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Are Your Canvas Course Sites Accessible?

One of the many ways Northwestern IT supports the University’s commitment to be a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment is a collaborative effort providing instructors the skills and tools necessary to create Canvas course sites that meet digital accessibility standards. Partnering with AccessibleNU and the Office of Equity, Northwestern IT’s Teaching and Learning Technologies team offers resources and guidance to ensure anyone is prepared to create Canvas course content that benefits students and aligns with the University’s Digital Accessibility Policy. Read on to learn more about how to build a new or update an existing Canvas course site to ensure accessibility for all.

Remember, Accessibility is for Everyone and is Everyone’s Responsibility

The most important thing to understand in creating accessible digital content for a Canvas course site is that accessible content enhances students’ experiences. Ensuring equitable access and an equitable experience with course content is the responsibility of everyone creating or managing Canvas courses. To learn more about digital accessibility at Northwestern, visit the University’s Accessibility website.

How to Make a Significant Impact on Digital Accessibility

Ensuring that an existing Canvas course site meets accessibility standards doesn’t have to be a difficult task. Utilize the Accessibility Checker and UDOIT tools—more on them below—and then update any site issues in the seven core content areas:

  • Headings
  • Hyperlinks
  • Alternative Text
  • Tables
  • Color Contrast
  • Lists
  • Audio and Video

We recommend addressing these content areas in any order that feels most comfortable, as no one area is more important than another. However, collectively, they make a significant impact for students who have low vision, use a screen reader, are color blind, are not native English speakers, have learning disabilities, and use accessibility software to review course material.

To build skills in creating accessible digital content, review detailed instructions on creating or updating each of these content types in accessible formats. Additional guidance is available in this video on Demystifying Digital Accessibility.

Use Available Automated Tools to Support Accessibility Updates

Becoming an accessibility expert takes time, and before users develop their skillset in each of the identified core areas, they can use automated tools to get started correcting accessibility errors on Canvas course sites. Users can make immediate improvements to course content in just a few minutes and with a few clicks.

Accessibility Checker

As a first step in creating an accessible course site, use the automated tool built into every Canvas course. The Accessibility Checker detects common accessibility errors for Canvas content on a page-by-page basis and is built directly inside the Canvas Rich Content Editor. The checker appears below the Rich Content Editor, and when in edit mode, it appears as a blue circle around the silhouette of a blue person. When accessibility issues are present, the number of issues appear above the checker button. Clicking the checker brings up a box that walks users through the identified issues and how to fix them. Once they are fixed, the number above the checker disappears, and users can move on to the next page.


This Canvas content accessibility checker scans existing Canvas sites and provides an accessibility report of the entire course instead of individual pages. The report walks users through accessibility errors in the course and suggests corrections. UDOIT also provides a complete picture of accessibility errors across established course sites and is recommended when a more comprehensive review and update of accessible content issues across the course site is needed. Add UDOIT and use it in a course.

Upcoming Opportunities and Additional Resources

This winter, Teaching and Learning Technologies is introducing pre-built Canvas course site templates that meet accessibility standards. The templates will be available in early February through Canvas Commons, a repository of shared resources for Canvas users that will become visible in the Canvas global navigation menu.

Instructors will also be invited to participate in an initiative to track progress toward bringing all their Canvas course sites into alignment with digital accessibility standards. Throughout winter and into the spring quarter, Teaching and Learning Technologies will offer training and support opportunities focused on digital accessibility. The next opportunity occurs Wednesday, February 15, and is a 30-minute, hands-on workshop to learn more about and practice with UDOIT and the Canvas Accessibility Checker. Register for the workshop.

We’re Here to Support You—Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Help

Teaching and Learning Technologies offers a variety of consultations, workshops, trainings, and special events to support instructors with requests related to Canvas, associated tools, and instructional design. The team’s support services are available to Northwestern faculty, adjunct, and graduate student instructors.

Northwestern IT also partners with several campus groups, including the Office of Equity, the Office of Human Resources, and AccessibleNU to facilitate assistive technology software and services for all students. Please take a moment to review the offerings and encourage students to seek out these resources to enhance their learning experience.

Through the Office of Equity, the University’s digital accessibility team also offers accessibility training options and information on Universal Design for Learning. You can also connect with Digital Accessibility Liaisons across the University.