Why Does Accessibility Matter?

When your course materials — readings, videos, slides, websites, etc. — are accessible, all students benefit. Students often use several modalities to access and engage with course materials such as phone, tablet, laptop or desktop, and may or may not have access to reliable and stable internet access. Additionally students with disabilities are able to engage with your course materials without any barriers, often using assistive technologies such as screen readers or closed captioning. To best support all learners and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is important to include accessibility throughout your course.


Headings are important for someone who navigates the computer from their keyboard to quickly move through content on a page.

  • Heading styles identify only one H1 (typically the title or main subject of the page) on each page.
  • Heading styles H2-H6 are used within content to identify subsections.
  • Headings follow a logical nesting order and do not exceed six levels.

Organize Content Using Pre-Formatted Headings in D2L


Images, graphics, diagrams, charts, and tables are key communication tools and can greatly enhance the learning experience. All images should include alternative text to describe the image to someone who uses a screen reader. More complicated images such as diagrams, charts, and tables should include alternative text (alt-text) to describe the diagram as well as any text included in the diagram. Review guidelines about making complex diagrams accessible.

Note: At times an accommodation in discussion with the Disability Resource Center may be needed.

Alt-text should convey information about an image as well as the intended meaning or use of the image and any included text or visual information. For example, if you include an image of a cake to wish someone happy birthday, your alt- text might say, “happy birthday! vanilla cake with frosting and 5 candles”.

  • Images include alt-text.
  • If applicable, all text within the image is included in the alt-text.
  • If using, all diagrams (e.g., flowcharts, graphs, etc.) provide alt-text that conveys the same information as the diagram.
  • It is recommended to convert any images of tables to readable tables. Once converted, tables include headings.
  • Check if applicable: All mathematical equations are written using mathematical software and are not images. It is not recommended to include images of mathematical equations: You can write mathematical equations using real text in D2L using the Mathtype Editor. If you need additional assistance with writing mathematical equations you can reach out to the Disability Resource Center about getting access to EquatIO, an institutionally licensed mathematical equation writing software.

Add Headings to Table Rows and Columns in D2L
Add Alternative Text to Images in D2L


Color in a digital environment requires sufficient contrast between the foreground and background for text. Additionally, color should not be used as the sole means to communicate information. For example, “all assignments in red are due on Thursday” would not be accessible. This example would limit people who do not see the color red or who use screen readers. Instead, use bold or italic to emphasize or highlight important information.

Use Appropriate Font Sizes, Colors, and Contrast in D2L


There are two types of commonly used lists in content authoring: ordered and unordered lists. Ordered lists include numbers or letters from the alphabet (a, b, c) for information that is chronological or hierarchical using the list tool. A common mistake is typing the number or letter to create a list. This does not create a structural list and can not be used in navigation by a screen reader user. Unordered (bulleted) is the second commonly used list for information with no ranking or order attached.

  • Lists should use a structural formatting – use either the numbered list tool or bulleted list tool.
  • Lists should not be the sole mode for formatting instructional content (i.e. lecture/content outlines – e.g accessible headings are used for major sections).

Use Formatted Lists in D2L

Document Formatting & Layout

You may use different types of documents in your course materials such as PowerPoint, PDFs, Word Docs, Google Docs, etc. Consistency between documents is important for readability and findability. Here are a few guidelines to consider as you develop your course materials:

  • PDF documents should be selectable, searchable, properly tagged, and the reading order is accurate. This means that PDFs must be scanned using OCR (optical character recognition), not as images. You can scan pdfs with OCR in the PSU library which allows each letter and word in a PDF to be read by a screen reader and for text to be searchable.
  • Underlined text should not be used for emphasis as it can be mistaken for a link (use bold and italics instead).
  • Documents through your course should be consistent in style and navigation. Document titles should be easy to understand. This includes file names and heading 1s within each document.

Accessibility Checkers

  • Accessibility Checkers should be run, and all issues, errors and warnings addressed. (WebAim’s WAVE tool is a good choice.)
  • If using pages in D2L you can run the accessibility checker to identify accessibility errors within your course materials.

For help creating accessible materials with other software, check out PSU’s Digital Accessibility Guides and Resources.

Learn More Elsewhere

Accessibility at PSU

This article was last updated on Mar 22, 2021 @ 11:24 am.

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