Accessibility and Accommodations in Canvas


Penn’s Digital Accessibility Policy states,

“All students must be able to obtain information fully, equally, and independently, regardless of disability. Faculty are key to ensuring this is possible.”

As an instructor, you can help ensure students have equitable access to information by understanding the many different types of learners at Penn and ways you can serve them. Keep in mind when creating your course that students may need to access your course content in multiple ways. Students may require screen readers, closed captioning on videos, sign-language interpretation, and extended time on assignments and exams, among other accommodations.

General Course Design Best Practices

Following general best practices for online teaching and course design will benefit all your learners, including those with disabilities.

Penn’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) advises how to organize your Canvas site so students can easily navigate and find all the information they need to succeed in your course. The Universal Design for Learning Guidelines provides some basic principles you can use to create an accessible course for all learners.

You can also lessen the need for specific accommodations for students by designing a flexible course with pathways for students to catch up if they fall behind.

Web Accessibility Design Principles

In addition to general course design best practices, there are specific actions you can take when creating your course to make it accessible for students with disabilities.  

Canvas navigation is designed with accessibility in mind, and Canvas provides tools in the Rich Text Content Editor to allow you to create your course content according to general Web Accessibility Design guidelines. One of the tools you can use in Canvas is the built-in accessibility checker. This will help ensure your new page is accessible – as you work.

Here is what the accessibility checker icon looks like at the bottom right of the Rich Text Content Editor:

Accessibility checker icon found at the bottom right of the rich content editor

The Rich Text Content Editor’s accessibility checker will assist you in quickly remediating any issues it finds on the page by identifying issues and explaining how to fix them.

Web Accessibility Best Practices

Please keep the following best practices in mind as you build your site.

Short, descriptive alternative text to provide context for images or videos.

Good alternative text explains why the content is there, what information it is offering, and what purpose it fulfills; for example: “search” is the correct alt text for the magnifying glass icon, not magnifying glass.

Headers to organize the content on the web page into understandable sections.

Headers should not be used to format text quickly (make text bigger or smaller) on a page.

Plain readable text for URLs.

Avoid “click here” and use “learn more about….” so students know where the link leads.

Design with high-contrast colors; avoid the use of red or green.

Avoid using color alone to point to an object on the page, such as “see the highlighted text.”

Text in text boxes, images as images.

Do not use pictures of text or screenshots of problems. These are inaccessible to screen readers.

Tables for information only.
  • Use tables only when needed and ensure that all parts of the table are adequately labeled. Avoid using abbreviations in tables, if possible.
  • Never use a table as a design element.
Caption videos.

Use Panopto’s automatic machine captioning if professional captioning is unavailable.


The Weingarten Center provides services for students who self-identify with a disability in order to ensure equal access to all University programs, activities, and services. The process begins when a student requests an accommodation, provides documentation of their condition, and meets with a Disability Specialist. Students who receive accommodations work with the Disability Services staff to coordinate their academic accommodations as well as accessible housing, dining, communication, and technology. 

In some cases, instructors may be asked by Weingarten (Disability Services) to implement accommodations for completing coursework. Common accommodations that instructors need to set up in Canvas include:

If a student discloses that they require an accommodation, please have them contact the Weingarten Center for assistance. Once the student has contacted Weingarten, everyone can work together to ensure that the student receives support for their course.


Last Updated: 15 Sep 2023