Creating Accessible Materials

Ensuring that your course materials are accessible is a key aspect to reaching all of your students and incorporating Universal Design in your teaching. 

The Rationale for Accessible Materials

There are a number of reasons to create accessible materials:

  • Accessible materials ensure that individuals with disabilities can access the information contained in your materials. 
  • These same changes will help all students, regardless of ability, with a variety of learning needs. For example, changes to how you structure text can help students for which English isn’t their first language. 
  • Simplifying the navigation your course in Canvas can help students using mobile devices as well as students who are low vision or blind. 
  • Adding captions help students with hearing loss a well aa students who are new to a content area and key terminology.

This guide focuses on ensuring that your materials are accessible and perceptible to a range of individuals with perception differences (e.g. differences in seeing, hearing, and reading information). In addition to reviewing your materials for their accessibility, be sure to review them for inclusive teaching practices.

Guidelines for Accessible Materials

Creating materials that are easy to perceive requires a series of considerations. The following practices can be applied across various types of media and platforms, varying slightly depending on whether the primary materials are text-based, audio, visual, or video media.

Use simple language and be mindful of reading level. There are numerous tools and frameworks available to help you analyze your course materials for simple language. By incorporating this practice, you can ensure that your materials are equitable for your students' varying levels of access, background, and ability. If your text-based materials are in a form that can’t be altered, provide additional resources to help students read strategically and comprehend language with which they may not be familiar.

Use headings to organize documents. Most applications have the ability to differentiate between structural elements in text (e.g. body text versus headings). Use these built in features to increase accessibility for screen readers and support careful reading for all students.

Use page numbers and tables of contents. This can help all students navigate directly to the information they need, or when referring students to specific locations within a given text.

Provide alternative descriptions for images as both captions and "alt. texts." This information is the primary information an individual using a screen reader will use to gain access to visual information. This same content can also be included in captions for key figures. For visuals that include text, reproduce textual information in a readable (text-only) format nearby. If an image is decorative, leave the alt tag blank. A resource from WebAIM is a helpful starting point on creating alternative descriptions for visual information. PennState also offers a guide on creating accessibile graphs and charts.

Set equations and formulas using equation editors and typesetting. Use LaTeX to set the type for your equations and formulas.  Once an equation is set using LaTeX, it’s easy to use built-in screen reading tools or convert it to more accessible formats like MathML. The vector-based outputs from these tools also help to promote readability in various print and viewing situations. If an equation was not originally created in a typesetting program, use the guidelines for images (above) to make it perceptible. PennState offers a resource on accessibility considerations for equations.

Check your color palette for contrast. If you are using colors for emphasis, ensure colors contrast well against one another. This will help individuals with vision differences to perceive visual information.

Use descriptive links instead of “Click here.” Links within a document or web resource should be descriptively linked to indicate or explain the resource you are linking to. This helps both individuals using screen readers as well as curious audiences who might want to explore resources you share, but want to know what the resource is before they click on it. This guide models this practice.

Only use tables for data that requires it. Consider whether a table is the best way to present your information. If it is, make sure to include column headers and captions describing the table’s contents. 

Create and provide accurate closed-captions and transcripts. There are numerous free or inexpensive options for closed-captions. Techsmith Relay at Dartmouth offers the ability to generate a caption with an existing script, auto-transcribe with their machine tools, and delegate caption creation to other users (e.g. student workers). YouTube offers machine-generated captions, time syncing for existing scripts, and the ability to edit your captions by hand. You can also choose to use a fee-based, third-party service for transcription such as 3play or REV.

Present information in multiple ways and formats. For example, if your materials rely on textual information, consider adding visuals as an alternative way to represent information. Or, if you have a news article, consider including a podcast about the same topic or an MP3 machine-read version of the material.

Accessibility in Specific Platforms & Tools

The following guidelines pertain to commonly used platforms at Dartmouth. Follow these guidelines in conjunction with the practices outliend above in these platforms.

Microsoft Office has several help resources for improving accessibility with the built-in Accessibility Checker for each of the Office 365 tools. Additionally, there are numerous resources from Microsoft on the topic of accessibility, such as the built-in Ease of Access features for Windows 10, Read Aloud, Dictation, and real-time transcriptions for video calls.

Google Docs and Slides have built in features that promote accessibility, but it lack a global document checker. In order to promote accessibility in Docs and Slides, use built-in headings, tables of contents, page numbers, and alt descriptions for images (add with right-click image > Alt tag). Google Slides also recently added real-time transcription for presenters.

Apple offers a collection of resources on accessibility across their software and platforms. The University of Montana offers an additional resource on accessibility in Keynote files specifically.

Canvas has both built-in and add-on features for accessibility. When creating content in Canvas, use the built-in Accessibility Checker in the Rich Content Editor (the human glyph icon on the Rich Content Editor). Use UDOIT (on the left navigation in Canvas) to check an entire course site for accessibility errors, tips, and fixes. For math equations, use the native Math Editor in Canvas anywhere the Rich Content Editor is available. Canvas also allows for adding test accommodations specified by Dartmouth's Office of Student Accessibility Services (e.g. extra time) with the Moderate Quiz feature. Individuals with vision differences can also enable the High Contrast UI and Underline Links in the personal settings for a more readable Canvas experience.

Creating Accessible PDFs & Scanning Documents

Scanning analog documents to make them accessible is a challenging process. The following tips may help you create more accessible PDFs and scans.

Note: if a student has a documented accommodation that requires accessible course materials, the Office of Student Accessibility Services will help with document conversion.

  • Check the Dartmouth Library or the original publisher for an original digital copy of the file. 
  • Start with a clean copy of the document (free of markup or margin notes). 
  • When you scan, make sure to sure to use book scanners for bound materials and fed/bed scanners for single/multiple pages. 
  • If you need to scan a book, request it through the library reserves system or use the book scanners found throughout the library (Berry main street and elsewhere). 
  • Set the scanner to a higher resolution/quality when possible. 
  • Export PDFs directly from programs like Microsoft Word. Check for and enable accessibility options in those platforms before exporting.
  • Use SensusAccess, a document conversion tool available to the Dartmouth community, to convert documents from one form to another. This includes the ability to convert images to scanned readable text (OCR).
  • If you work with PDFs frequently or would like to learn more, take the Lynda Course on Creating Accessible PDFs.