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C2C Digital Magazine (Fall 2018 / Winter 2019)

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Accessibility in the Online Classroom

By Roberta Sheahan, Instructional Multimedia Designer, and Brian A. Dye, Assistant Director Educational Technology, Butler Community College 

"The disability is not the problem. The accessibility is the problem." 

-- Mohamed Jemni

Accessibility in the online classroom – it makes sense on many levels, but the idea of actually making a course accessible can seem, well, a bit overwhelming to the average online instructor. With the wide range of issues involved, the first hurdles are knowing where and how to start.

The Educational Technology (EdTech) staff at Butler Community College has transformed the abstract into the practical with their hands-on approach to training faculty in making online courses accessible, one step at a time. “Just jump in and get started,” is the foremost advice for faculty according to Brian Dye, EdTech Assistant Director. “Once you get started, you will quickly learn the requirements are just based on common sense, and a logical, specific approach to organization. Breaking it down one topic at a time, faculty members should quickly be able to feel like they’ve ‘got this.’ ” The accessibility topics discussed below are not listed in any particular order.

Alternative Text 

WCAG guideline 1.1.1, “text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language” disses alternative text usage. Meaning all images should have a proper “alt text”. This allows a screen reader to describe briefly the content of an image. According to WebAIM, “Adding alternative text for images is the first principle of web accessibility. It is also one of the most difficult to properly implement.” 

Addressing Alternative Text

Alt tags are normally edited in the HTML view of a webpage. The WebAIM alt text guide is a robust resource to understand image types and appropriate alt text. If you are unclear on how to add alt text to an image in your institution’s learning management system (LMS), refer to help guides or your campus Instructional Design Team. 

What would the alternative text be for this image?

Hint: Check the code with the WAVE browser extension.


Using a consistent organization with text makes any page easier to read and comprehend. The various type styles help a screen reader provide points of emphasis, and hierarchy.

Addressing Styles

Most webpage editors, and word processors (Microsoft Word & Pages) contain built in styles. These styles are then incorporated in the HTML code, helping the screen reader communicate appropriate significance. Use appropriate style format for headings and paragraphs when creating pages and documents. Headings communicate the organization of the content on the page. Web browsers, plug-ins, and assistive technologies use headers to provide in-page navigation. 

Breaking paragraphs into ‘chunks’ breaks up the greyness of a webpage and makes for easier online reading. For example, organizing headings in the prescribed logical order: Heading 1, Heading 2, and then Heading 3, rather than Heading 3, Heading 1, and then Heading 2. Organize the information in your documents into small chunks. Ideally, each heading would include only a few paragraphs.
An additional benefit of using styles, is the ease in which even sighted users can quickly comprehend the organization of the material. This efficiency can aid a student’s time on task!

Example using Microsoft Word Styles

H1 – Style

H2 - Style

H3 - Style

H2 - Style


WCAG Success Criterion 2.4.4 states, “The purpose of each link can be determined from the link text alone or from the link text together with its programmatically determined link context, except where the purpose of the link would be ambiguous to users in general.” As such, links should be self-descriptive. The links within this article are good examples of self-descriptive links.

Addressing Links

Do not use 'click here' or 'read this' or the URL. Links should state the title of the source. To create a self-descriptive link, type the title first, highlight the title, and click the link button in the Rich Text Editor. To paste the link, click insert link. In most editing programs, you can also use Ctrl+K (Cmd+K for Mac) to change link names.


“Since then, this publication has taken on a new name, “C2C Digital Magazine,” and it is published twice-yearly.” Recent articles include, “Six Questions Colleges Should Ask Themselves regarding Accessibility and Procurement”.

“Since then, this publication has taken on a new name, “C2C Digital Magazine,” and it is published twice-yearly.” You can view “Six Questions Colleges Should Ask Themselves regarding Accessibility and Procurement” article at


This one topic generates the most anxiety for online instructors. Videos with narration or embedded text must have synchronized and accurate captions. It is often incorrectly assumed if the video has Auto-Generated captions, that it is accessible. In fact, “automatically generated captions (like those generated in YouTube) typically average an accuracy rate far below 60-70% accuracy. That means, on average, every one in three words will be incorrect.” 

Addressing Videos
  1. Choose videos that meet the criteria. Many sites such as Films on Demand, TED talks and Khan Academy have a high percentage of their offerings that are accessible. In YouTube, look for the CC menu with the ‘English’ choice checked. This indicates that the videos are edited, rather than auto-generated (YouTube’s default).  Hint – Be sure to review the captions for accuracy!
  2. Record your own video and upload into YouTube (or other Video Hosting provider). The owner/uploader of a video can edit the auto-generated captions once uploaded.
  3. If you are not the original creator of the video and the video is publicly available, you can use a tool such as Amara to create and edit the captions of any non-compliant video. This is the most time-intensive task, but it might be worth it if it is a choice you just have to use.
  4. Use a professional captioning service ( or 3PlayMedia). This is a more expensive option, but it may be worth it considering the value of your own time. “On average, it takes 5-10 times the duration of the video to caption it.”


Those pages with red all-caps text can give even the most seasoned online user a headache. Remember those late 90’s Angelfire websites? Thank goodness, blinking text is pretty much a thing of the past! The text issues (contrast and text formatting) are aimed at students with less severe vision problems that still present barriers to learning. These are also two of the easiest to address. 

Addressing Text

Use Sans Serif type fonts, avoid all caps, and do not underline to show emphasis - use bold and italics instead. WebAIM’s contrast ratio checker can help you choose accessible colors. Color alone should not be used to convey meaning. 

Parting Words

Accessibility is not just for those with documented disabilities. A well-designed, organized course facilitates learning for everyone. In addition, content using accessible design standards such as closed captioning can be valuable for non-native speakers, ADD/ADHD students, and students whose ears are not attuned to a particular accent.

Consistent, steady progress is the best approach to eroding these barriers to accessibility. The work required to make an online course compliant is not difficult technically for anyone who already teaches online. However, it does require focus, time, and attention to detail.

It is recommended that you keep a log, in whatever style suits, since this is likely a lengthy process, and one that requires frequent breaks.  In addition, develop your own work pattern to tackle the details, a part of any lengthy technical task. Finally, remember you are not alone. Detailed directions and examples are there for the mining in the online community.

Achievement of accessibility is much like dissembling a wall. Orderly, in both process and goal, it is achieved by many small, but meaningful steps. 


Are automatic captions WCAG, ADA, or 508 compliant? (2018, September 24). Retrieved from 3PlayMedia website:

Color contrast checker. (n.d.). Retrieved December 17, 2018, from

WebAIM: Alternative text. (2018, February 21). Retrieved from

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 [Fact sheet]. (2018, June 5). Retrieved from

About the Authors

Roberta Sheahan is Educational Multimedia Designer, at Butler Community College. She has worked in Butler's online program for 19 of her 28 years at the college. She also teaches Art Appreciation online. Although her primary duties include instructional design, and educational technology, graphic design and writing remain her professional passions. Roberta earned a BFA in Design from the University of Kansas, and an MS in Instructional Design and Technology from Emporia State University. 

Brian A. Dye is Assistant Director of Educational Technology and an adjunct instructor at Butler Community College. He moved to Kansas a little over four years ago and began as an Instructional Technologist at Butler, assisting faculty with their educational technology instructional needs through workshops and one-on-one training. He teaches Criminal Behavior for Butler Online, which keeps him busy. Prior to this position, he spent nearly 13 years in various roles at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. While working at Drury, he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology/ Psychology in 2006. He nearly finished a Masters in Business Administration degree before realizing that was not the direction he wanted to pursue and in 2014, he received a Masters in Education with an emphasis in Instructional Technology.

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