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Digital Accessibility: 7 Simple Fixes to Improve Accessibility of Digital Information

This article contains links to resources that can help you improve the accessibility of your digital information like documents, online courses, multimedia, websites and more.

Introduction - Designing with Accessibility in Mind

Disability affects around one billion people worldwide, or about 15% of the global population. Disabilities range in type and severity and include:

Checking a few key areas of your digital content will greatly improve accessibility for everyone, including people with disabilities. Moreover, improving digital accessibility is an essential part of Universal Design for Learning, a framework for inclusive teaching and learning. 


Digital accessibility is the degree to which digital content can be accessed and used by as many people as possible, regardless of ability.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

UDL is a framework for proactively designing learning environments, and adopting inclusive teaching practices, that meet the vast array of individual learner needs.

This article includes links to help you fix common accessibility errors, known as "Low-Hanging Fruit."

Checking Methods

Low-Hanging Fruit

  1. Headings & Structure
  2. Alternative Text
  3. Closed Captions
  4. Color Contrast
  5. Descriptive links
  6. Table Headers
  7. PDF Files

Checking Methods

 Automatic Checkers

Use integrated and free third-party tools to scan your digital content for general accessibility. Automated scans can flag most major issues, but they're not 100% accurate. Scans also return “false positives,” or flagged items that aren’t actually an issue. For these reasons, we strongly recommend manually checking your content following automated scans.

Canvas Checkers

Web Evaluation

Microsoft Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel)

 Manual Checking

Manually checking the accessibility of your document/content will take a bit of guidance and practice. The following resources are excellent and provide detailed information about the low-hanging fruit, as well as more complex accessibility issues you may want to learn more about.

Guides & Resources

Low-Hanging Fruit

 1. Headings and Structure

Canvas Headings

Headings are one of the easiest and most essential elements to all accessible documents and web pages. Headings create semantic structure that makes it possible for screen reader users to browse documents, and improve visual scanning as well. Headings should be used in order, beginning with <h1>. [Put something here if title counts as H1 or not]

Word Headings

  • Heading Styles in Word
    Examples: Normal, Heading 1 - Heading 5

 2. Alternative Text Descriptions

All non-text elements that convey information must have descriptive alternative text (alt text). This includes any images that you embed in web pages or documents. Most authoring software includes a simple way to add and edit alt text.

Canvas Alt Text

Word Alt Text

 3. Video Closed Captions

Any videos that you share on the Rice website or in your online course should include accurate closed captions. Accurate closed captions are synchronized with the video and contain no major spelling and grammar errors. In Canvas, asynchronous videos can be hosted in Kaltura or Zoom Cloud, both of which include automatic machine-generated captions. However, these automatic captions fall well below the 99% accuracy threshold, so they will need some cleaning up to be truly accessible. Find more general guidance about closed captions at the DCMP Captioning Key.

Kaltura (My Media in Canvas)

Zoom (Cloud Recording)

 4. Color Contrast

Ensure there is sufficient color contrast between foreground text a background. For example, this paragraph of black text (#000000) appears on a white background (#FFFFFF), which creates a contrast ratio of 21:1 (highest). The opposite of this is white text on a white background, which creates a contrast ratio of 1:1 (lowest). We should aim for a minimum contrast ratio of 4.5:1 for all text to meet accessibility standards.

Canvas Color Contrast

Word Color Contrast

The Microsoft Office suite does not include an integrated solution for checking color contrasts. For more information about this process, see this article from Medium. For a free and robust color analyzing tool, we recommend the Paciello Group Colour Analyser (Windows, .exe; Mac, .dmg).

 5. Descriptive links

Avoid ambiguous link text like "click here" or "read more." Also, avoid pasting long URLs. Instead, make sure all links describe where they will take users before they are clicked. This is especially helpful for people who use screen readers, who depend on accurate descriptions to determine which links are relevant.

Canvas Links

Word Links

 6. Table headers

Make sure that the cells in the top row of your table are marked as a column headers. Also, when possible, keep tables simple and avoid merging and splitting cells. This will help screen reader users determine how data is related. Lastly, avoid using tables for presentation-only purposes. In other words, avoid using tables as a way to segment content on a web page or document.

Canvas Tables

Word Tables

7. PDF Files

Make sure PDFs include accurate tags that are organized into a logical reading order. It is best to start with accessibility when designing your source document, such as in Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign. All six of the "low-hanging" techniques described in this article should be applied to your document design. Make sure you export the document to PDF using the appropriate export or save as options. Never use File > Print to PDF, because it will result in an untagged PDF. Before publishing your PDF on the web, use the Check Accessibility tool and clean up any deficiencies.

Keywords:a11y, accessibility, canvas, microsoft office, word, automatic scan, manual checking, WAVE, headings, alt text, closed captions, color contrast, descriptive links, table headers   Doc ID:93992
Owner:John W.Group:Rice University
Created:2019-08-21 14:57 CDTUpdated:2022-05-12 17:05 CDT
Sites:Rice University
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