Accessibility of Digital Courses and Materials
There are many things you can do to make your classroom, course materials, and teaching more accessible to all students, including those who identify as having a disability.
Ensuring that all students have equal access to electronic and information technology teaching methods and resources is the responsibility of all University of Rochester administrators, faculty, and staff. Access by students with disabilities in particular is required by federal and state laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) (as amended in 2008), Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the New York State Human Rights Law, among others.
Inaccessible materials can create huge barriers to learning for students with disabilities. By ensuring that your course materials are as accessible as possible, you are creating an environment in which all students can learn at their best. If you have a student who requires specific modifications to materials, we will notify you as soon as possible before the semester begins and partner with you in making your course accessible—visit the Accommodation section for more details. However, we encourage you to be proactive about accessibility instead of waiting to hear from our office about specific students. Accessible content benefits many students. Ensuring that your content is accessible demonstrates inclusivity and lessens the need for individual accommodations or modifications.
Synchronous Lectures Using Zoom
Zoom has several built-in accessibility features, including auto-transcription/captioning. Download our tip sheet (Word). However, you may have students in your courses who require accommodations to make the lectures fully accessible. If students in your course require accommodations, such as captioning or ASL interpreters, our access coordinators will work with you on arrangements. Visit the Accommodation section for more information.
Lectures Recorded Using Zoom
It is best practice to caption any videos shared with the class, including recorded lectures. Recorded videos should be uploaded to Blackboard via Panopto to be shared with the class. Panopto offers automated captioning; however, these are not accurate enough to provide access and will need to be edited. Please contact your Blackboard support team for more information. For more information about Panopto, please visit the University of Rochester Panopto website.
Voicethread allows for both automated captioning (which is NOT accurate enough for access unless edited) or use of third-party vendors.
Zoom has an auto-transcription/captioning feature built in using artificial intelligence. Download our tip sheet (Word).
Web Captioner is a free tool that can be used with Zoom to provide computer-generated real-time captions. Download our tip sheet (Word).
Please note that according to the US Dept. of Justice, computer-generated captions are not accurate enough to provide equal access for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Therefore, free services such as these, though they may be useful in many situations, are not always sufficient or appropriate as a substitute for providing accurate real-time captioning using a third-party vendor if class participants have been formally approved captioned media as an accommodation through the UR Office of Disability Resources. Defer to any stated preferences from the student who has been approved this accommodation, and/or contact the Office of Disability Resources with any questions regarding the kind of captioning required for your class/event.
It's best practice to proactively caption all video materials used in your course. Accurate captions must be added to any public-facing videos, such as those posted on department web pages or social media. Requests to vendors should be made as far in advance as possible.
Universal Benefits of Captioning
The use of captioned media provides many more benefits to diverse populations:
- Persons who are Deaf or hard of hearing must have captioned media in order to access the auditory and visual media from one location.
- Persons with learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or other cognitive impairments also benefit from the open captions supplementing the audio.
- Persons for whom English is a second or third language.
- Persons without disabilities often note that captioning helps in taking notes and improves understanding and recall.
- Anyone in the audience when variations of sound quality or surrounding noise distractions.
YouTube videos are typically closed-captioned, however the automated captioning service is typically not very accurate and thus not suitable for Deaf or hard-of-hearing students.
- If you are using videos found on YouTube, please review the captions to determine if they are accurate. If they are not accurate, you may want to find another video source.
- If you are putting your own videos on YouTube, it is recommended that you review and edit your transcript and captioning after it is created. Learn how to add and edit captions for your YouTube videos.
Resources for Captioning
- Fee-based services
- Free options
- Some of these services use automatic speech recognition. Please note that these captions alone are not accurate enough to provide access. They must be edited manually.
- Adding captions to YouTube videos that you own
- Amara: Free, DIY captions
It is best practice to transcribe all audio files, such as podcasts or interviews. Public-facing audio files must be transcribed.
Resources for Transcription
- Fee-based services
- Free options using automatic speech recognition (ASR)
- Please note that transcription through ASR alone is not accurate enough to provide access. The transcript must be edited manually to ensure readability.
The following are good practices for any content that you create within your course:
- Do not use color to convey meaning.
- Make sure content is clearly written and easy to read.
- Ensure that links make sense out of context.
- Every link should make sense if read by itself.
- "Click here" and "more" should be avoided.
- Use predictable navigation.
- Minimize distractions. Avoid the following:
- Text highlighting.
- Text colors, default is best.
- Text fonts, other than the default
- Text sizing, other than generic headings, bold and italics.
Blackboard's core architecture provides an infrastructure that is accessible. Learn more about the Accessibility of Blackboard Learn.
Most text entered within form boxes in Blackboard will be accessible as long as you use the basic tools for text boxes and form fields. By default, text entered will be readable by screen readers.
Caveat: Text that is copied from Word documents or from web sites often carries with it extra "code" that is NOT accessible. You should copy this text into a basic text editor to remove extraneous code prior to pasting into Blackboard's editor.
Caveat: Any documents that are uploaded into Blackboard or linked from your Blackboard course need to follow appropriate accessibility guidelines as outlined for that document type.
Documents, handouts, and other digital print materials should be made accessible to people using screen reading software or other enlargement or read aloud tools.
For courses, select textbooks, readings, and classroom materials well in advance to ensure that these items are available in accessible formats, such as Word documents that can be used with screen reading software.
Word documents are generally more accessible than PDFs but there a few things you will want to keep in mind to ensure that they are readable for students using screen readers.
Use headings and predictable structure. A blind student may not be able to visualize the structure of a document. Using tiered headings in a logical order allows a screen reader user the ability to understand how a document is structured.
Add alternative text to images. Format any pictures so that there is a text description available. This allows screen readers to describe what is being shown or demonstrated in an image.
Use Word features. Rather than trying to format on your own, use the built-in Word document features, like columns, tables, and bulleted lists. These built-in features are accessible to screen readers.
Avoid text boxes and WordArt. Screen readers aren’t able to read the text in these features. If used, they need to be labeled with alt text, like images.
Use contrasting colors. Choose dark fonts on a light background or light font on a dark background.
Avoid using color to convey meaning. To highlight or stress important content, use bold or italic features.
Use Word's built-in Accessibility Checker to scan your documents for errors or visit their step-by-step guide for making Word documents accessible.
In order for the content of a PDF file to be accessible it must be text-based. Some PDF files, including many scanned PDFs, are created as "images" which are not accessible to screen reader software. We recommend using Word documents or HTML (websites) when possible. PDFs created from saved Word documents can be more accessible, but you will first want to make sure your Word document is accessible before saving.
PDF files should be "tagged" to be fully accessible. This allows for:
- logical reading order
- images with text descriptions
- descriptions for table structures
Follow the steps in the NCDAE Guide for PDF Conversion when converting documents from Word.
Use the Adobe Pro Accessibility Checker to check the accessibility features of PDF files.
Use an optical character recognition (OCR) program instead of scanning documents as images.
Any images used to convey meaning need to have a text alternative. The text should clearly describe the image and its intended message or content.
- Instructions for adding alt text to Microsoft Office products
- Instructions for adding alt text to PDF documents with Adobe
- Instructions for adding alt text on Blackboard
Additional File Formats
- Microsoft guidelines for making PowerPoint presentations accessible
- Microsoft guidelines for making Excel files accessible
- Microsoft's Accessibility Checker works with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook
- The HathiTrust Digital Library includes over 15 million volumes of searchable books, journals, and government documents, including 5.8 million available as full-text online.
- The River Campus Libraries provide digitization services. Requests to digitize portions of print materials may be made through the online catalog.
- When placing a Course Reserve request, you may indicate that electronic, accessible versions are preferred.
- The University's Interlibrary Loan program can assist in providing accessible PDF versions of materials that are not available in our own library.
Microsoft Accessibility Checker
Use the built-in Accessibility Checker in Microsoft Office software (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) to find potential accessibility barriers in your documents.
Blackboard Ally is a built-in tool that can assist you with ensuring all your course materials are fully accessible. Contact Lisa Brown in University IT to request that it be turned on for your course. Disability Resources staff are available to guide you through using the tool.
This service allows you to upload a document to the website, choose an output method, and have the document sent to you via email in the format of your choosing. This allows us to convert inaccessible documents into more accessible versions and to provide students with course materials that are compatible with their assistive technologies. Access the tool and FAQs
HathiTrust Digital Library
HathiTrust Digital Library is a collection of over 15 million volumes of searchable books, journals, and government documents, including 5.8 million available as full-text online.
The University's Interlibrary Loan program can assist in providing accessible PDF versions of materials that are not available in our own library.
Course websites need to be accessible to all students, including those using screen reading software. For more information, visit the University's Web Accessibility page and WebAIM. Additionally, any content posted to University social media pages needs to be accessible. Please see the University’s Social Media Accessibility page for more information and best practices.