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Creating Accessible Online Classes

Created by Monica Olsson and Jake Swanke, on behalf of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and the Disability Support Services Council

Electronic Accessibility

Electronic and digital accessibility is more important now than ever as our colleges move into exclusively offering online classes due to the coronavirus.

We must remember to consider disability accessibility and inclusion of disabled students in our online classrooms. If you have a Deaf or hard of hearing student enrolled in your class, are your videos captioned? If your students use a screen reader, are your documents accessible for them? A student struggles with executive function...Are your assignment instructions and deadlines clear? Another student experiences chronic migraines and has to take frequent breaks from the screen ... Are your PowerPoint slides posted for student review on their own time, and are your deadlines flexible?

We have an opportunity to learn from our disabled students, to be creative, and to see what is possible. Let’s work together and make sure that no one is left behind digitally.

Below are best practices, tools, and resources that will help ensure you create accessible content for your students.

10 Best Practices

  1. Use clear, simple, and consistent layouts when creating your online courses and materials. Don’t change fonts and structure in each lesson!
  2. When creating a document and/or when composing content directly into Canvas, always use Heading Structures. This helps ensure content is accessible to screen readers. You can check accessibility easily using Office’s built-in Accessibility Checker and by using Adobe’s built-in Accessibility Checker.
  3. All images and pictures should be described using appropriate Alternative Text.
  4. All audio recordings should be accompanied by transcripts.
  5. All videos, films, YouTube, Panopto lectures, etc. should be appropriately captioned or accompanied by transcripts. Auto-generated (e.g. YouTube) captions are not appropriate or accurate for student use. Partner with your college’s eLearning and disability services office.
  6. Create meaningful and concise hyperlinks when including a URL address.
  7. Use a 12-point size font or larger.
  8. Pay attention to your use of color and always choose strong contrasts. (No pink cursive font on top of a purple background!)
  9. Use plain, descriptive language when explaining assignment expectations. When possible, use the built-in bullet and numeric lists. This will help your students process information.
  10. Partner with your Library staff to identify accessible Open Educational Resources (OER) materials to use.

5 Tools and Products

  1. Office Accessibility Tracker
  2. Adobe Accessibility Checker
  3. ALLY tool inside Canvas. (This tool allows professors to check and correct the accessibility of documents they upload to Canvas. It also allows students to individually download materials into alternative formats of their choice.)
  4. 3Play Media and Canvas video Caption Hub. (SBCTC negotiated a special rate for the 34 Colleges.)
  5. MathType (MathType is a product created by Design Science and helps professors create Math content that is accessible to students using screen readers.)

Zoom Lectures and Recorded Videos

  • If you choose to pre-record your video lectures, work with your eLearning and disability services offices to ensure each video has captions before posting to Canvas.
  • If you plan to host synchronous (live) Zoom lectures, check with your students and disability services office first to see if anyone in your course requires live captioning (CART) or ASL interpreters.
    • Your College may hire individual providers to join the live session or contract with an agency that provides these services. Check with your disability service office.
  • Some tools like Otter ai and Verbit use artificial intelligence or a hybrid approach to provide automated transcription in a live synchronous environment. Otter ai can also be used as a note-taking software program by students registered with your school’s disability services office that require assistance with note-taking during lecture.
    • Please note that automated transcription services are often less accurate than services provided by a professional in real-time. Automated services are helpful to provide Universal Design for Learning (UDL) but may not be reliable enough for a student with an approved transcription accommodation due to disability. 

Working with Disability Services and eLearning

  1. Pay attention to communications from your college’s disability services office with important updates about operations and accommodation processes for spring quarter.
  2. Review students’ accommodation letters carefully and contact disability services early with any questions about how accommodations apply to a modified instructional format.
  3. Your college’s disability services office, eLearning, and IT may have access to additional accessibility and instructional resources and tools not included here. Contact them for more information.

Conclusion: Flexibility is Key

The key to a successful spring quarter is to remain flexible with each other. Lead with kindness and curiosity. Trust your students and disability services staff to communicate with you appropriately about their access needs and necessary accommodations.

We are in unprecedented times. The coronavirus poses many unique challenges for our Colleges and students, but we are all in this together. Some of us are already very comfortable in the online environment. For others however, this may be their first time teaching or taking an online class. The needs of our students vary and will change over time. Some students may have small children in the house or are caring for elderly family members. This may mean that attending synchronous video lectures and making deadlines on time will be significantly harder. Others may still be figuring out how to obtain basic Internet access and a laptop.


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Last Modified: 1/30/24, 4:40 PM

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