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An Instructor's Guide to Accessibility

This guide provides the 'why' and 'how' of accessibility of instruction

Why do I need to make course documents and Canvas pages accessible? 

Accessibility is for everyone. Although there are legal mandates requiring institutions of higher education to make educational materials accessible (e.g., the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act), accessibility is fundamentally just good page design. Here are two examples of how accessibility benefits everyone:

  • Computers can read the text on a screen but images, graphs, and charts are meaningless to persons without vision, those who run their browsers with the images turned off, and persons using PDAs (personal data assistants) and cell phones. Redundancy increases the likelihood that information will be understood by everyone. Text descriptions of graphs and charts (needed by persons without vision) can help all students understand difficult concepts.
  • Captioning video, needed by persons who are deaf, also helps students with learning disabilities by presenting text visually. It also assures that important information is clearly conveyed to all students, including those for whom English is a second language.

Pages that are accessible are better organized and therefore more usable by all. Accessible pages render properly on a wide variety of user interfaces, they are easier to navigate, and they convey information in a consistent, logical manner. 

If your course documents are not accessible, a screen reader cannot decipher headings, table row and column order, images, etc. Since we do not know who may access our documents, take advantage of the existing accessibility features in Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Word, and PowerPoint to create accessible documents.

 VIDEO: View this screen reader demonstration (4 min, 30 sec) to fully understand why accessible content makes a big difference when using a screen reader. 


Student Example

Using JavaScript, a programmer created a web page to simulate what it's like for a person with Dyslexia

There is a large spectrum of dyslexia and for many, the letters may look backward or just appear jumbled rather than jump around. The example in the above link represents a more severe form of dyslexia.

Using this example for a student, what accommodations might be needed?

  • The use of a screen reader for course content
  • The use of a screen reader for exams
  • Extended time on exams
  • PDF format of textbooks

Other accommodations could be required that are not listed here. Some students have success with a colored overlay so that they are not reading black text on a white background.

As an instructor, if you had already run the Accessibility Checker in Word or PowerPoint on all of your posted files in Canvas, how much would be required of you to accommodate this student?

  • If your exams are taken on Canvas, you would need to extend the time in Canvas for each exam. A screen reader works really well with Canvas exams.
  • If your exams are taken in class, you may have to create the exam separately in Canvas so that the student can schedule to take the exam in the LRC and use a screen reader.
  • If a screen reader is not required for exams, you would need to make sure the student has the required amount of time on exam day.

Since all of your other files are already accessible (as stated above), the student can use screen reading software to access the textbook or any other documents on Canvas without additional effort. 

If you have specific questions about proctored exams in the LRC or the difference between Canvas exams versus a Word file, please contact Mandy Kreps ( in Macomb/Rushville or Abby Beck ( in Canton/Havana.