The purpose of this page is to provide tangible suggestions to instructors to consider accessibility in the course design process.

Incorporating Accessibility into Existing Courses

While it is a daunting instructional design task to modify an existing course in its entirety to ensure accessibility for all learners, there are simple suggestions for instructors to start small. As suggested by Tobin and Behling (2018) in Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone, a text focused on applying Universal Design as a framework for accessibility within the context of higher education, instructors should start by expanding one “assessment, [assignment], or interaction” to create accessible experiences for students (p. 12).

In order to identify the best place to start in the process of accessible design, it helps to reflect on prior experiences of a course and address the following questions:

  • Where do students often struggle?
  • What questions come up often?
  • What modifications are often necessary for students?

If any particular instructional activity or topic is brought to mind, this is a good starting place to incorporate accessible practices.

Within the context of the selected assignment, instructors can ensure that any related instructional materials, whether print or digital are accessible for all students, regardless of any disability. Some simple, tangible modifications that might be considered are:

  • Checking the accessibility status of instructor-created PDFs and other documents using the AccessibilityScan block in Moodle — and making any required changes to address deficiencies that are identified.
  • Supporting the use of assistive technologies (AT) such as e-pens, speakers, and Kaltura LectureCapture to increase the accessibility of real-time content delivery.
  • Providing students with lecture recordings, regardless of disability status. This measure can provide supplemental support as students study for exams, and also address the issue of continued classroom absence (for any number of reasons).
  • Either creating captioned videos or finding alternative media that is accessible.
  • Providing students with ample time on exams and assessments
  • Encouraging students to consider accessibility as they create content for presentations and class discussions

For more information related to developing accessible instructional materials, the Technology Resources for Accessible Materials page summarizes available technology help resources created and hosted by ITS.

Designing New Courses with Accessibility in Mind

The process of designing new courses provides instructors with a unique opportunity to incorporate accessible practices within any content area. Rather than making just-in-time modifications or changes to course materials, assignments or assessments during a semester, a course initially designed with accessible practices should accommodate most learners. A few key steps suggested for instructors to follow in order to move forward with creating new, accessible courses are described below.

First, it is helpful for an instructor to select a framework to support the accessibility design process. On the Frameworks to Create Accessible Course Materials page, there are suggestions for frameworks to utilize in this process. Choosing the Universal Design framework, for example, would challenge instructors to find multiple ways to engage and support all learners, specifically considering three broad neural networks (affective, strategic, and recognition) (“CAST”, 2018). This is not to say that learners should “cycle” through a variety of activities, but rather providing them with choices related to the instructional experiences (Tobin & Behling, 2018, p. 125). Designing courses that address the how, what, and why of learning will promote deeper, more meaningful connections to course content for all learners.

After selecting a framework to support accessible design, instructors should consider the audience in question: students typically aged 18-22 enrolled at a residential liberal arts college. While this sentiment seems broad, it’s important to remember that these students do not take courses in isolation. Rather, most students work to balance multiple classes, extracurricular activities as well as social lives and jobs. Further, these students are often sleep deprived and possibly struggling with general anxiety disorder, depression, or any number of mental illnesses, with researchers specifically publishing that 35% of undergraduate respondents from a recent study “reported symptoms consistent with at least one mental health disorder” (Auerbach, 2018).

Next in the process of new course design is to take a step back and gather content first, before considering instructional design and ultimately making choices related to content delivery. Content is the material that is presented to guide students to achieve specific learning outcomes, and may include instructional materials such as readings, presentations, quizzes, discussions, and assignments.

Gathering content can happen in many ways, though using tools to visually organize such content would be most helpful. Creating an outline or course map for your content can help ensure that course objectives are being met. Two suggested applications that can be used to create a course map are: bubbl.us and Cmap Tools.

As content or course maps are created, accessibility can be kept in mind by utilizing multimodal instructional practices and media to relay information, promote transfer and assess student performance. For example, if currently using one method of content delivery (e.g. instructor-led lecture using PowerPoint presentations), one type of performance task (e.g. textbook questions/problems) and one method of assessment (e.g. in-class, multiple-choice exams), it may be helpful to take a step back and consider alternative ways to do each of these in order to support the diverse nature of learners and any accessibility needs that might arise.

The final step in designing new courses that are fundamentally accessible is to develop. For any document or instructional created, consider integrating accessibility within:

  • Include captioning with any video that is shared with students
  • Utilize proper formatting of exams to support the use of screen reading technology
  • Create presentations and slide decks that are readable and consistent
  • Design course pages (based on a previously created course map) so that modules are easily navigable on any device

For more information related to developing accessible instructional materials, the Technology Resources for Accessible Materials page summarizes available technology help resources created and hosted by ITS.


Auerbach, R. (2018, September 13). One in Three College Freshmen Worldwide Reports Mental Health Disorder. Retrieved September 19, 2018, from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2018/09/freshmen-mental-health.aspx

CAST. (2018). CAST: Our Work. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/our-work#.W_2JRxNKii4

Tobin, T. J., & Behling, K. (2018). Reach everyone, teach everyone: Universal design for learning in higher education. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.

What Is an Empathy Map? (n.d.). Retrieved December 12, 2018, from https://www.solutionsiq.com/resource/blog-post/what-is-an-empathy-map/