Accessibility and Universal Design

Certain accessibility requirements must be addressed when developing learning materials for electronic dissemination to students. Online education courses, resources and materials must be designed and delivered in such a way that the level of communication and course-taking experience is the same for students with or without disabilities.

Accessibility compliance

Need help?


The 2011 Distance Education Accessibility Resolution by Foothill College Faculty Academic Senate strongly encourages faculty to familiarize themselves with the requirements specified in the Distance Education Accessibility Guidelines for Students with Disabilities and to take immediate steps to ensure that their online courses and materials are in compliance with these guidelines.

See Distance Education: Accessibility Guidelines for Students with Disabilities from the Chancellor’s Office California Community Colleges.

Still not convinced of the need to address accessibility? Watch this 11 minute video - To Care and Comply: Disability Access produced by Portland Community College.

Groups Issue Guidance on Making Digital Learning Accessible to All - Includes tips and guidance, brief case studies, and dozens of links to resources to help explain why accessibility is important, what the legal requirements are, and how it aids in learning.

Accessibility Guidelines

Learn the basics about Web Accessibility

Introduction to Web Accessibility - Great WebAIM article that describes various disabilities and how they affect the ability to navigate online content and what can be done to improve the experience.

BC Open Textbook Accessibility Toolkit - Design a course to make it universally accessible

Basic accessibility guidelines for online course content

  • Use formatting features in all content editors (Canvas, Word, PDF editors, etc.) that are recognized by assistive technology (e.g., screen readers)
    • Provide alternative text descriptions (ALT text) or captions for meaningful images, charts, and graphics
    • Properly format heading levels (using Styles) to structure the webpage or document
    • Format listed items as lists (bullets or numbers), not manually numbering them
    • Write meaningful text for links (do not use "click here" links or urls for text)
    • Create tables with headers and a proper reading order
    • Do not rely on color alone to convey meaning
    • Use PDFs that are tagged
  • Ensure that all audio and video content includes appropriate captioning
    • Only use audio with available transcripts
    • Only use video with accurate closed captioning (YouTube auto captioning is usually not accurate enough to meet accessibility requirements)
  • Only link to external websites that are accessible (or provide an alternative)
  • Do not use broken links and do not underline text for emphasis which can be confused for a broken link
  • Whenever a software plug-in is necessary for use of content, provide a link to download that software plug-in (e.g., PDF reader, Quicktime, Flash Player)

Get Help

Learn how to make your online course and learning materials available to ALL students regardless of learning style or disability and then get assistance from the Foothill Online Learning staff.

Course Accessibility

Fill out the Accessibility Checklist
  • Web Version (docx) - Contains links to request help and to learn more about each item
  • Print Version (docx) - Same checklist as the web version and shows urls of each link


State-funded grants are available to get professional captioning and transcription for video or audio content that you have created for your online and/or hybrid courses. In order to apply for funding please send the following to Diane Sugimoto ( at the Disability Resource Center:

  1. Your name and contact info
  2. Course Number, Section and Title of course that will contain the video or audio (must be fully online or hybrid course)
  3. Quarter that you will use the video or audio
  4. Total number of minutes of the video or audio
  5. Type of media: video or audio

Accessibility Tools

Verification of Accessibility Compliance Tools

Evaluating Document Accessibility

Screen Readers

Additional Tools

  • My Web My Way - Tips for students about how to make the web easier to use

Websites, Canvas, and Etudes



The Rich Content Editor (RCE) in Canvas supports multiple accessibility features for easy content creation:
Math in Canvas
Learn more about Accessibility in Canvas



Guidelines to Make Accessible Documents and Media - Step-by-step instructions for each media type (Portland Community College)

ED Accessibility Requirements for Electronic Documents - Key concepts, step-by-step instructions for Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Adobe Acrobat PDF (all are .doc from U.S. Department of Education)

Color and Contrast

  • Only use color to convey meaning if you provide a written explanation
  • Use high contrast for text against the background

Information Hierarchy using Headers

  • Headers create a hierarchy of the contents on a page similar to an outline or table of contents
  • Used by screen readers to allow a person who is visually impaired to navigate the contents
  • Headers are shorter 3-5 sentence paragraphs, simple and communicative visuals
  • Use “bold” and “italics” sparingly


All images and photos must have alternate text.

  • Use empty Alt-tags - (example: " ") for all decorative and non-essential images
  • Add Alt-Tags to:
    • All non-decorative images that describe the information you want the student to understand from the displayed image.
      • Example: Use “Joy of connecting with family while watching a movie” instead of more literal “Family sitting on couch watching movie”
    • Complex images such as info-graphics, in addition to a succinct alt tag, should have the following as a caption or close to the image:
      If you are unable to view this complex content, contact the DRC at (650) 949-7017 or email
At the National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) learn how to:
  • describe complex images
  • math images
  • tools for creating accessible math, and more

Adding Alt Text to Images in Microsoft Word

Tables and Flash



Downloadable Documents

Microsoft Word
PC: Convert Microsoft Documents to PDF

To create a tagged PDF make sure to use 'Save As'. Using 'Print to PDF' will strip out the tags and it will no longer be accessible.

The screenshot shows accessibility results from Adobe Acrobat Pro Accessibility Checker:
  • Document on right saved using 'Save as PDF' - no errors due to missing tags
  • Document on left saved using 'Print to PDF' - errors due to missing tags
Mac: Convert Microsoft Documents to PDF
Word 2016
To preserve tagging information when saving your document as a PDF, make sure to select the option that is best for electronic distribution and accessbility.
arrow pointing to option for best for electronic distribution and accessibility
Word 2011 and prior versions
Mac version of MS Word 2011 and prior versions do NOT produce tagged PDFs required for accessibility. You can use SensusAccess to convert your Word document to a tagged PDF by following these steps:
  1. Go to SensusAccess
  2. Select File
  3. Press the Browse button to find your document
  4. Press the Upload button on the right of the Browse button to upload your document
  5. Select Accessibility conversion
  6. From the Targeted format drop-down menu, select pdf - Tagged PDF
  7. Type in your email address
  8. Press Submit
  9. Check your inbox for the email from SensusAccess to get your pdf document (turn-around time ranges from a minute to longer depending on document size)

Captioning of Videos and Audio Recordings

Tutorials and Training

Accessibility Basics

Create Accessible Learning Material

Creating Accessible PDFs Workshop Materials

Course Materials
Download the following materials:

Microsoft Office (Word, Excel and PowerPoint)

Creating Accessible Microsoft Office Documents (1h 31m) - video tutorial

Course explains what accessibility is, why it's important, and what makes a file difficult to access. Then David Rivers provides some document standards, guidelines, and tips before launching into specifics in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

Universal Design for Learning

  • UDL: A Concise Introduction (HTML | PDF)
  • How Do You Teach? A UDL Checklist (DOCX | PDF)
Last Updated February 08, 2017
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