Online Education

A Division of the Office for the Advancement of Teaching & Learning

UDL: Accessibility Basics

You learned about Universal Design for Learning, but your top priority is the accessibility of your online course. That is a great place to start! This page offers you the basics – the musts to consider in the design of your course.

Note: Whenever possible it is best to try to make your course accessible so students do not need to request assistance through disability services. However, this is not always possible (e.g. the university only hires interpreters when a student requests one).

Audio Accessibility


All content with audio given to your students must offer a comparable alternative to a student with a hearing impairment. This includes captioning to videos, transcripts to videos and/or voiceover slideshows, and real-time text chat options if offering a synchronous verbal chat (we recommend you make sure this activity is essential to your course before assigning anything synchronous).

If you are thinking about purchasing a video to show online or face-to-face you must ensure this video includes captioning.

There is a little work involved when captioning videos you create or find online, but this will save you a lot of time down the line and will benefit all students who prefer reading material over listening to material.

  • If you are creating a video or voiceover slideshow we recommend you start with a transcript. Once your video is completed, edit your transcript and include with your video for all students in your class.
  • If you are using YouTube, there are instructions and videos for adding captioning to your own video.
  • If you are using a video on YouTube that is not your own (first, check to see if there is a CC option on the video, if not, you will need to caption it). You can use Overstream or Amara, both free online tools for captioning videos.

Visual Accessibility

All materials, websites and assignments in an online course must be accessible for students using assistive technology such as screen readers to access course content. There are many resources to help ensure your course materials are accessible, and tools to use if they are not.

Documents and Websites

  • Not all PDF documents are accessible to assistive technology. To check a PDF document you can check it online or use an Acrobat Pro Checker (PDF). Follow the Guide from Adobe (PDF) to make your PDFs accessible.
  • Converting a word document to a PDF does not automatically ensure accessibility. Here is a cheatsheet (PDF) for PDF conversions in Microsoft Word 2007/2010. WebAIM also provides a guide for converting Microsoft Word 2016 documents to PDF.
  • Scanned PDF documents can be difficult to make accessible for assistive technology. The Ohio State University offers a great resource on creating accessible PDFs from Scanned Documents through their Web Accessibility Center.
  • If you are using external websites (outside Sakai) for course material and activities, you can verify the accessibility of the websites from WebAIM’s web accessibility evaluation tool by copying and pasting the URL into their checker.


Sakai includes tips for making your images accessible:

  • Images should generally include an “ALT tag”, a textual description of the image. However images that are there for decoration, to add blank space, etc., should generally have blank ALT tags.
  • After adding an image using “Add Multimedia”, the “Edit” button will let you add ALT text.
  • If you insert an image in “Add Text”, using the web editor, the “Image” dialog also makes provisions to supply ALT text.

General Accessibility Strategies

When we think about the most requested accommodations that students need in the classroom, they usually involve note-taking and/or tape recorders and extra time on exams. In most cases, these issues are a result of the constraints of a face-to-face course, where classroom time is limited and synchronous time is a given. When designing your online assessments and course materials, ask yourself if timed exams are necessary, and if there are alternative ways to provide the note taking benefits to all students.

The number of students with disabilities is under reported, and many students do not request accommodations when they need them. Eliminating needs for accommodations whenever possible increases student success and comfort within the classroom and promotes greater self-awareness for individual learning strengths and weaknesses.

More Comprehensive Resources:

Think Big We Do

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