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Accessible Canvas Content

“Accessible design is good design.  It benefits people who don’t have disabilities as well as people who do.  Accessibility is all about removing barriers and providing the benefits of technology for everyone.”
~ Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft

Accessibility iconIt is important to understand the basic tenets of accessibility as it pertains to educational technology. We highly recommend reading this short Accessibility Overview, provided by the CCC Accessibility Center.

Making content accessible should be a part of your normal workflow, and does not need to take a great deal of time. 

Accessibility is best addressed BEFORE you begin working on a course in Canvas.


  • Many students don’t register with DSPS despite having disabilities.
  • Students may avoid seeking help to not be labeled as disabled.
  • Many students have undiagnosed disabilities due to limited testing availability.
  • Teachers should follow accessibility standards in all of their content, to benefit all students.
  • It’s legally and ethically important to make learning materials accessible.


Overview of Creating Accessible Content in Canvas

The following video provides a comprehensive look at several accessibility topics, and how to address them when creating content within Canvas.


Rich Content Editor

TMI strongly encourages the use of the built-in Canvas Rich Content Editor (RCE) found in almost every tool within Canvas (i.e. Pages, Announcements, Assignments, Quizzes, etc.) whenever possible, and minimizing the practice of uploading (and maintaining) externally created files (i.e. PDF, Word, etc.). The RCE includes many features for meeting accessibility requirements. 

Files are generally more difficult to update and ensure accessibility compliance.

Using the built-in content editor has several benefits:

  • edits are easy to make and saved immediately
  • easy resolution of most accessibility issues
  • no need to save a new PDF, and re-upload to Canvas
  • no need to keep track of “backup” documents, flash drives, etc.

Using the text editor within Canvas also allows for seamless resolution of the most common accessibility issues by using the Instructor Accessibility Guide, available in Edit mode.

Use Heading Styles

Using good heading structure helps people without eyesight to understand how the document is organized. Screen reader and Braille users can also jump between headings, which makes navigation much more efficient than if there are no headings. Making text larger and bold does not make it a heading. 

Headings should follow a basic outline, using the “Heading 1” style reserved for the main page title, and “Heading 2” for sub-headings. If there are additional levels of headings, using “Heading 3”, “Heading 4”, etc.

See below:

Animation of RCE heading menu usage

Use Lists

Lists should be created using built-in tools for ordered (numbered) and unordered (bulleted) lists. Without using these tools, a list is not really a list, which makes the content more difficult for screen reader users to fully understand.

See below:

Animation of RCE list menu usage.

Use Meaningful Labels

When you copy/paste a web link to a Page, Assignment, etc., often the result is a long and cryptic sequence of text. Consider the below examples. Which would you prefer to use? They both go the same place!

Typing out a clear and meaningful label, and then using the link button in the Rich Content Editor of Canvas, gives your web links a much more professional and friendlier appeal, as well as informing the user what they can expect. 

Use Alternative (Alt) Text for Images

“Alternative text” (Alt text) is a text-based description of an image.  It should reflect the important information contained in the image.  It’s important to provide alternative (ALT) text for all images used within Canvas. You can add ALT text when first inserting an image, or afterward.

For simple images, ALT text should be a concise and relevant description of the image. Sometimes a decision tree can help you decide what kind of ALT text to provide. (SEE: An ALT Decision Tree)

For complex images such as infographics, in addition to adding a succinct description as alternative text, add a link to a longer text description of the image.  (SEE:  About Complex Image AccessibilityThe Poet Training Tool is a web based image description resource that helps people learn when and how to describe various types of images.

IMPORTANT:  Canvas automatically fills in the Alt Text field with the name of the file.  Make sure to update it with meaningful text. Always remove any file extension (e.g. .png, .jpg, etc.)

Guidelines for ALT Text

  • Be accurate and equivalent in presenting the same content and function as presented by the image.
  • Be succinct.
  • Do NOT be redundant or provide the exact same information as text within the context of the image.
  • Do NOT use the phrases “photo of …” or “image of …”
  • Do NOT use file extensions “.png…or .jpg” in the description of an image.

Accessibility Guide (PopeTech)

PopeTech logoThe CCC Accessibility Center has made an additional accessibility checking tool available in Canvas for all CCC’s. The Accessibility Guide is an accessibility evaluation tool for Canvas content created in the Rich Content Editor (RCE).

PopeTech Accessibility Guide animation

Learn more about the Instructor Accessibility Guide…

Provide Extra Time for Quizzes

moderate quiz screenshotIt is important to understand how to provide extra time on Quizzes for students needing such an accommodation. Instructors can add extra time to existing Canvas quizzes for specific students utilizing the Moderate Quiz feature. See: Allow Extra Time for Quizzes (DSPS Accommodation)

Why is this important? Review the following use case: Notice of Noncompliance – Office of Civil Rights Letter 

Accessible Documents

There may be some scenarios where you choose not to use the text editor in Canvas. If you do choose to use your own documents in Canvas, it’s crucial to ensure they’re accessible BEFORE they are uploaded.

Making text larger and bold does not make it a heading. In order to convert text to a heading in Microsoft Word, you must use the built-in Heading styles like “Heading 1” and “Heading 2”, available under Styles in the Home tab of the “ribbon” (toolbar) in Microsoft Office programs (i.e. Word, PowerPoint, etc.).

Please see the following tutorials for the most common tools used in document creation, provided courtesy of the California Community Colleges (CCC) Accessibility Center. 

More Info:

While we are not accessibility experts, we can attempt to assist you in the remediation of your documents if they are to be used within Canvas. Request an appointment with TMI.

Accessible Video (Captioning)

Creating your own video content to establish your instructional presence is typically the norm these days, and the best way to have your videos made available in Canvas AND be captioned automatically has never been easier. It is important to note that instructors should always review auto-generated captions for accuracy.

Canvas Studio logoCanvas Studio

Canvas Studio is a video creation and engagement tool that allows instructors and students to actively create and collaborate through video and audio media. Studio is built into Canvas, and also allows instructors to easily review and edit auto-generated captions.  It is available in several course tools, and can be used for a variety of purposes, including a simple presentation, interactive assessment, collaborative discussion, and more.  Video can be recorded from a webcam or a screen capture (or both!) or uploaded as an existing file. Canvas Studio has unlimited storage for hosted videos.

TMI highly recommends the use of Canvas Studio for video hosting, captioning and embedding.

For more information about Canvas Studio, please visit our Canvas Studio Resource page.

General Assistance with Accessibility

CCC Accessibility CenterThere are a great many resources available to faculty in learning about accessibility compliance. The CCC system has also made brief self-paced trainings available via the Vision Resource Center and self-paced courses via Canvas. All employees of the District are encouraged to explore these valuable resources.

Perhaps one of the best resources for getting help with accessibility challenges is the CCC Accessibility Center Help Desk. Get answers and information regarding web accessibility issues common to California Community Colleges. Ask questions about websites, online videos, web applications, or mobile app accessibility to get a response from accessibility subject matter experts!


Read more about Accessibility Within Canvas

“Ensuring an accessible and pleasant experience to all users, regardless of disability, is a key focus of Canvas. The Canvas platform was built using the most modern HTML and CSS technologies, and is committed to W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative and Section 508 guidelines.”

2 thoughts on “Accessible Canvas Content”

  1. It was good to hear that I could suggest that the student check with DSPS office to get more help than I might provide.


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