Canvas Spotlight

Incorporate Accessible Principles in Your Courses

Last updated on May 9, 2024

Imagine you’re cultivating a garden. You’ve planted vegetables, herbs, and flowers of all kinds. Most of them seem to be doing very well, but some are struggling to grow and thrive. Rather than scold the plant for failing to grow, you would instead want to understand why it was struggling. Too little sun? Too much water? Crowding from other plants? The fact that it can’t succeed under the same conditions doesn’t mean it has any less potential and you want to give it the best chance you can.

Consider your students in the same way. Many of them may succeed and make great progress in your course, but some others may wilt under the same circumstances. As an educator, you want your students to thrive as much as any gardener does their plants. Removing barriers for your students to grow is the guiding principle behind accessibility and designing accessible courses.

Every student in your course should be given the same opportunity to succeed, and that means creating an equivalent experience for each of them. Ensuring that all of your students learn and demonstrate their mastery of the material is the goal, and every obstacle to their ability to do so should be removed to give them the best possible chance.

Creating an accessible course involves so many different considerations. This spotlight will cover some basic steps you can take first and resources you can use to learn more about accessibility. We’ll go over how to edit captions for Yuja videos, add alt-text to images, and create accessible pages in Canvas.

Best Practices

What is Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?

  • UDL is an education framework with the goal of providing excellent learning experiences to students of all backgrounds, abilities, and learning styles.
  • The framework focuses on the importance of providing multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression. With multiple avenues for success, students have a better chance of finding one that suits their abilities and preferences.
  • Please see the UDL Guidelines for a complete breakdown of the different elements of the framework and how you can implement it in your course.

What expectations are there for course accessibility?

  • Any course at MSU Denver should deliver an equivalent experience to all students. This means that no student should be unable to participate in some element of the course due to a disability.
  • All courses must comply with federal accessibility legislation, like Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • For more information, please see MSU Denver’s Accessibility Statement.

What are some features of accessible courses?

  • All video content should have captions, which are used to transcribe audio as text. Videos uploaded to the Yuja video platform are automatically transcribed, but as regulations require accurate captions, they should be reviewed and revised.
  • Images in your course should always be appropriately tagged with alt-text, which is what students using screen readers will hear in place of that image. Images that are purely decorative, in that they don’t convey any information, do not need alt-text, but should be marked as decorative.
  • Text in your course should follow basic formatting rules to ensure its compatibility with all kinds of software, but especially screen readers. This means appropriate use of headings, color, and font settings.

How can I improve accessibility in my course?

  • The rest of this spotlight will cover some very basic steps, but there is much more to accessibility to learn.
  • You can participate in CTLD’s Proactive Accessibility Certification program, which includes six 90-minute workshops that cover topics such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), web and social media accessibility, and more.
  • For those teaching online courses, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are an excellent resource to understand what kinds of accessibility issues can arise in an online environment.
  • The Center for Teaching, Learning, and Design offers a Course Development Cycle where you’ll work with an instructional designer to improve all aspects of your course, including accessibility.

Let’s walk through it together

Edit Auto-Captions in Yuja

All video content must include accurate captions for students with auditory impairments. For content you create, like video introductions or lectures, uploading to Yuja will generate captions automatically. While they are often good, they are rarely perfect. You should review and edit the auto-captions for accuracy after uploading a video.

  1. Open a New Browser Window.
  2. Type in the address bar.
  3. Hit Enter on your keyboard to navigate to the webpage.
  4. Click the Drop-Down Menu next to the Login button in the top right
  5. Select the middle option, Metropolitan State University of Denver SSO.
  6. Click the Login button.
  7. Click the My Media tab on the left navigation bar. 
  8. Navigate to the Video that you’d like to edit the captions of.
  9. Hover your mouse pointer Over the Video that you would like to select.
  10. Select Edit from the menu that appears over the right side of the video thumbnail.
    • A new window will open with the player and editing options available.
  11. Click the CC icon that appears in the bottom right corner of the video.
  12. Click along the Timeline.
  13. Edit Captions, as you see fit.
  14. Click Save at the top of the screen when you’re satisfied with your edits.
    • A dialog box appears with a few options. Notice the Title info box now has the title of the video, but with “_edited” appended to the end. You can do one of the following options:
      • Delete that extra info “_edited“, and click on Replace Existing Video to save over the video you just edited. We recommend this method in most circumstances.
      • Click on the Save as New Video button, If you’d like to save your edits as a new video, and keep the original one.

Related Resources

Best Practices for Writing Captions – Please reference this guide for guidance on how to appropriately caption videos, including cases of multiple speakers, background noise, and more.

Add Alt-Text to Images in Canvas

  1. Go to MSU Denver’s Faculty and Staff Hub.
  2. Click Canvas in the Teaching & Learning section.
  3. Log in to your Canvas Account.
  4. Select the Course you’d like to work in.
  5. Click on Modules from the course navigation menu on the left.
  6. Click on the Title of the Page that contains the image you want to add alt text to.
  7. Click on Edit (pencil icon) at the top right.
  8. Click on an Image to highlight it.
  9. Click Image Options text that pops up.
  10. Locate the Image Options window displayed on the right.
  11. Type the Alt Text in the box under Alt-Text.
  12. Click Done.

Create Accessible Canvas Pages

There are many considerations when writing in Canvas to ensure that a screen reader will accurately read the content and students can navigate the page easily. These include using headings appropriately, using the list functions rather than just typing in numbers or dashes, and formatting text in the right size, color, and style.


Headings organize content on a page and can be used hierarchically to create sections.

  1. Click the Paragraph drop-down menu in the toolbar.
  2. Click which Heading you want to use.
    • Always start at Heading 2, Heading 1 is reserved for the title of the page.
    • Proceed sequentially down the list for sub-headings. 
    • Never skip a sub-heading level when descending. For example, do not put a Heading 4 beneath a Heading 2.


Lists should always be formatted using either the ordered or unordered list options. Ordered lists convey sequence, such as for steps or rankings. Unordered lists simply provide the information, such as a list of readings or materials.

  1. Click the Lists icon in the toolbar (by default it will look like bullet points).
  2. Click one of the Bullet Points options along the top for an unordered list.
  3. Click one of the Numbered/Lettered options along the bottom for an unordered list.


Writing should be formatted to ensure legibility for all kinds of devices. You can use the built in Accessibility Checker to identify basic issues.

  • Font size should be at least 9 pt. Anything else may be illegible, especially on smaller screens.
  • The contrast ratio between text and background should be at least 7. You can measure contrast using the free Contrast Checker from
  • Text should only be underlined if it is a link to another website or page. 
  • Do not use color alone to convey meaning.