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Designing for Accessibility and Usability

Basic Guidelines

ODL can provide guidance in designing accessible online courses, but accessibility is ultimately the responsibility of the course instructor. The guidelines here address both the design of your course site and the format of materials accompanying the site, such as audio, video, images, and documents. They are considered principles of universal design: creating materials that are accessible to everyone. To learn more, visit the links at the bottom of this page.

  • Be sure that all components are accessible to students with visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities, or that an alternative is available for them. For example:
    • Audio and video files should be accompanied by a text equivalent, either a transcript (separate file) or captions (embedded) and should include pertinent descriptive text.
    • Use PDFs that have been saved as searchable text, not images.
    • When using images and tables in a document, use descriptive text, or alt text; embed this in the document containing the image or table.
    ODL's faculty lab is equipped with JAWS screen-reading software and Chuck McCann is available to assist you with meeting accessibility standards. You can also try the FANGS screen reader emulator for Firefox to find out what the experience is like for users of screen readers, or, if you use a Mac, you can try Apple's built-in Voiceover tools.
  • Consider how students experience¬†course material, keep the course design free of extraneous graphics, borders, etc., and navigation schemas intuitive and simple. Strive to structure the navigational interface with no more than 4 tiers. Save files in accessible formats.
  • Use san-serif fonts for body text (e.g. Arial, Helvetica, or Verdana). Be consistent with font choices and colors. Typically, black text on a white background offers the highest contrast. (See Creating Accessible Documents for more information.)
  • Use descriptive names for files and maintain consistent naming conventions between syllabus and course material, as well as between naming parallels in course materials. For example, if Week 1 contains a document called "Introduction to Week 1", don't refer to a similar document in Week 2 as "Exploring the Second Week."
  • Go for a clean look. Excessive decoration makes things harder to download and use. Try to avoid flashy colors, ornamental clip art, video for its own sake, and other things that merely "look cool."
  • Keep your structure parallel. If Week 1 contains a document called "Introduction to Week 1", don't refer to a similar document in Week 2 as "Exploring the Second Week."
  • Group related items together and present them in a chronological sequence, as they might be used by students. There's no need to send students to three different areas to get their lectures, assignments, and web links for Week 5.
  • Make your site usable by putting yourself in the student's position. What will they see first? How will they know what to do next? Can they get the software needed to read that PowerPoint file? Can you follow your instructions for posting discussion threads? Be empathetic and do real-world testing (perhaps even a pilot) of your course site.
  • Rough out your content and structure offline on your local computer before uploading it. This will help you organize things consistently.

Resources for Accessible Web Design

Because the Worldwide Web is often a highly graphical, visual environment, most accessibility concerns relate to making information more accessible to persons for whom this visual component is not useful. However, additional accessibility concerns relate to those with auditory, mobility, and cognitive impairments. The following sites contain a wealth of information on designing pages for accessibility. The field is so large that considerable time may be required to come to an understanding of the issues, challenges, and solutions.

Developing Accessible Documents and Media:

Accessibility in Distance Learning:

Services at FSU:

General Accessiblity Standards:

You may also find the Chronicle of Higher Education's 2011 Profhacker article "Accessibility in a Digital Age 1.5" useful for additional references.



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