Faculty: Designing for Accessibility


CalArts is committed to accessibility for everyone. Ensuring an accessible or universal experience for all users is a guiding principle of digital course design. Course sites, websites, email, documents, presentations, videos are all examples of digital content. Everyone who shares content in a digital format must take action to create an equitable experience for all. Creating Accessible content takes practice, so "Start Small, Start Now".

Tools in Canvas

Two tools within Canvas can identify and correct accessibility issues within the course. What are the Canvas accessibility standards?

  1. Accessibility Checker
  2. Microsoft Immersive Reader
Immersice Reader button

Seven Core Digital Accessibility Skills

1. Headings

Headings make the structure of your documents accessible to screen readers while improving both scannability and maintainability. Structure is critical for adaptive technology users, who rely on properly formatted headings to understand and navigate documents and web pages. Without this structure, there is no easy way to navigate a document because the document is read as a single long section. 

There are three different heading styles you can use for formatting in Canvas. These are Heading 2, 3 and 4. Header 1 is taken by the name of the object.  Canvas also allows you to designate text as Paragraph, and Preformatted text as well. When creating pages, it is important to designate heading and paragraph styles first. 


2. Links

Improve both the usability and accessibility of links by making them concise, descriptive, and meaningful out of context. The simplest way to do this is for the link text to match the destination. 

This second case might leave the user unsure they have reached the correct destination. If you have several links on the same topic, the issue of identifying the destination is compounded.


3. Lists

The design of lists can be surprisingly involved. For initiates to this skill it is sufficient to adopt the use of the list formatting tool so that adaptive technology users will be able to identify the text as a list.

Example (using formatting):

  • Thing 1
  • Thing 2
  • Thing 3

Example (not using formatting):

- Thing 1

- Thing 2

- Thing 3


4. Alternative text

Alternative text, or “alt text” describes the content of images, graphs and charts. It should be added to every image that conveys meaning in instructional and communications materials, including Canvas sites, word processing documents, and slide presentations.


5. Captioning and Transcripts

Videos should include accurate captions and audio descriptions. Don't assume that auto-generated captions are "good enough." Auto-generated captions will not approach the over 99% accuracy level needed by people who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

Audio-only content should include an accurate transcript.  Transcripts are plain-text versions of the speech or audio in a video or audio recording. Unlike captions, transcripts are not time-coded; they are static documents. 

When sharing audio and video recordings, don't use auto-play. Auto-play can be disorienting to people using a screen reader, and annoying to all audiences.


6. Contrast

Color is one of the often misused aspects of visual communication. Ensure a strong color contrast between foreground and background on every document, slide, and web page.

Color should never be the sole means of conveying information. If you color code your document (e.g., “things highlighted in blue are my responses to your questions,”) a certain segment of your readers will have difficulty finding the new information. Screen readers don’t offer a way to search by color, and people in or with a wide variety of conditions and in certain environments won’t be able to see the difference either.


7. Tables

Accessible tables are simple, rather than complex. They should clearly identify the header row, Include content in all cells (Use text such as "not applicable" or "none" to indicate no data), and include a table summary, either as a caption or as alt text. These techniques help screen reader users read the information contained in the table.

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