UW Continuum College Instructor Resources

Canvas: A11y & Accessibility

What is accessibility?

The University of Washington values diverse experiences and perspectives and strives to fully include everyone who engages with the UW, and is required by law to provide programs and services that are accessible to all qualified participants, including those with disabilities.

Accessibility is the degree to which a product, device, program, service, resource, or environment is available to a given user. If a building on campus has a wheelchair ramp leading to its main entrance, that entrance is accessible to wheelchair users. If a lecture includes sign language interpreters, that lecture is accessible to attendees who are deaf or hard of hearing and who understand sign language.

Accessible technology is technology that has been designed in a way so that it can be accessed by all users. This includes electronic documents, websites, software, hardware, video, audio, and other technologies.

Inaccessible information technology (IT) negatively impacts people with a variety of disabilities, including mobility/orthopedic impairments, sensory impairments, specific learning disabilities, attention deficits, autism spectrum disorders, speech impairments, health impairments, and psychiatric conditions.

Best Practices

  • Write clearly, using the simplest language appropriate for your content.
  • Be careful with abbreviations, jargon, slang, complex language, and culturally specific idioms.
  • Apply consistent organizational structure to your course pages when creating content.
    • Use Heading, Sub-heading and Paragraph Styles in the Canvas rich content editor.
    • Use vertical lists (like this one, rather than lists within a sentence) where applicable for easier comprehension and navigation, such as assignments or readings.
  • Ensure text in documents can be highlighted, copied and pasted.
  • Ensure that all graphics are necessary and supplemental to the course materials.
    • Include text descriptions for all graphics and pictures.
    • Use alternate text or “alt text” descriptions when embedding image content in the rich content editor.
  • Be careful with data tables, only use them when necessary, and use the simplest table structure available.
  • Ensure that all link text is descriptive (avoid saying “Click Here”), and avoid using the URL as link text whenever possible.

What accessibility tools are available to you?


A11y is a tool which integrates directly into Canvas, and is to help you ensure that your materials are accessible.

A screencap of a Canvas module, with the heading of Readings, and two files. To the far right of each file is a colored accessibility gauge, one orange, one red.
A11y in Canvas Modules
A screencap of the Canvas files page, with two files, columns for name, date created, date modified, modified by, size, accessibility, and publishing. Under the accessibility column are a colored gauge icon for each file, one orange, one green.
A11y in Canvas Files
A screencap of a Canvas page, showing a header for Readings and a series of files, with red gauges from the accessibility checker before each file URL and a down arrow after the file URL.
A11y in a Canvas Page

A11y automatically scans files and will display a gauge showing an accessibility score of red, yellow, green, or dark green (green is good, dark green is perfect). These gauge indicators will appear next to files within Modules, under the Files section, and next to files which are linked within the Rich Content Editor within Pages, Assignments, the Syllabus, etc. These gauge indicators are not visible to students. Clicking on the gauge will provide you with an explanation of the problems identified, and guidance on how to fix them.

Accessibility score for a file titled "CNVS 102 and 103 Syllabus.docx" with an orange gauge at 48%. A white button to the right is labeled "All Issues." Below is the explanation "This document does not have headings," and buttons for "What this means" and "how to add headings"

A11y also produces alternative formats for files, including:

  • OCR’ed PDF (Optical Character Recognition: automatically extracted text for improved reading and searching)
  • HTML version
  • ePub version (for reading as an e-book on an iPad or other e-book readers)
  • Electronic braille version (BRF version for consumption on electronic braille displays)
  • Audio (MP3 version for listening)
a file URL with a drop down arrow. The drop down menu contains Preview, Download, and Alternative formats, with alternative formats highlighted

Note: Students are only able to see and download alternative formats. They are not able to view the gauge indicators.

Canvas Accessibility Checker

The Rich Content Editor used throughout Canvas includes an accessibility tool that checks common accessibility errors within the editor. This tool will only verify content created within the Rich Content Editor for the content that you are currently editing.

The Accessibility Checker currently verifies the following accessibility rules

  • Table captions: Tables should include a caption describing the contents of the table.
  • Table header scope: Tables headers should specify scope and the appropriate structure.
  • Table header: Tables should include at least one header.
  • Sequential headings: Heading levels should not be skipped (e.g. H2 to H4). However, the tool does not check if the first header starts with H2 or whether the headings are sequential with the rest of the content in the page. Tables do not begin with H1, which is designated for the page title.
  • Heading paragraphs: Headings should not contain more than 120 characters.
  • Image alt text: Images should include an alt attribute describing the image content.
  • Image alt filename: Image filenames should not be used as the alt attribute describing the image content. Currently, files uploaded directly to Canvas create a redirect that does not properly verify image filenames.
  • Image alt length: Alt attribute text should not contain more than 120 characters.
  • Adjacent links: Adjacent links with the same URL should be a single link. This rule verifies link errors where the link text may include spaces and break the link into multiple links.
  • Large text contrast: Text larger than 18pt (or bold 14pt) should display a minimum contrast ratio of 3:1.
  • Small text contrast: Text smaller than 18pt (or bold 14pt) should display a minimum contrast ratio of 4.5:1.

When an issue is detected, the Rich Content Editor highlights the affected area, and a sidebar will appear to display the accessibility attribute, and an explanation of the error. The checker will also guide you through how to resolve the issue.

Additional Guides & Resources

UW Continuum College Resources

Canvas Guides

Microsoft Office Guides

University of Washington Resources