Best Practices for Accessible Course Materials

It is important to ensure course materials are accessible to screen readers. Materials should always consider these guidelines for: 

  • Structure 
  • Reading Order 
  • Descriptive Links 
  • Colors
  • Audio and Video
  • Visuals
  • Tables


Document and page structure visually help students organize the content you are providing. A sound 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. Students using screen readers can review all the headings of a document first. 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. 

Microsoft Word Documents

  1. Open the Word document EP template. 
  2. Open the Style Pane. 
  3. Highlight the words which you’d like to apply a style and select that style on the styles pane.  
  4. Repeat this process until each section of text on your document has an assigned style. 

Microsoft Word Document Styles Structure (Screenshot)

Microsoft PowerPoint Slides 

It is recommended to utilize an accessible template when creating a new PowerPoint Presentation. Templates can make it easier to provide an accessible structure. EP provides an accessible PowerPoint Template for faculty to use when creating course materials. You will receive access to the template when you develop a course with CLDT. The most important thing you will need to review as you develop your slides is the reading order because this is not always correct in the template after items are moved around. 

Reading Order 

Equally important for screen readers and text to speech technology is that the reading order of the slide content is accurately set to make sense to the listener. 

How do we verify reading order in PowerPoint? 

  1. Open the PowerPoint EP template. Select Layout to view structured templates for slides. 

    PowerPoint Slide Layouts

  2. Open the selection pane found in the Format tab. You can also click Arrange and choose Selection Pane from the Home tab. 

    PowerPoint Selection Pane
    PowerPoint Selection Pane
  3. Pay attention to the selection pane frame as it highlights each item found on this slide.  

    PowerPoint Selection Pane

  4. Note that the reading order starts at the last item listed on the selection pane. You will review the list from bottom to top.
  5. When you have to change the order of any one item, simply drag it into the position you want that item read. 

Manage objects on your slides using the Selection pane to re-order them, show or hide them, and group or ungroup them. 

Canvas Rich Content Editor (RCE)

The Rich Content Editor in Canvas is used to create content throughout the LMS, including: 

  • Announcements 
  • Assignments 
  • Discussions 
  • Pages 
  • Quizzes
  • Syllabus 

Canvas Rich Content Editor Styles

Using the RCE ensures all content uses accessible HTML formatting, but only when used correctly. Just as with Word and PowerPoint, content must have structure 

PDF Files 

PDF files in your courses should not be image scans. At a minimum, all PDFs should comply with Quality Matters standards and “any text contained in PDFs is selectable and searchable.” It is best to apply document structure within the original source file before converting to PDF. If you no longer have access to the source file (doc, pptx, etc), please contact us to assist you in ensuring your PDFs are accessible. 

Descriptive Links 

Creating meaningful and readable links in all course materials is especially important. Screen readers and text to speech technology can pull out all the links within the content and read the list to users. Users who cannot use a mouse may use the keyboard to navigate through your content. Those users need to be able to identify links easily. Providing students with links that make sense, rather than a list of long URLs makes content more accessible to students using screen readers and other text-to-speech technologies and keyboard-only users.  

How do we identify links on this slide? They are underlined. A different color. They stand out from the rest of the text. These are relatable signifiers commonly used to identify links and should be used as common signifiers. There are other key tips to make links more user-friendly for all students. 

  1. Remove extraneous, repeated text. Instead of including terms like “Read more” or “Click here”, rely on the established signifiers. Specific link color and style, such as underlining, are all that are needed.  
  2. Do not include the full URLs as links. Use article titles or other identifying information that makes sense on its own to establish links within your content. For example: 


Colors can impact the readability of course materials for everyone, except those individuals using screen readers. It is especially important to use contrasting colors so it will be easier to perceive visual information, such as using colors for emphasis. You can check the contrast of your color selections using accessibility checkers and color contrast tools. Read more about Contrast and Color Accessibility on the Web AIM site. 

These tools are useful for checking contrast: 

Audio and Video 

All video and audio files must include captions or live transcriptions. Captions and interactive transcripts are available for all videos added through Kaltura. 

Kaltura Media Interactive Transcript and Closed Captions

Faculty are responsible for ensuring closed captioning is turned on in live, synchronous sessions, including office hours.  

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