Make Online Content Accessible

What do images, videos, tables, Flash animations and PDF files have in common? They all have the potential to shut out students with disabilities. But there are simple steps you can take to avoid the most common accessibility problems.

Structure, Order, and Alternatives

To improve access to your online materials, pay attention to structure, order, and alternatives.


Structure refers to how blocks of text are encoded with meaning.

For example, is a heading on your page just paragraph text made big and bold? If, instead, you correctly encode it as a heading, someone using software that reads the screen out loud will hear that the text is a heading and what level of heading. They can also have their software read down a list of headings on your page. That way, they can skim the page, much like we do visually.


Will a student using screen-reading software hear your words in the order you intended? If you lay out a page with tables or create columns with tabs, there is a risk that a student who’s blind will hear those words in the wrong order.


Screen-reading software cannot interpret and describe a picture. It is up to you to add a description, which usually takes the form of “alternative text.” It doesn’t show on the surface of the document, but is in the document’s code and accessible to screen reading software.

Likewise, a student who’s deaf will miss the entire audio portion of your narrated presentation if you don’t provide captions.

Resources for Making Accessible Online Courses

Accessibility isn’t just a good idea, it’s the law. Content that’s not accessible can expose faculty to legal risks. Below are some resources to help you learn to make content that complies with accessibility standards.

A site called Web Accessibility for Online Learning is a great place for faculty to learn the basics. The project was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and written by Hadi Rangin, one of nation’s leading experts in online accessibility.

From Portland Community College, there is an excellent set of short videos on how to make more accessible content in Desire2Learn (D2L), which is the software that powers Pilot. Some of the topics covered are…


Finally, the Help files within Pilot include a section on accessibility.

For more information about online accessibility, and for help with your course’s accessibility, please feel free to contact me, Jeff Hiles, X3181,