consistent experience in Canvas, regardless of the courses they are enrolled in.

Key components of Canvas accessibility include: proper use of headings, alt-text for images, proper formatting for tables, color contrast ratios, and links & hyper links. Canvas also utilizes an accessibility checker called Ally that will notify you of any accessibility issues. 

Canvas Video Tutorials

Canvas Resources

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework that aims to remove barriers to learning that exist inside the learning environment or curriculum; creating an equitable learning experience to meet student variability. Learn more about Universal Design for Learning

Students With Documented Accommodations

Students who are registered for services are required to contact their faculty at the beginning of each semester to share a Student Accommodation Memo and discuss approved accommodations. If you have any questions about a student's accommodations, please contact BGSU's Office of Accessibility Services


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“Microsoft.” Present with Real-Time, Automatic Captions or Subtitles in PowerPoint, 
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“Typefaces and Fonts.” WebAIM, 

Updated: 05/04/2023 01:56PM