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UCLA Center for Accessible Education

This toolkit was developed quickly to assist campuses across the country who are moving online virtually overnight in response to COVID-19.

We hope this toolkit will help ensure that this rapid change to an online format does not result in lack of access for students with disabilities.

An Introduction to Accessible Design

What Does It Mean to Create an Accessible Online Learning Experience

A well-designed course is more usable for all students. The design also takes into consideration that not all students navigate or access the online environment in the same way. This toolkit focuses on three key principles:

  • Intuitive: The layout of the course is simple, consistent and predictable.
  • Perceivable: The content is designed so that it can be perceived by a wide range of users, regardless of disability.
  • Navigable: Course navigation does not assume that the student is using a specific device, such as a mouse. A user can navigate the course using the keyboard alone or with the use of assistive technology in ways that are equally effective.

Designing in ways that consider these principles will go along way toward inclusion and access for students with disabilities. This toolkit is not meant to be comprehensive. It also does not address specific learning management systems.

Share Accessible Documents (Microsoft Word)

Sharing course content in MS Word is common and can be simple and effective. As you design these documents, make sure you are taking accessibility into account.

Creating Accessible MS Word Documents

Be sure do the following:

  1. Use headings to structure the document.
  2. Add alternative text to images.
  3. Create links by using meaningful text descriptions.
  4. Avoid the use of SmartArt.
  5. Avoid adding text boxes.
  6. Avoid putting important information in headers or footers.

The tutorials provided below will take you through the process of implementing these suggestions.

More Resources: Accessible MS Word Documents

Creating Accessible PDF Documents

PDFs can provide an accessible way to provide content. If not created correctly, though, they can be totally inaccessible to people who use screen readers.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Start with an accessible source document. By following the previous suggestions for creating an accessible MS Word document, you are on your way to creating an accessible PDF.
  2. Save the MS Word document to PDF by choosing, Save as PDF rather than printing to PDF.
  3. Simple documents should convert pretty well from MS Word to PDF. More complex documents may need to be checked for accessibility and even remediated for accessibility.
  4. If you have a Professional version of Adobe Acrobat, you can run an accessibility check.
  5. You may also want to check with the disability resource office on your campus to see who might be able to assist with making sure your PDF documents are accessible.

If you are using PDFs that were created by someone else, check to make sure they are accessible.

  1. Can you highlight the text on the page? If not, it may be an image of the text instead of real text.
  2. Older PDFs created by scanning an article are often purely an image.
  3. Work with someone on your campus to determine the best approach to making these documents accessible.

More Resources: Creating Accessible PDF Documents

Accessible Slide Presentations

When you use MS PowerPoint to teach online you may be using it in a variety of ways.

  • Upload it so that students can download it to view on their own computer.
  • Load it into the LMS so that students view it as a slide presentation there.
  • Show it during a live video conferencing session.

No matter the end product, there are several things that need to be considered as you create the presentation.

More Resources: Creating Accessible MS PowerPoint Presentations

Creating Meaningful Links

Providing clear wording for the text in a link can be challenging. If a student using a screen reader in your course, they have the option to scan links to find what they need. If links are not described adequately, scanning the course in this way is not productive. Providing clear links makes your course more usable for everyone. Some of the more common problems seen in providing links are listed below along with suggestions for correcting these errors.

Common Problems

When documents are provided in multiple formats, links are given as format name only.
Sample of Problem
Suggested Solution


Introductory sentences are provided with links to “more” at the end of it.
Sample of Problem

Professor Wins Award for Accessible Course Design More...

Suggested Solution

Professor Wins Award for Accessible Course Design >>

One of the most common problems is the use of the phrase “click here” as a link to more information.
Sample of Problem

Click here to go to the latest news on your university.

Suggested Solution

Get the latest news on your university>>

Accessible Videos

Audio Description

Audio description refers to providing information about the visual aspects of a video to someone who is blind or who has low vision. Audio description can be provided as part of the general narration or can be added after the fact. If the video is simply a recording of you providing a lecture, then there would be little need for audio description. If you are also showing slides, you'll want to describe what is in the slides.

Providing a Transcript

Once you have your transcript for the captions and the audio descriptions, you can combine the two to create a document that will make your video accessible to students who are DeafBlind. Simply create an accessible MS Word document with this content and provide a link to it below the video.

Using Captioned Videos

When choosing a video that has been created by someone else, make sure it is captioned. Automatic captions do not provide equal access.

Tutorials on Captioning

Captioning Tools

Other Helpful Resources

  • AccessDL: A project of University of Washington, DO-IT, this site offers a variety of resources related to accessibility and distance learning.
  • National Center on Disability and Access to Education:The National Center on Disability and Access to Education (NCDAE) exists to address issues of technology and disability in education policies and practices to enhance the lives of people with disabilities and their families. Be sure to check out their cheat sheets.
  • National Deaf Center: 10 Tips for Educators: This resource is provided in response to the rush toward online instruction. The National Deaf Center also offers many other helpful resources for educators.
  • University of Washington: Getting Started with Accessibility
  • A project of the Center for Persons with Disabilities, Utah State University, WebAIM offers lots of resources to help people design with accessibility in mind and make their web content accessible to people with disabilities.