Creating course materials with accessibility in mind

Universal Design for Education is an approach that seeks to make educational materials and programs accessible to the largest number of users possible. It takes into account that users may have a variety of print disabilities or reading preferences, and that they may require or prefer the use of assistive technologies such as screen-readers (e.g. Read & Write Gold). By creating materials that can be used by everyone from the outset, this reduces the amount of individual accommodation that is required later on.

Creating documents from scratch 

(e.g. syllabi, assignments)

If you are creating documents for your students from scratch, here are some useful tips:

  1. Make sure to make an electronic copy available if you are handing out a print copy.
  2. Whether you are creating a web page in Moodle or a Word document, use the true headings defined by the application. (Screen-reader software depends on these markers to navigate a document.)
  3. Use sans-serif fonts (e.g. Arial, Tahoma, Geneva), a 12-point font size or larger, use left, unjustified margin settings.
  4. If possible, do not convert Word documents to PDF (Word is more accessible). 

Scanning Print Documents

(e.g. book chapters, articles)

If you are scanning print documents for your students, here are some useful tips:

  1. If possible, use a scanner that has built-in OCR (optical character recognition) capability. (Many scanners now come with this application. Effectively, it converts the image of text to a searchable PDF, which screen-readers can then read aloud for the users.)
  2. If you do not have access to a scanner with OCR, try to produce the cleanest, high-contrast scan of the document (use a copy without annotations, make sure the page is straight and that no text is cut off). 
  3. Scan one page at a time rather than across the full open book. This will also make the screen-readers more effective.

Additional notes:

  1. Avoid posting images (e.g. jpeg) of text-filled charts, hand-written notes, etc. These are extremely difficult for individuals with print disabilities to understand.
  2. Add an Alt-text description to all images.
  3. Make electronic copies of all print documents and PowerPoints used in class available via Moodle.

For more detailed information on creating accessible materials for the classroom, check out this guide prepared by the University's Office of Human Rights & Equity at McMaster University. 

For more information about Universal Design for Education, check out this document by Sheryl Burgstahler at Washington University.