Basic Accessibility Principles

Any course learning materials MUST adhere to basic accessibility principles. Files like Word, PPT, PDF, Excel, etc. need to go through the ADA compliance check as a final check. Here are some of the most basic principles for digital accessibility across many kinds of formats:

  1. Provide a good heading structure: Use different levels of heading and a clear format to better separate and structure information.
  2. Provide a text description for visuals: Text description is required to help people with visual impairments understand any important and informative visuals presented. The description should be concise but still, carry meaningful information.
  3. Make links descriptive: Provide a meaningful text description for a web link such as “the homepage of the University of Illinois” instead of Do not use “link” or “Click here” to describe the link.
  4. Caption video and transcribe audio: Multimedia resources should have an onscreen caption or text transcript to help people with or without disabilities such as non-native English users and visually oriented learners.
  5. Designate table headers and ensure the data cells are associated with the headers: Header Row or Column in a table makes navigation inside the table easy for screen reader users. Tables are supposed to be used for data and using it for layout purposes is not recommended. Table summary or caption describing the purpose of the table helps learners understand the table.
  6. Avoid using PDFs that are just image scans: If a PDF is used, make it accessible by tagging texts with correct reading orders or create an accessible alternative (HTML or Word).
  7. Check accessibility compliance for e-textbook and apps/software: Any third-party digital assets used in class need to go through an accessibility compliance checks. For example, if you are using a digital textbook, check with the publisher for Document Accessibility Profile (DAP). If you are using any apps or software, check with the vendors for Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT).
  8. Make content & navigation accessible using the keyboard alone: For people who are blind, have a low vision, have limited mobility with their hands, or have no access to a mouse, testing course content with keyboard navigation only is important.
  9. Ensure sufficient contrast between text and background: It is important to have a strong color contrast between text and background to help learners perceive information better. Do not use color alone to convey important information but use it with other stylistic features such as bold or italics.
  10. Allow enough time to read and use the content: Learners need control to pause or stop any timed item in the course site such as video or a form to fill out. This gives learners who need help with reading or more time to interact with the platform/interface to access and fulfill any required work. If your course has a timed quiz or exam, make sure that learners will have enough time to access and complete the task.

If you have any questions or suggestions on this topic, please contact Jinhee Choo (