5. Materials & Media

Recommendation 5.5: Accessibility (Text)
Provide accessible text and images in files, documents, Canvas Pages, and web pages in order to meet the diverse needs of learners and learners working in different learning environments.

Synopsis from Self-Review

Share clear, well-structured documents and provide meaningful “alt-text” (alternative text) descriptions of images. There are different approaches needed to make documents accessible in different formats (e.g. Canvas Pages, PDFs, Word documents, PowerPoints). Provide a statement to clarify the accessibility plan for your course.

How to Put Into Practice

Making Accessible Content

When you are creating your own content, you should create well-structured documents and follow guidelines to improve the accessibility of the content. 

Read detailed guidelines for making documents accessible in these formats:

Scanned images of text are not accessible.  If you must use scanned documents rather than natively digital documents, they need to be of high visual quality with a resolution of at least 300dpi. Text should not be highlighted or underlined; binding shadows should not be present; lines should not be clipped; and text must be readable, even when enlarged. (See Multimedia and document accessibility).

Make images accessible by using alternative text (alt text). Alternative text describes in words the non-text elements of a web page or document, such as photos, drawings, or charts. How To Write Effective Alt Text For Web Images (Links to DoIT AT User Experience and Digital Accessibility guidelines)  

Plain Language

Using plain language in the parts you write allows your students to focus their energy on learning content. Plain Language began as a US government initiative to improve readability, covering topics that include writing for an audience, organizing information, being concise, and designing for readingCultural and Linguistic Services at UW-Madison offers free Plain Language training that can help you get your message across quickly and clearly. View the full Plain Language guidelines at plainlanguage.gov.

Avoiding Ableist Language

The language you use is a vital part of creating a respectful and inclusive environment. Bias and ableist language can take many forms, and terminology is constantly evolving.  Accessibility@UW highlights some key practices and resources that can help you learn about and frame your writing in a way that supports belonging and avoids bias, including topics such as “avoiding labels”, avoiding “false hierarchies”, and “the “disability community” (see Writing for Inclusion). 

Accessibility Statement

Instructors should include a written accessibility statement in their syllabus and verbally reference it when presenting the course standards to their classes. An accessibility statement clarifies what students’ rights and responsibilities are and what they can expect from an instructor and from the university if they request an instructional accommodation. In addition, instructors should customize the statement to include directions regarding how they prefer students to contact them regarding accommodation requests (e.g., email, office appointment, etc.). Please note that some students whose disability impacts communication abilities (e.g., autism, anxiety) may be more likely to initiate communication via email.

View a sample syllabus statement on the Healthy Academics Toolkit: Accommodations for students with disabilities syllabus statement.  The McBurney Disability Resource Center recommends customizing and sharing this text.  


Accommodations are changes made for individual learners to address a specific need. All approved accommodations that have been requested through McBurney Connect should be implemented by instructors as long as they are timely and reasonable (from Instructor Resources. McBurney Disability Resource Center). If you have a student who uses a screen reader or needs other visual/audio support, you should have received communications from the UW-Madison McBurney Disability Resource Center. For a listing of student accommodations in each section, log into McBurney Connect

Additional Resources

Background Information

What is this?

All students benefit from accessible course content. Adopting some simple practices can help you improve accessibility of images, text, and language in the content you provide.

Why is this important?

Providing accessible text is essential for making sure everyone has an equal opportunity to participate and succeed in your course. By making accommodations for students who need them, and following guidelines for accessible design, you create an inclusive foundation that benefits all students, allowing them to fully process course content in a timely and effective manner, and experience the rich learning experience you have planned for them.

Where is this?

Canvas Pages, PDFs, Word documents, PowerPoints, and other documents can all be made accessible. Look at images and links included in your course, too, in order to make sure they are sufficiently described with text alternatives.

Success Factor 5: Materials & Media

Lectures and course materials are accessible, multi-faceted, varied, and aligned with course learning outcomes.

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