Center for the Advancement of Faculty Excellence (CAFE)

Top Tips for Making Your Instructional Materials Accessible

Top tips for making your online instructional materials accessible for students with disabilities… and better for everyone else, too

  1. EASY: Order your textbooks by the deadline.
    • Submit materials to Library Reserve at least 2 weeks before classes start. This allows the Bookstore to check and see if there are accessible versions of the textbook. The DRC also has time to modify the book if needed. The DRC will literally cut the book apart, scan it, and caption all the graphics adequately.
  1. EASY: Use clean, simple design with clear contrast when creating materials.
    • Avoid watermarks and extra graphics and decorations. Less clutter = more accessible and more elegant.
  2. EASY: Use styles with Word and templates with PowerPoint.
    • Instead of formatting your Word doc by selecting text and hitting the Bold button or ctrl-b, use the “styles” menu. Use the built-in templates that come with PowerPoint… yes, we know that title + bullet points is boring, but at least you won’t have accessibility problems.
  3. EASY: Look for electronic versions of book chapters and papers instead of scanning them.
    • Many items come in electronic format these days. Most of the articles we have in our library have “permanent URLs,” meaning that you can link to that URL instead of downloading a pdf. Electronic format is not automatically accessible, but it has a lot better chance of being accessible – and easier to read generally – than a badly scanned photocopy of a photocopy.
  4. NOT HARD: Use detailed alt-text for pictures and graphics.
    • If you put in a non-decorative picture or graphic, right click on the picture, hit “format,” and then go to “alt text.” Type a detailed description of the image into the alt-text box. A screen reader will be able to read the description.
  5. HARDER: Scan pdfs with OCR scanners, then use Adobe Acrobat to check the reading order.
    • If you really do need to scan a book chapter or a paper, make sure you are using a scanner + computer system that has “optical character recognition” software. (The printer/scanner you got for free with your laptop probably doesn’t.) Then, use Adobe Acrobat’s “reading order” function to check if your document is read properly.
  6. HARDER: Provide transcripts for all audio.
    • Similar to videos, look for materials that already have transcripts. Many radio programs, such as all NPR programs, have transcripts.
  7. Okay… this is HARD: Caption all videos.
    • Better yet, only look for captioned videos in the first place. YouTube’s automatic captions are NOT adequate! If you are making your own video with Camtasia or Presenter, make sure you use a transcript for the narration. As a bonus, your audio narration will be smoother and more professional.
  8. WAY, WAY EASY: For help, contact CAFE.
    • Although we can’t work with your course materials for you, we can help you find information resources and point you toward easier ways to make your materials accessible. Our Accessible Instructional Materials page has tutorials and other resources to show you how to get started. The helpful ITA's in Studio 6 can answer specific question and help you with a varitey of authoring tools. Also, you can request an Accessibility Consultation to meet one-on-one with an instructional designer.

Why is accessibility important? What does accessibility mean, anyway?

What’s accessibility?

According to the CSU Chancellor, instructional materials must be delivered in a manner that is equally effective for persons with disabilities as without disabilities:

  • Comparable in quality to materials received by students without disabilities
  • Comparable in timeliness of delivery and availability
  • Provided in a manner and medium appropriate to the significance of the message and the abilities of the person receiving the material

Umm… What does that really mean?

All students need access to course materials at the same time and to basically the same capacity. Specifically:

  • Videos are captioned and audio is transcribed.
  • Documents and websites can be read by a screen-reading software, in the correct order, with indications for headings, emphases, etc.
  • Pictures and graphics have “alt-text” which a screen-reader reads to describe the image.

That sounds like a lot of work. Why do I have to do this?

Many of our students with disabilities have a disability that we can’t see. In fact, more than 75% of the students registered with the DRC have a non-apparent disability. Federal and state law direct that these students should have access to instructional materials that they can use just like anyone else. And, it’s not just the law…it’s the right and good thing to do.

Paying attention to accessibility also helps people who don’t have disabilities. Other people who benefit from accessible materials include people:

  • Whose first language is not the medium of instruction
  • With different kinds of information processing capabilities
  • Who read faster than they can listen…or who read slowly
  • Who can’t understand your accent

It’s also worth noting that the university and faculty are actually legally liable for providing accessible materials. A good-faith effort to provide accessible materials helps keep you from getting sued! Thinking about accessibility from the beginning when you’re creating and looking for materials for a class helps save a lot of time and effort later in fixing non-accessible materials.