Designing for accessibility in Canvas

How accessible is your Canvas site?

Accessibility should be an important consideration when designing your Canvas course. The University of Sydney is committed to making all online content as accessible as possible and is bound by the following Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines.

Below are a series of simple, yet effective, accessibility tips (with accompanying short videos) to help you design your Canvas site so that all users can enjoy the experience equally.

Headings (H1, H2, H3)

For both vision impaired and sighted people, headings help communicate the order and hierarchical structure of the content on a page. Avoid skipping heading levels at all times e.g. A jump from <h2> to <h4>. Page titles in Canvas are automatically set to a <h1> level, so start your page design using <h2>, then <h3> and so on.


Learn more about creating accessible headings


Tables, columns, rows, and scope

In general, tables are designed to display tabular data. They should not be used for page layout purposes. Always assign a table header to each table you build, and indicate the direction (either row or column) in which table is to be read (known as scope). Tables can be easily created within the rich content editor in Canvas.


Learn more about creating accessible tables


CAPS, acronyms and abbreviations

Using CAPS makes it harder to read the content on a page. Caps should only be used for acronyms and abbreviations where necessary. For people who use screen reading software (e.g. those with vision impairments), the screen readers tend to read each uppercase word letter-by-letter, which can be quite frustrating. If you would like to emphasise a word, it would be better practice to bold the word.


Learn more about creating accessible acronyms and abbreviations


Bulleted, numbered, and nested lists

Lists allow us to present a set of terms and/or concepts succinctly. An unordered (bulleted) list should be used for organising lists of similar content, where as an ordered (numbered) list is generally used for organising content that should be completed in a specific order. Using the rich content editor in Canvas is the best way to assign a list to specific content.


Learn more about creating accessible lists


Images and alternative text (ALT  text)

For users with vision impairment, alternative text (ALT text) provides a description of an image or diagram that is placed onto a page. In Canvas you have the choice to add alternative text to an image or mark the image as decorative. Decorative images don’t contribute anymore information to a page, such as borders, banners, buttons (where text is hyperlinked to an icon), or even some images used purely for adornment. Images can also be specified as ‘decorative’ in instances when the content of the image has already been sufficiently described in the text on the same page.


Learn more about creating accessible imagery


Links and link validation

Links should always be meaningful. Avoid phrases such as ‘click here’ or ‘learn more’. Instead, give your students some contextual information to help them understand where the link will take them. For example: ‘Learn more about accessibility at the University of Sydney‘.


Learn more about creating accessible links


Closed captions and text transcripts

Captioning is primarily designed for the vision impaired but it is also useful for people whose first language is not English. The Canvas tool, Arc, allows us to easily add automated captioning to videos.


Learn more about creating and editing closed captions and text transcripts


Designing for accessibility

When (re)designing a unit of study, keep in mind that accessibility should feature in the design.

Learn more about:

If you would like to create your own unit videos, check out our DIY recording studio which is open to all University of Sydney staff.

Thank you to Rosemary Saul (Educational Designer), Tom Cavdarovski (Media Production), Aida Markulin (Educational Designer) and Wilfried Sharp  (Educational Designer) for your guidance in helping me create this resource.

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