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Faculty Support

A guide to library services and support for CityU Faculty

Create Accessible Courses and Documents

Create Accessible Courses and Documents 

Definitions and Context 

The term accessibility calls to mind at least two definitions: 

A document, presentation, link, site, or digital object that folks can easily discover and connect with. 

A document, presentation, link, site, or digital object that folks can fully engage with because it has been intentionally and inclusively designed for a range of users.  

To create intentionally and inclusively accessible courses, assignments, and other content, we recommend designing in accordance with WCAG 2.0 guidelines and UDL practices, as well as carefully investigating and revising assumptions about accessibility, particularly those which have been informed by ableist perspectives.  

That said, the accessibility design practices on this page are just a starting point. They do not represent a complete overview of steps one should take to make objects, documents, links, sites, etc accessible. 

Coming soon: a full Accessibility LibGuide with additional content, suggestions, and guidance.

Seven Accessibility Tips

Accessibility Tip 1: Alternative (Alt) Text for Images, Icons, and Other Graphic Objects 

Screen-readers are often unable to process images, icons, and other graphic objects like charts and diagrams, unless creators add alt text. Alt text is a written description that assistive technologies can read to the user. Alt text enables users to understand that an image or object is purely decorative or that it includes vital information. Alt text is also very helpful when a webpage with images won’t load, and it contributes to strong web indexing, thereby enhancing our searching practices.   

Learning Management Systems—like Brightspace--have icons or features that signal to creators that alt-text is needed. 

Accessibility Tip 2: Color Contrast 

When color alone is used to signal information, it becomes problematic for a range of users. Alternatively, color, if it’s not the sole conveyor of information, can highlight content and provide visual interest for sighted students. Nonetheless, color also needs sufficient contrast to ensure that no one is excluded from the learning environment.   

A few tips the designers can offer for using color in course design include the following: ensure color is not the sole means of communicating information, consider whether color is used to enhance learning, and check for appropriate color contrast.

Accessibility Tip 3: Font Faces and Sizes 

 Consistent, accessible font faces and sizes are not only a good design practice for readability on PCs, Macs, tablets, and cell phones, but they also assist a range of users.   

In Brightspace, the HTML text editors default to an accessible font face and size. If you wish to make changes or you’re uploading Word, Excel, Powerpoint or other documents you’ve created to Brightspace, ensure that the font faces come from the Sans Serif family and ensure that 12 point font is the smallest font size used. Aim to keep font faces and sizes consistent, unless there’s a sound pedagogical reason otherwise. 

Accessibility Tips 4: Headings 

“A heading is text that describes the content that follows it. A page heading describes the overall page content, while subheadings describe content within sections (and subsections) of the page” (Deacon, 2020). Headings serve a variety of functions: they accessibly break-up information, they assist in hierarchical organization, and they ensure that learners using screen readers can more fluidly navigate through content. 

For content created in Brightspace html text editors, highlight the words or phrases you wish to use as heading(s), and then click on the “Paragraph” menu to designate the heading level (1, 2, 3, etc).  

For documents created in Microsoft Word, headings can be created by using the Style Pane. 

For documents created in Excel, Penn State offers several Excel Tips to ensure full accessibility. 

Accessibility Tip 5: Hyperlinks 

Creating short, descriptive, contextualized hyperlinks contributes to strong accessibility practices. When phrases like “click here” and “contact us” with hyperlinks appear in documents or when long urls are cut and pasted into documents, screen-readers will not pick-up the full content for users. Additionally, these moves create readability issues for sighted users. 

Accessibility Tip 6: Multimedia Best Practices

 To avoid cognitive overload, long videos (videos longer than 10-15 minutes) should be broken into shorter segments or made searchable.     

Ensure there are accurate closed captions for all course videos and transcripts for all course audio files before posting to the LMS. If these do not exist or there are numerous errors, please either create/correct captions and transcripts or select more accessible multimedia.  

Accessibility Tip 7: Use LMS, Microsoft, and Web Accessibility Checkers 

an image of an eye with a checkmark under itThe Brightspace Accessibility Checker icon can be found in the HTML editors.

It looks like an eye with a check mark below it.  It will catch most, but not every accessibility issue in an html text editor.  


Each Microsoft Office application—such as Excel, PowerPoint, and Word—has an accessibility checker under the “Review” menu. 

The WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool offers additional (and often more detailed) information concerning website accessibility.