Module 6: Canvas Accessibility  Canvas icon

Last updated:  5/8/20

Canvas is the Learning Management System (LMS) that has been adopted by DVC, as well as the majority of community colleges in the California Community College system.  Both online and face-to-face courses use Canvas as a means to facilitate learning. 

Canvas is built on a platform of accessible code.  However, like any web-based system, the person who inputs information into it must also follow basic accessibility best practices.  In other words, the "shell" is already accessible, and it is up to us to ensure that what we put in that shell is also accessible.  The following strategies will teach you best practices for content created within Canvas (i.e. not uploaded from Word or PowerPoint).  For accessibility tips for Word and PowerPoint content, see Module 2 and Module 3

This tutorial focuses on five accessibility best practices.  Click the links below to skip to your desired content.

Add alternative text to images

Add styles to text

Caption videos

Identify headers in tables

Run the Canvas Accessibility Checker

Additional resources


Add alternative text to images

Alternative text, or alt text, is text embedded within the code of your Canvas page that describes an image.  Screen-reading software can detect the alternate text and voice it for students with visual impairments. 

  1. Within your Canvas course, navigate to the page which contains the image.
  2. Click the Edit button, which will open the Rich Content Editor (RCE).
    Edit button

  3. For the purposes of this tutorial, we are going to assume that an image is already inserted into your page. Click on the image to select it, then click the "Embed Image" button.  Embed image

  4. The "Insert/Edit Image" box will appear.  Locate the "Attributes" area and the box next to "Alt text".  Type in a description for your image (e.g. Student sitting at computer). For a purely decorative image, you can check the box beneath the Alt text box. This will hide the decorative image from screen-reading software and will not be voiced.  
    Insert/Edit image

  5. Click Update, and your alternate text will be saved.  You won't be able to see it, but it's there!


Add styles to text

Using styles is a way to "tag" elements in your page in order to define whether the text is a Header 2, Header 3, Header 4, or a paragraph. We use these tags in the same way we think of an outline; the title of the page is typically Header 1, while main headings are Header 2, subtitles are Header 3, and so on.  All text that is not a heading can be considered "paragraph" text. 

For the purposes of this tutorial, we will add styles to text that already exists on the page. 

  1. Select the text with your mouse, and then select the proper header from the drop-down menu.  Use the following style guide when determining which style to use:
    1.  Main heading would be Header 2
    2.  Subtitles would be Header 3
    3.  Sub-subtitles would be Header 4
    4.  Any regular text would be "Paragraph"Add styles to text


Caption videos

Canvas recently released its own video creation tool called Canvas Studio which can auto-caption on demand. Crystala Button, Technology Training & Development Coordinator, has put together this wonderful guide for getting started with Canvas Studio, including information on how to edit auto-captions for accuracy.  


Identify headers in tables

For the purposes of this tutorial, we will assume there is already a table on your page.

  1. To identify column headers, select the relevant cells in the table. In the Table menu, select "Cell properties". Cell properties

  2. In "Cell properties", set the Cell type to "Header cell", and in the Scope menu, select the "Column" option.Cell type and scope menu

  3. To identify row headers, repeat steps 1 and 2 but in the Scope menu, select the "Row" option.Scope menu row option


Run the Accessibility Checker

Canvas has an Accessibility Checker button that will scan your page for some access errors.  It will check for alternate text and table captions, but it does not check for styles or table headers.  Make sure to check those two elements yourself.  

  1. On your page, click "Edit", then click the "Check Accessibility" button on the far right corner. Accessibility checker button

  2. On the right side of your screen, a window will appear which addresses each accessibility issue the checker found. It will allow you fix the problem within the window and then click "Apply" and "Next" to move through each issue.


Additional resources  

The following is a compendium of external resources related to making your Canvas content accessible for students with disabilities.  

  1. Canvas has published accessibility tutorials for specific Canvas features:
  2. Many vendors publish a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), a standardized document which evaluates a product's accessibility in accordance with Section 508 standards. Vendors note how aspects of their product support each criterion under 508. Because it is a self-disclosing document, it often behooves the purchasing entity to test the product themselves to ensure the VPAT is accurate. View the Canvas VPAT

  3. Northwestern University published an article titled "Five ways to make your Canvas course more accessible". It includes links to other external sites for reference and has helpful videos for adding headers and alternate text to images within the Rich Content Editor.

  4. The University of Minnesota's Accessible U includes "Canvas Accessibility Considerations". This site focuses largely on design, offering valuable tips for making your Canvas course inviting and accessible for all types of students from the landing page to the individual course materials.

  5. Penn State's ACCESSibility project includes Canvas tutorials for many of the same topics covered by the other sites, but also has information on writing accessible math equations in the Rich Content Editor.


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