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?

Resolutions and the Law

The 2011 Distance Education Accessibility Resolution (doc) 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 (pdf) from the Chancellor’s Office California Community Colleges.

Why accessibility?

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.

Real Connections: Making Distance Learning Accessible to Everyone (12 minute video)

Groups Issue Guidance on Making Digital Learning Accessible to All - 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.


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 - Great eBook that shows you how to make your course accessible and why you should.

Constructing a POUR Website - Putting people at the center of the process

Equal Access: Universal Design of Distance Learning Programs

Accessibility checklist for online course content

  • Provide alternative text descriptions (ALT text) or captions for meaningful images, charts, and graphics
    • Appropriate Use of Alt Text by WebAIM
    • When using complex images such as info-graphics, in addition to a succinct alt tag, make sure to provide the following disclaimer 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
      Visit the National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) to learn more about:
      • How to describe complex images and math images
      • Find tools for creating accessible math, and more
  • Properly format heading levels (using Styles) to structure the webpage or document
    • Headers are short descriptions, 3 to 5 words, of the content that follows
    • Screen readers create links to the headers which allows a person using the screen reader to navigate to the contents without having to listen to all of the preceding contents being read back to them.
    • Learn more about heading levels
  • Format listed items as lists (bullets or numbers). Do not type them in.
  • Write meaningful text for links (do not use "click here" links or urls for text, instead, describe where the link is pointing)
  • Tables are used to display data and are not used for layout. Tables must have headers and a proper reading order.
  • Do not rely on color alone to convey meaning. Use text with color. If text color denotes meaning, make it bold or italicize it.
  • Use PDFs that are tagged. Learn more about how to make a PDF accessible at WebAIM.
  • Ensure that all audio and video content includes appropriate captioning
    • Only use audio with available transcripts
    • Only use video with accurate closed captioning that is synchronized (YouTube auto captioning is usually not accurate enough to meet accessibility requirements)
    • Learn more about captioning
  • 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)

Caption videos and provide transcripts for audio recordings

All required instructional video for online and hybrid courses MUST be captioned and audio must be transcribed.

Make math accessible

Using publisher material?

Find out what to ask publishers - BEFORE you adopt their textbooks or require your students to use their websites. Find out the list of questions to ask publishers.


Learn how to make your Canvas course accessible with tips and tricks from the Canvas community.

Accommodating Students in Canvas - Discussion on how to set up accommodations for assignments, quizzes, and modules

General Accessibility Design Guidelines

Accessibility within Specific Canvas Features

The Rich Content Editor (RCE) in Canvas supports multiple accessibility features for easy content creation:

Learn how to use the Rich Content Editor to make your Canvas pages completely accessible

Learn more about Accessibility in Canvas

Creating Accessible Online Courses with Canvas - Self-guided Canvas course designed to provide you with the basic information you need in order to create accessible online courses with Canvas.

Make sure your documents are accessible! If you are creating a PDF from a Word document, it is best to first make the Word document accessible and then save it as a PDF. If you do not have the source document of the PDF, then you will have to use Adobe Acrobat Pro X11 to make it accessible. Below you will find tutorials and guides on how to make your documents accessible.


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)

Microsoft Word

If you use a Mac and have the latest version of Word 2016, you will be able to use the built-in Accessibility Checker and when you save it as a PDF, the tagging information will be preserved.

Create Accessible Word Documents (WebAIM article)

How to make a Word document accessible - (Portland Community College)


Microsoft Powerpoint Techniques (WebAIM article)

Microsoft Powerpoint Techniques (Portland Community College)



PDF Accessibility (WebAIM)

Creating Accessible PDF Documents with MS Word and Acrobat Pro (@One video 57:56 mins in conjuction with the OEI)

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 accessibility.
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)

Verification of Accessibility Compliance Tools



WebAIM Contrast Checker

  • WebAIM Contrast Checker - Interactive checker lets you verify foreground and background colors provide enough contrast

Evaluating Document Accessibility

Accessibility Checker in Microsoft Office

Free PDF Accessibility Checker (PAC 2) - The freeware program PAC provides a fast way to test the accessibility of PDF files.

Document Checker - Check older versions of Word, PowerPoint, Open Office, Adobe, and more

Screen Readers

Introduction to Screen Readers - Victor Tsaran from Yahoo shows the core functionality of screen readers and how they interact with the desktop. (27 min)

WebAIM Screen Reader Simulation - Experience what it is like to use a screen reader

The Secrets of Screen Readers Revealed with Sean Keegan (1 hour webinar)

Additional Tools

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

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.

If you use multimedia for your online/hybrid course that will be used for more than one quarter and/or you have an enrolled student who needs accommodation, then that multimedia MUST meet accessibility requirements.

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


The Disability Resource Center and Foothill Online Learning can assist you with addressing accessibility but the process takes time. So, please get the process started as soon as possible.

Option 1: Request captioning through the DRC

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 ASAP to Bidya Subedi ( 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. Maximum number of seats for the course
  4. Quarter that you will use the video or audio
  5. Total number of minutes of the video or audio
  6. Type of media: video or audio
  7. Links or locations where the multimedia can be accessed

Then, the DRC will send the captioned file to you.

  • If you have a YouTube channel and own the video, you can upload the captions in YouTube.
  • If you do not own the video, you can use Amara. Visit the Captioning page and click the 'How' tab to learn how to add captions to videos.

Option 2: Request captioning of your own videos using 3C Media Solutions

Get free (grant-funded) captioning services from 3CMedia Solutions more quickly and with LESS paperwork!

This service is only available for instructional use and videos that have been uploaded to a 3C Media account, so make sure you have uploaded your videos to 3C Media Solutions before making a request to have them captioned. This service is paid for through the DECT grant, and is only available as long as the funding lasts. Read the 3C Media Solution FAQs to learn more.

Note: This request is NOT available for:

  • Videos that are hosted on YouTube and placed in your 3CMedia account
  • Non-instructional video (e.g., entertainment)
  • Any videos hosted anywhere outside 3C Media Solutions

Set up your Account

  • Set up your free 3C Media account (select "Foothill College" for the Organization)
  • Upload your video to your account
  • Request captioning by filling out the form located under "Details & Options" area of your video

The captions will be automatically added to your video which normally takes 3-5 business days. The video with captions will then be playable on the 3C Media Solutions website. For detailed instructions, watch Using 3C Media to Integrate Audio and Video into Your Canvas Course (57:49 mins).

Option 3: Do-It-Yourself

"Caption It Yourself: Basic Guidelines for Busy Teachers, Families, and Others Who Shoot Their Own Video" provides instructions about how to do-it-yourself. For more details, review the Captioning Tip Sheet.

Option 4: Find videos that are already captioned

Films on Demand

You can find more than 3,000 high quality educational videos and 33,000 segments via streaming over the web at Films on Demand. Search the database of Films on Demand.

Films on Demand is integrated into the Rich Content Editor (RCE) in Canvas. With the click of a few buttons, you can embed a captioned video into your Canvas course.


Many YouTube videos are auto-captioned which are not very accurate. Make sure to verify their accuracy before deciding to use it.

Last Updated February 12, 2018
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