What about Online Accessibility?


“Good design is accessible design”. Designing eLearning that is accessible for all people is not easy. Making your online courses accessible may seem challenging; however, in many respects you may already be on your way thanks to technology! The key is to find ways in which basic principles of good web design, along with the principles of Universal Design, can improve access to and the experience of eLearning for all learners, regardless of ability (Pappas, 2016, May).

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) includes the following types of disabilities in its consideration of designing for accessibility: visual disability, hearing impairment, physical (motor) disability, speech disability, cognitive and neurological disability (including learning disability and seizure disorders, for example), multiple disability, and aging-related conditions (W3C, 2005). W3C provides this definition for accessibility: “Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web.” (W3C, 2005). The resources below can help you create course materials that are accessible and usable by all students.

Myth or Law?

According to Web Accessibility in Mind (WebAIM), understanding the myths and realities of US law is important when it comes to web accessibility. The following information/resources cover key US laws pertinent to web accessibility. These resources will help you understand the conditions under which you must create web content that is accessible to individuals with disabilities under US law.

Overview of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Sections 504 and 508)


How Do I Know if I Have a Student Who Requires Accommodation?

  • If a student registered for your course requires accommodation, they will submit a request through the office of Student Accessibility Services. Florida Atlantic University Student Accessibility Services (SAS) provides comprehensive academic support services – advocacy, academic accommodations, Assistive Technology equipment/software training, Assistive Technology Computer Lab, Learning Strategies training, and an active student organization. SAS has offices across three of FAU’s campuses – Boca Raton, Davie, and Jupiter. However, accessibility services are available for students attending any of the six FAU campuses.


The following have been compiled to help you design more inclusive and diverse courses.

  1. Resources for Creating Accessible Content
  2. Creating Accessible Documents for your Online Course
  3. Working with PDF Files
  4. Accessible Multimedia Elements
  5. Beyond The Wires!
  6. Additional Resources
  7. Quizzes, Exams, and Surveys Tools
  8. Designing Classes for the M-Generation: Universal Design


Burgstahler, S. (2010). Equal Access: Universal design of instruction. In DO-IT:
Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology. Retrieved on July 16, 2016 from http://www.washington.edu/doit/Brochures/Academics/equal_access_udi.html

Bradbard, D.A., Peters, C. (2010). Web accessibility theory and practice: An introduction for university faculty. The Journal of Educators Online, Volume 7, Number 1, January 2010. Retrieved on July 18, 2016 from http://www.thejeo.com/Archives/Volume7Number1/BradbardandPeterspaper.pdf

Pappas, C. (2016, May). Instructional design for accessibility: How to ensure that learning is for everyone. eLearning Industry: Instructional Design. Retrieved on July 15, 2016 from https://elearningindustry.com/instructional-design-for-accessibility-free-technical-article

Resources for Creating Accessible Content

  • Converting content using Robobraille.org
    In four easy steps, this non-for profit organization lets you upload a file (maximum 64 MB), converts your document(s) into an alternative, accessible format. The result is then delivered in your email inbox (usually within an hour or less). You may upload one or more files, enter a URL to a file or simply type in the text you wish to have converted. Supported file types are .DOC, .DOCX, .PDF, .PPT, .PPTX, .TXT, .XML, .HTML, .HTM, .RTF, .EPUB, .MOBI, .TIFF, .TIF, .GIF, .JPG, .JPEG, .BMP, .PCX, .DCX, .J2K, .JP2, .JPX, .DJV and .ASC.
  • Quick Online Course Accessibility Checklist
  • Using Alt Text
    1. What is Alt Text
      Alt text is an alternative (non-visual) way to describe the meaning of an image.
    2. Why should you use Alt Text?
      Alt text is read by screen readers allowing the content and function of the image to be accessible to those with visual or cognitive disabilities. It also helps students using slow computers or browsers that do not support display of the images since the alt text appears in place of the image.
    3. When should you use Alt Text?
      Alt text should be used when the meaning of a graphic is not adequately described in the body of the text or a caption provided before or after the image. If you provide an explicit explanation of the content and function of the image in the text or in a caption, then that image does not need alt text.
  • What information should you include in an Alt Text statement?
    Alt text is designed to convey the meaning of a photo and should be succinct. Therefore, there can be multiple ways to write alt text for a single image. It depends on what you want to convey to others by using the image, how and where the photo will be used

Additional information regarding the use of Alt Text is available at Web Accessibility in Mind (WebAIM)

Creating Accessible Documents for your Online Course

  1. Fonts Matter!
  2. MS Word Documents
  3. MS PowerPoint Documents
    • CANnect: This site provides additional tips on creating accessible PPTs.

Camtasia Studio: This screen capture software offers captioning. It is available for use at the Center for eLearning or by using the free 30-day free trial

Working with PDF Files

There is more to an accessible PDF than tags!

How to Make an Existing PDF Accessible

There is more to an accessible PDF than tags! In order to make an existing PDF accessible, specific elements of the document need to be tagged according to their purpose. These tags are not displayed in the document, but they are used by screen readers to understand the structure of the document. Tagging documents used in online courses allows people with visual disabilities to access materials as easily as their fellow classmates. Please refer to the Tag Existing PDF Tutorial (PDF) for step by step directions. The Acrobat X Pro PDF Accessibility Repair Workflow tutorial step-by-step has more information regarding PFD accessible documents. Web Accessibility In Mind (WebAIM) also provides additional information regarding PDF accessibility.

Creating Accessible PDF Documents Within Word

PDF documents may be appropriate to use if the document is a form, historical document, or if the document has a complex layout. PDF documents can be created to be accessible, however, they are not as navigable with a screen reader as HTML and require Adobe Reader in order to view them. For more information, please view PDF Formatting Guidelines. Documents scanned into a PDF format are not accessible to ereaders since the file is an image and the text in the document is not available to an ereader.

Accessible Multimedia Elements

Creating Captioning for Videos

Faculty participating in the I-Design course development should contact the Center for eLearning for information regarding captioning for their courses’ videos.

  1. Resources for Captioning YouTube Videos
  • The National Center on Disability and Access to Education (NCDAE).

Audio and Video

  • Locate and test all video CC buttons as they may not be available or activated.
  • Be sure video files contain synchronized captions. Please note that automatic captioning in YouTube is not accurate.
  • Include text transcripts for all audio files including podcasts.
    1. Amara provides self-captioning for YouTube and Vimeo files.
    2. Camtasia Studio is another self-captioning option.


  • Select a screencasting tool that allows you to add ALT Text to images and captions/transcripts.
  • The following Screencasting tools have built-in captioning ability:
    1. Adobe Captivate
    2. Camtasia Studio

Additional Considerations

  • If using other third party tools in your online course (e.g., wikis, blogs, Skype), make sure all elements are accessible.
  • Provide learners with accessible downloads for necessary plugins such as Adobe Flash or Adobe Reader.

Beyond the Wires!

  • Comparison of accessibility features in various versions of Microsoft Windows: http://www.microsoft.com/enable/products/chartwindows.aspx
  • JAWS for Windows: JAWS,Job Access With Speech, is the world’s most popular screen reader, developed for computer users whose vision loss prevents them from seeing screen content or navigating with a mouse. JAWS provides speech and Braille output for the most popular computer applications on your PC.
  • NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access): NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) is a free “screen reader” which enables blind and vision impaired people to use computers. It reads the text on the screen in a computerised voice.
  • Color Oracle is a free color blindness simulator for Window, Mac and Linux. It takes the guesswork out of designing for color blindness by showing you in real time what people with common color vision impairments will see.

Additional Resources

  1. The Accessibility Checker helps you find and fix accessibility issues, just like Spell Checker tells you about possible spelling errors. The Accessibility Checker works in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
  2. Universal Design for Learning Series – Offered by the National Center on Universal Design for Learning (UDL), the UDL Series provides web-based rich media presentations and resources to increase understanding of the UDL framework, enhance utilization of UDL tools, processes, and resources, support effective UDL implementation, and inform UDL advocates, families, and communities about professional development and policy initiatives.
  3. CAST – A nonprofit education research and development organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals through Universal Design for Learning. CAST pledges to work to understand the full extent of human learner variability and to find transformative approaches that make education more effective for all.
  4. Quality Matters – A faculty-centered, peer review process that’s designed to certify the quality of online and blended courses. Submit a course for review and receive feedback.
  5. Section508.gov’s list of Accessibility Programs in the Academic Community – A list of institutions offering a wide array of expertise and opportunity for enhancing the implementation of Section 508.
  6. The National Center on Disability and Access to Education (NCDAE). Addresses issues of technology and disability in education policies and practices to enhance the lives of people with disabilities and their families.
  7. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 – Covers a wide range of recommendations for making web content more accessible. Following these guidelines will make content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, cognitive limitations, and others.
  8. Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)
  9. Color Contrast Checker
  10. Introduction to Web Accessibility
  11. Formstack is the only online form building tool that is 508 compliant.

Exam, Quiz, and Survey Tools

Respondus 4.0
You may create quizzes, surveys, and self-tests for your online course directly in the Learning Management System. However, we recommend that you use a software program called Respondus 4.0 to help you create these assessments quickly and efficiently. FAU has a site license for Respondus 4.0. It is available for FAU faculty to use free of charge. Submit a ticket to OIT to receive a download link to install Respondus 4.0 on your workstation.

With Qualtrics, students and faculty can perform ad-hoc research and quickly uncover data for everything from class projects and field studies to graduate dissertations and capstone projects. Florida Atlantic University has a site license available to faculty, students, and the FAU community.