Accessibility Guidelines

Table of Contents

Web Content Accessible Design Principles: POUR

  • Perceivable: web-based content and interface components must be presented in ways that all users can perceive. This takes into consideration the effect of colour, size, typeface and sound.
  • Operable: all users must be able to simply and accurately manipulate all interface and navigation components, taking in account how they operate their computers.
  • Understandable: content and interfaces must be clear so that all people can understand a website. Consistency of interface elements, intuition in appearance and operation, and plain language are part of this principle.
  • Robust: robust websites can be reliably interpreted by a wide variety of browers, devices and assistive technologies.

The following tips and advice are provided as support to improve accessibility of course content published within the institutional online learning system:

Course Materials

Any files you upload to U of T’s Academic Toolbox, Quercus (Canvas) will retain your original coding and formatting. It is Canvas’s responsibility to make sure that their navigation, communication tools and other utilities are accessible for people with disabilities, but the system does not check the content uploaded by instructors.

Course materials, including MSWord documents, multimedia presentations and links, etc. should allow all students, including those with disabilities, to access your course information.

Here is a list of quick tips to improve accessibility:

Images and Multimedia

  • MSWord files containing images can be easy for sighted users to understand, but pose problems for users who make use of screen readers. Use of titles and written descriptions help provide access to those who are “listening” to pages.
  • If you add images using the Canvas HTML editor function to be sure to add the ALT text for the image.
  • PDF files need extra care when authoring to ensure ALT text and text flow allow reading by users of adaptive technology. PDF files that are scanned images of pages are not readable by adaptive software. For more information see PDF Accessibility.
  • Multimedia content (such as video files) can be accessed by students with hearing disabilities once they have been captioned. For audio and video as an alternative you may also provide the transcript in a separate text file next to the link to the media file.


  • Avoid using very small font sizes
  • Be sure that students who are colour-blind can use your site. Do not rely on colour to indicate meaning. For example, to not specify that assignments currently due by listing them in red.
  • To accommodate students with learning disabilities, it is helpful to “chunk” your information using blocks of texts and headings, and to keep links organized.

Content and Organization

  • When including hyperlinks use text that makes sense when read out of context. For example, avoid “click here.”
  • Improve the organization of your page by including headings, lists and consistent structure.

The Microsoft Immersive Reader button will appear in the top right of all Pages and Assignments in your course. This feature can present Pages in a more accessible format, including audio readings of the text. More information can be found here.


Storyline and Captivate Learning Object

We have developed a set of materials to support those involved in the development of online interactive learning objects using Articulate Storyline (Adobe Captivate to come). These self-directed learning resources provide guidance for designing for compliance of interactive learning objects with WCAG 2.0 AA Web Accessibility standards.

Course Tools

Though the core functions of Canvas are technically compliant with US legislation, the communication utilities such as the discussion board and the chat feature can be troublesome for users with disabilities. The discussion board is also difficult to access using a screen reader such as JAWS or text-to-speech software such as Kurzweil. For screenreader users, the complex format, including an expandable and collapsible menu for each “thread,” can become confusing, particularly when one thread has numerous replies that all use the same subject line. In addition to this, users may have difficulty using the menu which can be expanded or collapsed. Be aware that students may need extra coaching or support to become oriented in the online environment.

Course Management

The customization options available in Canvas allow you to control various elements of the course shell appearance, such as the navigation bar on the left and the colour choices. It is important to remember that some students may have difficulty working with certain appearance settings.

  • Students with low vision might have trouble with low contrast colours. It is a good idea to make sure the text colour and background colour are distinct so information can be easily read.
  • You have the option of changing the sidebar links from text to images (buttons). Images with text on them might pose problems for students who use screen magnifiers, as the text may become blurry and pixilated when magnified.


The assessment feature in Canvas makes quizzing and grading easy, but students with disabilities might face certain challenges with these assessments.

  • The quizzes, which may be timed, are more difficult to manage using screen readers or other adaptive technologies
  • Students with learning disabilities might require more time to finish certain assessments, or may have difficulty with forced completion

As an appropriate accommodation for their disability, some students registered with the Accessibility Services may be allowed extra time to complete quizzes and tests, or other changes to the parameters.  

Accessibility Resources

Other resources if you are interested in learning more about accessibility:

For more information on Ontario Legislation see the University of Toronto AODA web site.

Teaching Assistants' Training Program

For information on graduate student and Teaching Assistant professional development and job training, please visit the TATP for resources, events and more.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Enroll in the SoTL Hub to access resources, share ideas and engage with your U of T community.

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