Accessibility and Online Education Materials

It’s a lot harder to convert in-person materials to accessible online material than you think. And you can’t leave out accessibility.

Empty theater style classroom with wooden student chairs and a black swivel intructor’s chair
Empty theater style classroom with wooden student chairs and a black swivel intructor’s chair

Continue to follow accommodations identified in 504 plans, IEPs, and by disabled student services

If a school has agreed to a particular set of accommodations such as captioning, an emergency that moves education to the home setting is not a valid excuse for ignoring those agreements.

Not all disabled students have 504 plans, IEPs, or recommendations from disabled student services


  • Some students don’t realize they are entitled to extra services
  • Some students (and their families) feel that asking for special education is stigmatizing, and so they don’t ask for something that their children could benefit from.
  • Some students have conditions (such as anxiety, clinical depression, autism) that will worsen in isolated settings.

Provide text descriptions for all non-text visuals especially informative graphics

Problem: Without descriptions, graphics are usuable by people with vision loss

Never, ever use raw scans of pieces of paper

Problem: I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve pieces of paper scanned and turned into .PDF files without any other processing. Frequently this is done in physicians office where they will take something that was in paper form (such as physical therapy instructions or intake forms) and create files out of them. These are totally unusable by people who are blind or who can’t use a mouse.

Closed Caption (CC) Videos

Problem: Not all students with hearing loss have IEPs or 504 plans. A student with hearing loss who is getting by in an person setting might heavily reply on speech reading. They might be completely hosed when unable to read lips. Animation is the worst for that.

Evaluate your videos for Descriptive Audio

Problem: People with significant vision loss use Descriptive Audio (aka Audio Description, and sometimes referred to as AD or DA) to understand videos that contain informational content which is not conveyed on the audio tracksoundtracks to achieve an equivalent experience. Think of the Wizard of Oz. How would a person with significant vision loss know that the Munchkins were people of short stature or that Toto was a small terrier unless it was specifically mentioned in a descriptive audio soundtrack?

Use enough strong contrast in color choices

Problem: Text with poor color contrast for both people with unimpaired vision and people with color blindness (also known as volor vision deficiency) is difficult to read.

  1. Paste it in the Coblis website
  2. Select the type of color blindness the student is experiencing. Over 90 % of color blindness is red-blind / green-blind.
  3. Make sure that the contrast of both the original document and the re-rendered document meetings the 5.0:1 desired ratio using the Paciello Group Color Contrast Analyzer.

Don’t embed text in your images

Problem: When you embed text in images, it becomes pixelated (i.e. gets fuzzy) when magnified, making it very hard to read in a “zoomed in” state.

  • Don’t use an overly ornate script
  • Don’t use a lot of italics
  • Don’t center or right justify

Do your tables announce in an understandable manner?

Problem: Tables are frequently used espectially in STEM subjects. Imagine hearing announcement of “10” — is that useful to you? What if you heard, instead “10 grams of carbs Oreos” because your row header said “oreos” and your column header said “grams of carbs” That’s the difference structuring tables correctly makes.

Make your link text short and understandable

Problem: Many handouts, especially resource pages, contain multiple links. Having your link text be the URL of the link, while common, is very undesirable from an accessibility perspective. It takes a long time for screen readers to announce all the useless information like http://www/and the top level domain identifier at the end such as .com or “” While that may not seem like a lot of extraneous information, on a link heavy page it can add several minutes to the time for a screen reader user to listen to the information announced.

Blogger, disability advocate, nerd. Bringing the fire on ableism. A11y Architect @ VMware. Wheelchair user w/ a deaf daughter. CS, Law, and Business background

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