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Go to Course Accessibility Priorities

Goal of Checklist

The goal of this checklist is to help instructors identify common accessibility blockers in their courses and provide them with techniques that will make the content more accessible to a diverse audience.


Using these relatively low cost, low effort techniques will facilitate compliance with Penn State Policy A.D. 69 “Accessibility of Penn State Web Pages” and will reduce course preparation time should an instructor receive an Academic Adjustment Letter from Student Disability Resources.


The primary audience for this document is instructors who may only have minimal access to accessibility support resources. This document can also be used by instructional design and support staff.

Checklist of Blockers

This checklist identifies the most prominent accessibility blockers along with methods to ensure accessible content. Techniques are identified as either Fix/Add, meaning you (the instructor) should begin to address that issue proactively, or With Letter, meaning that you should be aware that the blocker must be addressed when an Academic Adjustment Letter is received
from Student Disability Resources.

Note:  A student enrolled in any course presenting a Letter of Academic Adjustment from Student Disability Resources must receive the specified accommodations regardless of whether the technique is listed in this checklist.

List of Content Types and Recommend Solutions
Content Guidelines Benefits/Notes

Accessibility Statement

  1. Mandatory: All course syllabi must include the syllabus statement on accommodating disabilities.
  2. This is required Senate Policy 43-00

BENEFITS: All students become aware of Student Disability Services and the process for requesting accommodations.

Audio/Video from Penn State

  1. Audio files should be transcribed.
  2. Videos should be transcribed and captioned.
    Note: See the videos page for information on storyboarding, speech recognition or captioning services.
  3. Visual demonstrations or any text/image content not described in the audio may need a text or audio description.
  4. Make sure media files don’t play automatically when a user enters the site.

BENEFITS: Captions also benefit non-native speakers or students experiencing audio glitches.

Audio/Video from Outside Penn State
With Letter

Transcripts or captioned videos must be provided to students requiring an accommodation. However, the distribution of the content may be restricted because of copyright.

Find captions/transcripts if you can.
Note: See the videos page for tips in finding a pre-existing transcription text.


Color Contrast for Legibility

Ensure good color contrast for text/graphics/charts and backgrounds. Content should be legible in black and white.

BENEFITS:  This fix improves legibility for all students.

Document Types

The following formats are recommended and are supported through

  1. Web files (e.g. Canvas Pages, Sites @ Penn State, other HTML documents) can be the most accessible file type.
  2. Word and PowerPoint files can be made accessible as well.
  3. If you create a PDF, provide the same information in some other accessible format unless verified by screen reader.
  4. Tools which allow you to insert Flash content typically result in inaccessible content.

BENEFITS: PDF and Flash are not easily readable on mobile devices, so avoiding them will enhance mobile usability.

External Documents
With Letter

The content of any non-Penn State resource such as a Web site, PDF article from a journal, slides from external sources or other non-Penn State informational resources must be provided in an accessible format to students requiring an accommodation. In some cases, it is permissible to copy and reformat content just for students with a documented need.

For additional information on addressing different scenarios see or links elsewhere in this document.


Image ALT Text

  1. Use ALT text for all content images. ALT text should describe the meaning conveyed by the image in the context of the course material, and it should be up to 150 characters.
  2. Give the image file itself a descriptive file name.
  3. Include a descriptive reference to the image within the surrounding text.

BENEFITS: This allows any student unable to view the image to understand its content.

Image Long Description
With Letter

  1. A complex image requires ALT text significantly longer than 150 characters.
  2. For complex images, consider including a description in the text or a link to the description to the text in another location.

BENEFITS: Not all sighted students process visual information in the same way. If this can be addressed, then all students could have different options to process data.

Link Text

Avoid vague or repetitive link text such as “click here” or “read more”

BENEFITS: Improved link text is often more visible and increases student confidence in finding content.

Math Equations

Equations should be created with a technology such as LaTeX or an equation editor (e.g. MathType) which allows rapid conversion to MathML. See for details.

BENEFITS: This will facilitate conversion of equations to MathML should an accommodation request be received.

Section Headings

  1. Documents with section headings should include semantically tagged headings
  2. Use descriptive heading text to enhance page navigation and readability

BENEFITS: Headings also enhance legibility and ability for all students to scan online content.

Table Captions and Column Headings

  1. Do not use tables for layout and design purposes. Restrict tables to presentation of data.
  2. Use the simplest table possible, preferably without merging cells.It is better to use several simple tables rather than a complex table with merged cells.
  3. Use table headers to identify row and columns.
  4. Use a caption to display the table title.
  5. Consider alternatives to tables such as lists for complex tables.

BENEFITS: Accessible table design includes additional information for all students to use.


Use Penn State technology options (e.g. Canvas, Office 365, Sites at Penn State) for course work whenever possible.

Note: See for information on specific Penn State tools.

Investigate the accessibility of all non-Penn State technologies or materials and make a decision about continued use based on your findings.

BENEFITS: There is more support for accessibility accommodations within Penn State supported tools and materials.

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