Best Practices for Accessible Course Materials

Providing accessible course materials helps ensure that all students have equitable access to content. Accessibility largely relates to content being perceivable, operable, and understandable. The Center for Learning Design & Technology (CLDT)’s accessibility guidelines and best practices pertain to media and alternatives, structure and formatting, and readability. Accessible math is also a critical component of accessibility in our engineering courses. Accessibility review may be supported by using built-in accessibility checkers.

Media and Alternatives

Media refers to images, audio, and video.


All images must be accompanied by a text description, either alternative (alt) text or a long description.

Refer to Alternative Text for Visuals for more information.

Audio and Video

All audio and video files must include captions. Captions are generated for all files added through Panopto. Files uploaded by faculty will receive machine captioning. Faculty are responsible for reviewing machine captioning for accuracy. Closed captioning is available for live, synchronous sessions hosted in Zoom using automatic speech recognition.

Refer to Captioning and Live Transcription at Whiting School of Engineering for more information on captioning for live events.

Structure and Formatting

Structure and formatting refer to a document or webpage’s hierarchical heading structure, reading order, and formatting.

Heading Structure

Document and page structure visually help students organize the content provided. A logical document or page structure encourages the readability and usability of the content. The structure tells a screen reader how to organize the material for students and allows students to use keyboard strokes to navigate course content more easily. The structure should be applied to all areas in Canvas and all files, such as Word, PowerPoint, and PDF.

Using headings and styles is the simplest way to add structure to a document, page, or slide. Do not use Font Sizes options to format text into headings because screen readers do not recognize these as headings.

Refer to the Microsoft Support article Add a Heading for more information on using heading styles in Microsoft Word.

Refer to How do I add and modify text in the Rich Content Editor for more information on text styles in Canvas.

Reading Order

For PowerPoint presentations, the reading order of the slide content must be set for each slide to ensure logical order and promote understanding.

Refer to the Microsoft Support article PowerPoint: Check Reading Order for more information on setting the reading order.

Formatting Tools for Lists and Tables

Lists (e.g., ordered, unordered, table of contents) should be created using built-in list tools instead of manually typing numbers or symbols. Similarly, tables should be created with the built-in table tool for Canvas pages and Microsoft programs.

Refer to Accessible Tables for more information specific to table formatting.


Readability refers to the ease with which students can read the content. For hyperlinks, this requires descriptive hyperlink text that indicates the link purpose or target webpage. Likewise, links should be visually designated by an underline and by using a different color than the plain text.

For example:

For hyperlinks and all other uses of color, sufficiently contrasting colors must be used. Color alone should not be used to convey meaning or emphasis.

Refer to Contrast and Color Accessibility for more information on color.

These tools are useful for checking contrast: 

Accessible Math

Common methods of equation creation, including images of equations and Microsoft’s built-in equation editors, are often inaccessible. The CLDT recommends authoring math content in MathType, EquatIO, or LaTeX. LaTeX may be used in Canvas or converted to MathML for use in Canvas. For content including both text and equations, MathML often is the output following the conversion of a TeX document to HTML.

Refer to Using EquatIO for Accessible Math for more information on using EquatIO.

Refer to MathType Quick Start Guide for more information in using MathType.

Refer to Overleaf Professional Accounts at WSE for more information on Overleaf for authoring in LaTeX.

Accessibility Checkers

Microsoft Office, Canvas, and Adobe Acrobat PDFs include built-in accessibility checkers that may assist in identifying potential accessibility issues. Use these checkers and the CLDT’s guidelines to identify and remediate accessibility errors.

Refer to the Microsoft Support article Improve accessibility with the Accessibility Checker for more information on Microsoft Office’s accessibility checker.

Refer to How do I use the Accessibility Checker in the Rich Content Editor for more information on using the accessibility checker in Canvas.

Additional Resources

Webinar sessions are hosted regularly by the Faculty Forward Academy and include workshops on accessibility best practices and guidance. Past sessions can be viewed from the Faculty Forward Session Recordings.

Faculty Forward Magazine includes an ongoing column on inclusive teaching and accessibility.

Additional resources may be found under Training and Resources on the Digital Accessibility at JHU site.

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