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5 Tips for Making Existing Online Courses More Accessible

  • 5 Min Read

Improving your existing courses’ accessibility doesn’t have to be a big lift. Use these tips to make them more accessible.


Accessibility is more than providing alternatives to students with different abilities. Rather, it is creating an environment where all students can use course materials and tools. A year into the switch to online learning, it’s more important than ever that educators focus on creating a more accessible, equitable, and inclusive learning environment. While there are many factors to consider when making your content more accessible, there are some easy fixes to alleviate some learning barriers.

This blog outlines five tips for making your existing online courses more accessible for learners.

1. Conduct a System Check for Accessibility

The first step in making your existing online course more accessible is to check your current content. Use the accessibility checker of your learning management system (LMS) to identify any barriers in your digital material. This checker is a powerful tool that allows you to catch common accessibility issues on static HTML content, and it offers suggestions to help you fix the issues.

For example, if there is missing alternative text for an image, the accessibility checker will display an error message “images must have alternative text.” It will then give you an opportunity to repair the issue by adding alt text inside the report panel. The checker also looks at table captions, headings, list structure, and more to improve the accessibility of your content.

2.Organize Your Content in Consistent Ways

Once you have conducted a check of your current material, you should then look at the organization and format of your content. Manage course material using your LMS logically so students can find what they need. You can organize your content by chunking it by week, modules, or even using a problem-centered approach. Regardless of the structure you use, be sure to use headings to label your course sections, subsections, units, components, and discussion topics in a consistent way.

Headings help users get a sense of the page’s organization and structure. They can also be used by web browsers, plug-ins, and assistive technologies to provide in-page navigation.

Creating a heading is more than just changing and enlarging the type. Headings should be labeled as H1, H2, or H3, depending on their relative importance and place in the organization of the following material. When organizing your course content, make sure you are using accessibility features in your LMS such as an HTML editor to create a more inclusive learning environment.

3.Communicate Your Commitment to Access and Inclusion

After using your accessibility checker and organizing your content, it’s time to communicate to your students about the access and inclusion practices you have adopted. You can do this by using your LMS and preexisting content. For example, in your course syllabus, you can share a commitment to accessibility statement that outlines the steps you have taken to create a positive learning experience in your course. Your college or university may have a recommended or required statements for you to include, but if so, be sure your statement also includes specifics about your course, such as how students can request other accommodations from you.

Also share information about specific accessibility tools available in your course LMS that students may not be aware of such as a customized user experience. Communicate to your students that they can personalize their LMS course view by setting the interface language, choosing the default font size, and integrating assistive technologies.

4. Ensure Video and Audio Elements Have Captions and Transcripts

When teaching online, it’s important that you integrate various instructional strategies into your course to support your students. This includes using video and audio to supplement course content. However, relying solely on video or audio may exclude potential learners. Consider integrating accessible video and audio with features such as:

Closed Caption: A transcription of spoken dialogue that appears across the bottom of the video. It also includes descriptions of sound effects, speaker identification, music, and other nonspeech information that can be turned on or off.

Open Captions: A transcription of spoken dialogue like closed captions, but this text is a permanent part of the video picture and cannot be turned off. The captions are visible to anybody viewing the video clip.

Transcript: A text-based alternative that includes a running description of all visual information, such as descriptions of scene changes and the actions and expressions of actors, as well as a transcript of all nonspeech sounds and spoken dialogue.

Captions not only allow people who do not have access to sound to engage with video and audio content, but they also benefit students who are not native speakers of the language. Integrating these features into your class is a simple way to help improve accessibility.

5. Record Your Lectures

Lastly, if you haven’t been recording your online classes, it’s time you do. While live interaction can support engagement for some, providing alternative methods for students to access course content and meet objectives creates a more equitable learning environment.

These recordings act as an additional resource for students rather than a substitute for attendance. They help students with specific learning needs to have an equal chance to receive and process information presented in class by supporting their note-taking needs. Recordings help students replay lectures so they can carefully review the material they need to succeed.

This blog has highlighted five simple tips you can use to make online learning experiences both more usable and accessible. Proactively building as much accessibility into online courses as possible can go a long way toward reducing the need for additional accommodations.

Watch the New Accessibility Webinar

This webinar will explore the approaches colleges and universities are taking and some of the tough questions institutions are facing to serve their student population. Some of the topics addressed include:

  • High-tech instructional materials and how they impact students with disabilities
  • Creating formal policies for digital accessibility
  • Making course content available to all students
  • Inclusive teaching strategies to use in the classroom

Watch the webinaron accessibility now

Written by:

Zeina Abouchacra

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Table of Contents

  1. 1. Conduct a System Check for Accessibility
  2. 2.Organize Your Content in Consistent Ways
  3. 3.Communicate Your Commitment to Access and Inclusion
  4. 4. Ensure Video and Audio Elements Have Captions and Transcripts
  5. 5. Record Your Lectures
  6. Watch the New Accessibility Webinar