Making Digital Content Accessible

Creating digital content with accessibility in mind is the best way to ensure that materials provide the best user experience for all individuals. "Baking" accessibility into digital materials also promotes proactive compliance with federal law and university policy and is a key component of Universal Design for Learning.

The following guidelines and best practices should be observed when creating or acquiring digital content for use at Kent State University for online and face-to-face courses as well as for general purpose and related business use.

Canvas Accessibility Tips
Extending Time in Canvas
Blackboard Learn Accessibility Tips
Extending Time in Blackboard Learn

Please review the "Tests with Extended Time" tutorial, created by the Blackboard Learn support team, for step-by-step instructions on extending time for exams/quizzes in Blackboard Learn. 

Developing Content for Assistive Technology

Assistive technology can mean the difference between a site visitor successfully navigating and utilizing a website or leaving frustrated without obtaining any information due to limited functionality. As technology evolves it is becoming easier to create similar web experiences through traditional web browsing and those using assistive technology. This can be accomplished by making intentional design choices when building sites, so they are conducive to these technologies. 


JAWS is a common screen reading software. It is important that digital content have the following at minimum in place to avoid blocking a screen reader from performing to its maximum potential:


  • Serve as titles for various sections of a web page
  • Allow the user to jump to sections of a page without having to read through all of the content each time
  • Need to be nested properly in order of importance: H1 (page title), H2, H3, etc. through H6 - lower headings can be used to create subgroups
  • If headings are skipped, a user might assume there is no further information, or they may not properly understand the section breakdown

Image ALT Text

  • Used to describe the image
  • Should contain enough information to describe the content of the image, but not too lengthy - between a few words and a sentence or two
  • Images missing alt text will be skipped over by screen readers, which can be useful for decorative images, but is uncommon
  • Images used as links should be avoided, but if necessary, the image alt text should describe where the the image link is going, not the content of the image

Page Titles

  • Should tell the user the kind of information they can expect to find on the page
  • Should not be too lengthy
  • Page titles should not be repeated immediately below the breadcrumbs as a heading

Link text

Formatted Tables

  • There should be a heading or table caption to alert the user when they've reached a table on a page
  • All tables should have a header row
  • Avoid using tables to format content on a page - tables should strictly be used for data and information
  • If a table becomes too lengthy or complex, it is recommended to break it up into smaller tables

Formatted Forms

  • All Kent State University staff and faculty should be using Qualtrics when creating and sharing forms
  • Avoid using inaccessible question types, such as sliders or drag and drops
  • For forms with multiple pages, uses words like "Back" or "Next" instead of graphics like ">>" (will read as "right double angle bracket")
  • Make sure questions are numbered so that users can track progress
  • Use Qualtrics' built-in Survey Accessibility Tool


Digital Accessibility Checklist

The following checklist provides basic accessibility guidelines to consider when creating or using digital content.

General for online courses (or courses using an LMS like Blackboard Learn)

  • Use clear and consistent navigation
  • Label folders and modules clearly (such as Week 1: Forest Biomes, NOT Week 1)
  • Use meaningful hyperlinks (Visit Kent State vs
  • Provide content in multiple ways (text, audio, video, images)
  • Provide multiple types of assignments and assessment types (if possible)
  • Define and spell out abbreviations, acronyms or jargon
  • Provide flexible communication and collaboration options (email, discussions, video conferences, etc.)

Documents (Word, PDF, etc.)

  • Should be full-text, machine readable and formatted with appropriate styles (headings, H1, H2, H3, etc.)
  • PDF documents that are scanned (and are not OCR’d or full text) should not be used.
  • All images should have alt text
  • Use meaningful hyperlinks (Visit Kent State vs
  • Avoid the use of color as the sole means of emphasis; consider using italics or bold
  • Use good color contrast (for example, white text on a dark blue background)
  • Avoid using text boxes – they can cause issues when being parsed by a screen reader. Use borders around text to highlight important information
  • ALWAYS use the column tool to make columns, but…avoid using excessive columns
  • Do not use font sizes smaller than 11 point
  • Do not format using blank spaces, always use tabs or use page breaks
  • Always use the bullet/numbering tool in the toolbar to make ordered lists, rather than manually typing
  • If you are listing more than 3 items, I recommend numbering them rather than bullets as they are easier to follow when a screen reader is being used
  • Tables should have row headers and clear descriptions

Multimedia (audio, video)

  • Videos should be properly closed-captioned (YouTube auto-captions are a bad source for videos, but all the videos in NBC Learn are professionally closed-captioned)
  • Audio files should have a complete and verbatim transcript posted along with the file

External content (websites or other web-based content)

  • Avoid external websites that have content that is not closed-captioned, not transcribed, not full text, or otherwise inaccessible
  • Avoid the use of complex “lab” experiences that require special plugins like Flash or JavaScript
  • Avoid websites that are not professionally or commercially developed (personal sites, hobby sites, etc.)


Finding Accessible Digital Content
General Digital Accessibility Tips
Using Adobe Products to Create Accessible Digital Content
Using Microsoft Products to Create Accessible Digital Content
Creating and editing headings
  • A uniform heading structure is one of the most important considerations when creating your document. Headings allow screen reader users to easily navigate pages. It is not best practice to simply increase the font size or bold text to make it look like a heading.
  • To create a heading, select the text and choose the appropriate heading level from the Styles gallery.
  • Make sure to change the default color setting to add more contrast. Microsoft Word uses a light blue color as the default for headings, which provides insufficient color contrast.
  • It is best practice to use headings in the correct order. There should be only one Heading 1 per page. Subsequent headings allow you to "chunk" your content, which makes the page easier to read.
Selecting appropriate text
  • Make sure the text font is easy to read. San Serif fonts such as, Arial, Helvetica and Verdana, magnify well for users with low vision.
  • We recommend using 12 point font at a minimum. 
  • Floating text boxes, track changes and commenting are not always accessible with screen readers.
Using meaningful text for links
  • Consider screen reader users when creating your links. Screen readers will say "link" before reading hyperlinked text. Be mindful of how you write your sentence and what you choose to hyperlink, and imagine the word "link" said preceding the hyperlink.
  • Screen reading software can also pull all of the links in a document for quick navigation. If the link pulled doesn't have meaningful text associated with it, the screen reader user may not know where the link goes. For example, ambiguous text such as, "click here", doesn't tell the user where the link leads.
  • The hyperlink should succinctly inform the reader of its destination, is not too wordy, and gives enough information for a screen reader. For example: "Visit Getting Started with SAS to learn more about our registration procedures."