Designing for accessibility

The principles of accessibility are also good learning design principles. Ensuring accessibility involves thinking about the choice of content, presentation, organisation, structure and navigation, as well as the technologies and software. The provision of alternative formats for core learning experiences can be important for some students. When a unit demands a specific requirement because of accreditation or professional needs (e.g. nurses cannot be blind, electrical engineers cannot be colour blind) students must be notified in the unit outline.

Design and development of learning materials should allow for access to the widest possible combination of students, including those with disabilities. Students with sensory or cognitive disabilities may require the use of assistive technologies to access learning materials.

Barriers to equivalent participation online

Accessibility barriers can occur through vision or hearing differences, cognitive abilities, mobility barriers, or when English is an additional language. Further, barriers can also be raised through technical choices, for example, when core learning materials can only be accessed through fast, reliable, high-speed internet connections. 

Design considerations

  • If learning materials are simple, concise and consistent then assistive technologies are more likely to be an effective student aid.
  • Provide a text-based alternative to communicating with images, audio and video. This includes the use of alternative text to describe the content of images for those who are unable to see it, and text transcripts or captions when using audio or video for those who prefer to read or have a hearing impairment.
  • Use clear fonts and keep paragraphs brief and uniform.
  • Be consistent when applying heading styles and page layout. Align your text to the left unless there is a strong reason otherwise.
  • Minimise the use of tables and keep them simple in structure (do not nest tables).
  • Test all web links to ensure currency and that the content targeted by the link abides by accessibility principles.
  • Use consistent and logical sequencing in learning materials.
  • When creating PDF files, ensure that the creation process produces text-based accessible PDF files as opposed to image-based (scanned) ones. You can tell the difference between the two types because accessible PDF files can have their text selected by clicking and dragging over it, whereas image-based PDF files cannot. Microsoft Word has the ability to save documents to the accessible PDF format.
  • Most PowerPoint slides do not meet accessibility guidelines. It is good practice to provide an accessible PDF or Word document containing the same content.

Presenting and organising content

  • Headings and styles are used to signpost importance and to organise content.
  • Font size should be at least 12 point.
  • Italics and capitals should be avoided where possible as they are harder to read.
  • Give hyperlinks precise names based on the content they lead to (not ‘click here’).
  • Use colour with caution.
  • Use tone and contrast to enhance readability (high contrast tones, like black on a white canvas with plenty of blank space) and to reinforce meaning.
  • Provide text alternatives to all non-text content such as images or diagrams so that it is available for conversion into braille, LARGE TEXT, or text-to-speech conversion as required.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) guidelines

 W3C suggests the following:

Images and animations

Use the alt attribute to describe the function of visual aids. The alt attribute is used in HTML and XHTML to specify alternative text if the element to which it is applied cannot be rendered by screen reader software.


Provide captioning and transcripts of audio, and descriptions of video.

Hypertext links

Use labelling for link text that makes sense when read out of context.

Page organisation

Use headings, lists, and consistent structure.

Graphs and charts

Summarise using text.

Scripts, applets, and plugins

Provide alternative content in case active features are inaccessible or unsupported.


Make line-by-line reading sensible. Summarise using text.

Software and assistive technology

Any software required to participate in a learning site should be available to students through University supported systems or, at least, be free and easy for students to download. You might also consider the vast array of free software available for use in learning sites to aid, for example, audio-visual accessibility. 

SCU provides a number of accessibility tools:

  • ReadSpeaker is a text-to-speech tool available to all SCU students and staff through MySCU Blackboard. ReadSpeaker appears as a widget in the lower left-hand corner of your screen when in MySCU Blackboard.
  • TextAid is a reading, writing and studying tool integrated into every learning site, workgroup and information site in Blackboard.  It is accessed via the Tools menu.
  • SensusAccess is a self-service, alternate media solution for educational institutions. SensusAccess allows students, faculty, staff and alumni to automatically convert documents into a range of alternate media including audiobooks (MP3 and DAISY), e-books (EPUB, EPUB3 and Mobi) and digital Braille.

Other resources to support your design practices

Student Equity & Inclusion provides assistance and support to staff in developing accessible materials for students. This assistance can include sourcing electronic textbooks, conversion of printed or electronic study materials, and advice on assistive technology software. They can also assist students with facilitating the provision of reasonable adjustments.

T&L Knowledge Base article: Teaching in the Blackboard Environment: Managing Your Unit

Blackboard accessibility commitment 

Blackboard accessibility features

SCU Support for Students with Additional Requirements - Procedures


JISC assistive technologies. Free and open-source software. [Online]. Available from

JISC open educational resources. [Online]. Available from

Open Courseware Consortium (2012). The power of OER to support diverse learners. [Online]. Available from

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) guidelines

(Please note - it's better to refer to the Online version rather than export, as it's always up to date)