Improving Accessible Design/Universal Design in Your Course

Accessible Design” calls for design that includes the needs of people whose physical, mental, or environmental conditions limit their performance. “Universal Design” aims to extend standard design principles to include people of all ages and abilities, but remains at the level of generality, so it does not address all the specific needs of any particular disability.

But even for people who do not have any specific physical or mental characteristics that affect computer use, it has been found that adopting universal design principles can reduce fatigue, increase speed, decrease errors, and decrease learning time for all users. In many ways, universal design addresses the larger issues of usability by making things easier for everyone. from Usability First (opens in a new window).

Things to check in your course:

The one accessibility issue that is thought to be more important than all others is that a text equivalent is needed for every non-text element (audio, video, images, scanned documents). Fortunately, this is something that can be done. Don’t hesitate to contact the instructional design team if you need help improving accessible design/universal design in your course.

Audio and visual content

Both audio and visual content, if used, are accompanied by a written, screen-reader compatible transcript and/or captioning in an ADA  (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant format.

    • If you are asking students to view YouTube videos, make sure that the video includes closed captioning. Many do include closed captioning. You should check the closed captioning against the video to make sure it is “correct.” Sometimes the closed captioning has been done by machines and not humans and so is not very useful. Here’s a brief description of how to use and create  Closed Captions in YouTube (opens in a new window). Videos from TED Talks (opens in a new window) include closed captioning and transcripts. 
    • How to create captions and subtitles on YouTube (opens in a new window)

    • If you are creating your own videos, then often the software you use to create the audio or video also allows for the creation of closed captions. For instance, Camtasia, a commonly used program at GSC, allows this.  It’s best to follow the directions in your software.
    • Including a written transcript with all audio files is recommended.  If you are creating the file yourself then it’s best to write out the transcript first and use that script when you create the audio file.  When you include the audio file in your course, make sure you  include the written transcript too.


Images use alternative text to describe their content.

    • For an image that conveys content, the alternative text succinctly describes the content conveyed by the element, without being too verbose (for simple objects) or too vague (for complex objects).
    • For images that have a function (images within links, image buttons, and image map areas) include alternative text which describes the associated function.
    • Complex graphics (graphs, charts, etc.) are accompanied by equivalent text, either through a description in the body of the page or  a link to a description on a separate page.
    • Decorative graphics have null/empty alt values (alt="").
    • It’s easy to add alternative text (alt-text) in Moodle. When you insert an image, a text box for Image description is provided.  This is the alternative text that will be shown when the actual image is not visible. Please write good descriptions for your images.  Instructional designers can help you with this. For detailed documentation, see Manipulating Images

 Scanned documents

Scanned documents, if used, have been processed (with Optical Character Recognition (OCR),  tools) to provide a screen-readable version.

Course Links

 Course links are self describing and meaningful.

    • The text display of hyperlinks is self-describing (i.e. URLs containing long strings of characters are replaced with meaningful descriptions.) Good link text should not be overly general; don’t use “click here.” Not only is this phrase device-dependent (it implies a pointing device) it says nothing about what is to be found if the link is followed. Instead of “click here”, link text should indicate the nature of the link target, as in “more information about sea lions” or “text-only version of this page”.
    • One way to add a link in Moodle is by using  the pull down Add a resource menu, then select URL. Another is to add the link directly in a label.

Screen Readability

Course ensures screen readability.

    • Color is not used as the only indicator of meaning. 
      • An example of how color can indicate meaning is to show all required items in a list as red and all optional items as blue.  In this example, it is fine to use color but not ONLY color.  In addition to showing required items as red, also include some text, perhaps the word “required,” as part of the item. And, in like fashion, add the word  “optional” to the blue items.
    • Text used can be interpreted by screen readers. Moodle itself seems to be accessible but the content will determine whether your course is accessible. It may be best to check with the instructional design team if you have questions about this.
    • Text colors (if used) or colors of other critical visual elements are high-contrast.
      • It is estimated that 1 in 20 visitors to a website will have some form of color vision deficit.  So it is important to make sure the contrast between background and foreground colors have high contrast.  To test your page, try Color Blind Web Page Filter (opens in a new window)

For more information:

Introduction to the Screen Reader – 7:05 min. video (opens in a new window)

Neal Ewers demonstrates a screen reader – Produced by: Alice Anderson, Technology Accessibility Program, UW-Madison Division of Information Technology, and Neal Ewers, Trace Research & Development Center, UW-Madison, with help from Dick Geier and Jesse Winters at the Instructional Media Development Center.

Screen Reader Demo – 13:15 min. video  (opens in a new window)

“Screen Reader Demo from Blind Inspiration Cast” How do people who can’t see a computer screen navigate a website? Colleen Connor explains the basics of how she uses a screen reader and how to design for visually impaired users.

WebAIM Section 508 Checklist (opens in a new window)

About 15 standards are excerpted from Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, §1194.22. WebAIM, a project of Utah State University, explains how these standards can be interpreted.

Guide to the Section 508 Standards for Electronic and Information Technology (opens in a new window)

Section 508 is a federal law which mandates that all electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government be accessible to people with disabilities.

 WCAG 2 at a Glance (opens in a new window)

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed in cooperation with individuals and organizations around the world, with a goal of proving a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally.

2010 ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Standards for Accessible Design (opens in a new window)

from the U.S. Department of Justice. This document is almost 300 pages long.

 Web Accessibility Testing

” Any accessibility testing must be viewed as a process that combines automated software tools with human judgment. There is no tool that you can run against your website (or web page, for that matter) in order to assert that it is accessible and/or complies with the Section 508 provisions or the WCAG – no matter how much you are willing to pay ” from Web Accessibility – Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance by Jim Thatcher

Since both software tools and human judgement are needed, here are some resources  for help with testing:

Accessibility Checklist (opens in a new window) from U. of Washington

W3C Accessibility Evaluation Resources (opens in new window)

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