Accessible Online Course Design

Below is a helpful guide for developing accessible and inclusive online course content.  Given the vast array of courses taught at Western and the diverse backgrounds of students, please reach out to the DAC team with any questions.  You can email ( or call 360.650.3083.

The Big Picture

The key principles of accessible course design are that information needs to be perceivable and operable.  Information is perceivable when it is multi-modal (Ex. a Deaf student can see auditory content with closed captions).  Information is operable when all students are able to fully utilize and navigate content.

Five Helpful Tips

Following these tips is a huge step toward developing an accessible and inclusive course.

1. Course Design 

A consistent navigation structure is critical in empowering students to find important information on their own. Please visit the ATUS Keep Teaching Webpage: Key Consideration #3 for information on how to organize Canvas content.

2. Audio Video Content

Many online tools use artificial intelligence to create automatic captions in real time. However, the accuracy rates for these tools are often less than 75%.  Imagine going to class and missing 1 in 4 words in a class!  Please refrain from using auto-generated captions, except as a starting point to be edited.  Use human captioned content.

DAC Closed Caption Pilot

If you’re developing content that you’re likely to use again, please complete this survey.  The DAC Team is going to provide closed captions for a limited number of courses, with priority given to courses that meet General University Requirements.

Pre-Recorded Content 

If you’re looking for pre-recorded content on YouTube, add “, CC” at the end of your search criteria and it will limit your search to captioned content.  (Example: cats dancing, CC).

New Asynchronous Content

If you are making new video content, to be viewed asynchronously, here’s how you can edit auto-captions in commonly used tools:

New synchronous meetings

If you are holding synchronous class meetings please save these recordings in Canvas, to allow for future viewing.  We recommend using zoom and following these steps to enable recording to the cloud and caption editing.

Already using an existing tool?  Here’s helpful information on captioning material with tools you might already be using:

3. Readings

A PDF is a common file type but depending upon how it’s formatted, your computer may not recognize it as a text file, and instead recognize it as an image. This is an important distinction because only text selectable PDFs are searchable, and only text selectable PDFs can be read aloud by text-to-speech software, which hundreds of students, faculty and staff rely on.

Creating new documents:  If you’re making a PDFs, start with a Word or Google document, and “Save As” a PDF under the “File” menu.

Scanned or existing PDFs:  If you have scanned content or unsure if it’s text selectable, see if you can highlight individual letters and words in the document.  If yes, you’re all set!  If not, use a free tool like Sensus Access to make text selectable documents.

4. Assessments

Accommodations like extra time on exams are applied similarly to in-person tests and quizzes. Please remember to setup additional time for students with disability accommodations.  Here are your resources on the topic:

Questions?  Please contact David Barrows at or 360.650.6650

5. Canvas Accessibility Checker

After preparing content in Canvas, use the Accessibility Checker to look for common accessibility barriers.

Additional Resources

Want more information about using Canvas?  Please visit the ATUS Keep Teaching Resources.

Ready to learn more about Canvas accessibility?  Please take the very informative self-enrolling Canvas Accessibility Course.