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Five ways to make your Canvas course more accessible


Ensuring that your Canvas course is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a topic that might cause some slight discomfort if brought up at a dinner party. Does my course site really have to be ADA compliant? How hard is it to make my course ADA compliant? Those are just some of the questions that we hear when the topic is brought up.

Levity aside, ensuring that all of our students have equal access to materials that they can utilize is not just important, ADA compliance is increasingly becoming standard. In just a second, you’ll see how you can make your Canvas course more accessible, but first, let’s understand why it is important.

PageWhen you first come to a page or a handout, you come to it with years worth of visual knowledge. You know how to proceed through a document based on how it looks. Larger, bold font near the top of the page, that’s probably the heading of the document. The smaller font underneath is probably the main body of the document. When you encounter a chart or an image, the footer underneath may not explain everything in it, but that’s ok because you can *see* the chart or image.

A visually challenged individual may rely on the computer to read the document to them, and while machines are getting much smarter, they still cannot tell what the function of an element of a document is based on its appearance alone. You have to tell the computer what something is.

Thankfully, there are five relatively simple things you can do to make your Canvas course more accessible for all students.

1. Headers

Headings (titles for sections) provide structural hierarchical information for a document. Typically we make visual headers by bolding and enlarging some text. While that helps the users who can see, it does not assist visually challenged users. To make you text a section title use the Paragraph selection tool in the Canvas Rich Text Editor.RCE_HeaderSelection_02
NestedHeaderTo allow screen readers to skim the structure of the document and provide easier navigation, headings should be in proper order. For example, they should not jump from a Heading 2 (h2) to Heading 4 (h4). Instead, they should be “nested” under each other.
Learn more about formatting font and headings in this Canvas guide.


2. Links

When linking text, be sure to make the link text descriptive enough to detail the destination; not just a “click here.” Links should be longer than a single word, so that users with motor control disabilities will not have difficulties clicking the link.
To add links when writing in your Canvas course, see this guide.


3. Images

If you want to use an image that conveys something important in your course, but is not fully explained in the main body of your written text, you may wish to use alternative text (ALT text).
Penn State’s Accessibility site explains what ALT text is, “ALT Tags are invisible descriptions of images which are read aloud to blind users on a screen reader. Adding ALT text allows authors to include images, but still provide the content in an alternative text based format.”
Imagine you were reading a document to someone over the phone and you came across an image. How would you describe it to the person? That is your AltText.
To add Alt Text to an image in Canvas, see this Canvas guide.


4. Mobile friendly

Northwestern students, like many institutions, are using their mobile phones or tablets to access materials. Incredibly,  58.8% of our students use the Canvas mobile app daily to access their course content. Taking this into account, one of the easiest ways for students to access content in your Canvas course is through the modules. By utilizing modules in your Canvas course you’ll make it easier for students to find the materials they need in your Canvas course. Easier to find means less emails asking where something is.

Canvas app for iOS | Canvas app for Android

5. Documents

Using headers, images ALT text, and descriptive links will work when you are creating your own documents in many different applications including Microsoft Word.
Penn State’s Accessibility site has some great guides to get you started making your documents accessible to students.

This touches the surface of how to make content more accessible for all students in your Canvas course. Be sure to take a look at the Canvas General Accessibility Design Guideline document for more information.