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Best Practices in Accessibility

Accessibility practices in the classroom extend to more than digital resources. There are requirements for physical environments spelled out in the Americans with Disabilities Act, which we will leave to administration, facilities, and other concerned parties et al to meet. There are the services and procedures put in place for individuals as met through documented accommodations, such as those supported by Student Disability Services. And there are also the best practices that are everyone’s responsibility. These practices benefit all of us, not just a subset of the population (“those who use …,” “those who have …”). In considering accessibility, we work toward making sure everyone is “afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services … in an equally effective and equally integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use” (Office for Civil Rights, 2013)*

Outlined here are the best practices everyone can employ to reduce potential barriers and give rise to access (perception of information), engagement, and understanding. They are paramount to accessible communication, interactions, resources, and services in the classroom—physical and virtual, synchronous and asynchronous. 

Presentations, Including Lecture Delivery

Students and faculty alike should consider more than just their subject matter and the design of a presentation’s resources. Whether face-to-face or recorded, in person or online, there are certain preparations and behaviors in delivery that will make for a better, more thoughtful, more inclusive, and more accessible experience for everyone.


  • Distribute any supporting files (including slides, if they are used) in advance so the participants can make sure they have access during the presentation. Access may be unintentionally restricted by broken links, wrong file permissions, or failure to meet WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) success criteria

  • Provide or reference tools and other resources for background knowledge, clarifying terminology, etc., so everyone can experience the presentation with the same level of understanding. This opportunity for scaffolded learning is an important part of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and understanding is an important part of access!

  • Familiarize yourself with the environment (online tool and/or room) from which you will present so that you can 

    • remove or reduce environmental distractions, including background noise and poor lighting;

    • familiarize yourself with any accessibility features that you might manage, such as turning on automatic captioning or using a lavalier microphone for greater audible clarity.

  • Prepare an outline for yourself to maintain the logical flow of the presentation. This helps keep things on track, providing clarity toward understanding.

  • Develop your presentation in sections or segments (aim for 10 to 20 minutes in duration), with each having its own focus and objectives. This allows for sustainable cognitive load and provides an opportunity for deeper engagement.


  • Keep background noise to a minimum.

  • Make certain lighting is sufficient for any in-person attendees taking notes.

  • Avoid having a light source behind you which usually puts your face in a shadow, making it difficult for anyone who might rely on facial cues including lip-readers.

  • Speak toward the audience and/or camera and avoid moving around too much to assist lip-readers and reduce distractions.

  • Use a microphone if the physical environment is set up for it (e.g., if not everyone can hear your unamplified voice, or if not everyone has a clear line of sight to see your face from where they are positioned).

  • Speak clearly and evenly, with a volume that considers the furthest person and at a pace that considers translations (automated or human).

  • Take the time to explain a concept or spell out an acronym the first time it is used, especially if it may be unfamiliar to your audience.

  • Verbalize complex equations or other graphics being displayed so they can be effectively communicated to anyone with a visual impairment and understood better by everyone. For example, instead of saying, “Let’s discuss this heat map,” try saying, “Let’s discuss this heat map of Maryland that shows population health risk scores across the state.”

  • Verbalize all projected words and phrases if the same communication is not otherwise narrated. For example, it is OK to simply read the slide aloud if you are not going to be relaying the same information in your discussion.

  • Relay key points of all graphics, including any text on a projected image, conveying information necessary to fully comprehend the presentation. 

  • Direct audience attention to the parts of projected images that should receive focus and describe the details. For example, “In this microscopic image, focus your attention to the right side of this slide, where I’d like us to talk about the magnified cross-sections of bone….”

  • Describe any animations that are not purely decorative.

  • Describe annotations (i.e., whiteboard activities) and other actions that you perform.

    • For annotations, describe what is being modified and how. If a specific tool, such as an X or a star, is selected, include the tool in your description.

    • If you are going to stop projecting, sharing your screen, or opt to “hide” a slide, state this. Also announce when you will start sharing again.

  • For all media used in the presentation, make sure to follow the best practices for accessible digital materials, aligning with WCAG success criteria.

  • Record presentations so they might be transcribed, reviewed, experienced without distraction, or otherwise used as a learning resource.

Instructional Methods, Beyond the Lecture

  • Plan for accommodations. Learn the support systems the School has to help faculty in meeting any documented student accommodations, especially those that cannot be addressed impromptu. This might include understanding how to use Zoom to assign a third-party (human) captioning service. See the Student Disability Services (SDS) to learn more.

  • Follow the Best Practices in UDL, including providing multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression. The flexibility of choice broadens access for everyone. 

  • Follow the Best Practices in JEDI, including setting the tone and leading by example in using preferred pronouns, avoiding drawing undue and unnecessary attention to a student or situation, and reminding students of mental health and other services.

  • In the course syllabus, provide accessibility statements (or links to statements) regarding the accessibility of any equipment or third-party instructional technologies that will be used beyond CoursePlus (the learning management system). For example, "VoiceThread provides a way to participate in the platform’s presentations with screen readers and other assistive technologies using VoiceThread Universal. Users are encouraged to learn about all the accessibility features of VoiceThread on their support site."

  • In the course syllabus, provide guidelines for and expectations of students’ responsibilities toward accessibility compliance in completing the curriculum. For instance, state rules of engagement for discussions so that everyone is given equal opportunity, and request that students submit only documents that can pass a basic Microsoft or Adobe accessibility check.

  • For all resources you and students create and share in the course, make sure to follow the best practices for accessible digital materials, aligning with WCAG success criteria. This includes, but is not limited to, students’ providing accurate captions or transcriptions to any audio or video they share.

  • Present content in multiple media formats. In doing this, you are not only allowing for student choice (a hallmark of UDL), but you are also proactively considering potential barriers to access. Often, especially with older media such as a scanned image of a journal article, content is not accessible, and converting media (that is not your own) for accessible distribution is a potential violation of copyright. By providing multiple paths that relay the same information, students may find one format accessible to them where another is not.

  • Provide student-to-student and student-to-faculty communication options, including in-person and virtual office hours. When communicating online, consider synchronous and asynchronous opportunities. 

  • Provide options for active learning, including constructivist (student-led) learning as well as demonstrations of comprehension. In addition to the universal benefits of providing choice, keep in mind that not every student will be able to engage in every physical or digital activity. Be proactive in your planning.

  • Consider flexible deadlines and eliminating timed activities to allow for interruptions in students’ resources and environments (such as secure online connections or a quiet space), attention, and any undocumented or unreported need for additional time.

  • Make instructions clear and communicate expectations. Reduce any potential confusion, unnecessary time spent, and extraneous cognitive load on understanding an activity’s “how” or “what.” Allow students to instead put forth their energy in meeting the learning objectives.

  • Provide meaningful feedback so students have a clear understanding of a concept or issue, and so they might draw relevant conclusions to deepen comprehension and analysis.

Accessible Digital Materials

As a start, it is expected that all faculty and staff follow the Universitywide guidelines outlined in Creating Universally Accessible Materials: Expectations of Faculty. But beyond “the start,” here are several more techniques aligning with the WCAG success criteria that are recommended for editing universally accessible materials: 

  • Save all files with DOCUMENT PROPERTIES. At the very least, take a moment to enter appropriate and logical information in the Title and Keyword (Tags) metadata fields.

  • Do not include any printing, copying, or editing restrictions on your files. And if you are working with a preexisting document, make sure to remove the restrictions before saving your changes. These security measures may interfere with other technologies’ ability to translate the full document for the end user.

  • Use built-in editor tools to give a document proper STRUCTURE and FORMATTING. Document structure is the scaffolding that organizes the parts of a document (sections, paragraphs, bulleted lists, etc.) so that it appears a certain way and is easier to understand and navigate by both humans (end users) and technologies.

    • Use placeholders from layouts in a PowerPoint slide master (from a template or customized).

    • Use styles to insert descriptive headings to emphasize separate sections of a Word document.

    • Use shortcuts for bullets and numbered lists, increased/decreased indents, columns, etc., in all editors, even CoursePlus' rich text editors.

    • Use shortcuts to insert true headers and footers.

    • Do not use empty lines to space paragraphs or other blocks of text; instead use Line Spacing Options (e.g., "Add Space Before Paragraph"). 

  • Verify your document’s READING ORDER. This is the order in which a document would be "read" (or translated) by any technologies, including screen readers. If you are creating a form, you will need to verify its "tab order." If you are working in Microsoft PowerPoint, you should start with slide layouts whose placeholders are already in the correct reading order, but you should also always verify the reading order after editing any slide.

  • Include ALTERNATIVE TEXT anytime you include an image, graph, chart, complex table, or other nontext object that is not purely decorative. The alternative text is a brief statement that summarizes the nontext object, in context, to someone who cannot see nor otherwise understand the object.

  • Never use COLOR ALONE to distinguish something or convey meaning. If you are creating a chart or other display of data, make certain something other than color, such as labels or shape variations, distinguishes the elements in the data.

  • Check that the CONTRAST RATIO (light to dark) is sufficient for overlapping and adjacent items, including cell shading and the text in a table.

  • Only use MEANINGFUL TEXT FOR ALL HYPERLINKS, unless the URL (web address) is the meaningful text. A person should understand where the link navigates to without having to click on it. The end user should only see a web address when it is important to the context, such as in a citation. If an image serves as the linked object, make sure to indicate the purpose of the link in the Alt Text.

  • Consider the CLARITY OF YOUR FONT and the methods you choose for emphasizing any text.

    • Avoid "fancy" fonts that may be difficult to discern and may not translate well across technologies. 

    • Limit the variation of font families in a single document. (Arial, Tahoma, and Calibri are common nondecorative, sans-serif fonts. Times New Roman is a safe, standard serif font.) 

    • Try to keep the font size to at least 12 points for documents that will be distributed or 24 points for files that will be projected (e.g., PowerPoint slides used in an in-person lecture).

    • Do not emphasize text using only color. Instead, consider combining color variations with text decoration such as italics, bold, or underline.

    • Learn more about font accessibility.

  • Use your editor’s built-in tools to include PAGE NUMBERS (or SLIDE NUMBERS), consistent in appearance, for predictable navigation.

  • Use UNIQUE SLIDE TITLES (in PowerPoint) and unique section titles (within a nested heading) toward clear navigation and understanding. Slides with the same title can be distinguished by adding, for example, a dash after the repeated title followed by a sequential number. And if a section title bears repeating, it should not be within the same nested hierarchy. For example, if “Group Members” is set to a “Heading 3” style, do not use those same words as a heading until there is a new “Heading 2” style in the same document.

  • Use your editor’s built-in tools to insert TABLES, making certain of the following:

  • Try to AVOID USING ONLY IMAGES OF A CHART, GRAPH, OR DATA. If you cannot embed or link the original data directly or if you must use the original image, then make certain to properly cite the original source, including a DOI (Digital Object Identifier) if one is available.

  • When writing equations in Microsoft programs, use the MICROSOFT EQUATION EDITOR. Outside of Microsoft, try to use programmatic formatting that can be easily converted to MathML, recognized as the most universally accessible format for math. LaTex, MathType, and the Microsoft Equation Editor are some of the recommended tools for this.

  • Repeat any important information contained in a document’s header, footer, watermark, or background in the document’s main content. Many screen readers will not read a document's background or secondary information, so it is important to include this information elsewhere.

To learn even more about making accessible materials, visit our page on Authoring Accessible Materials.

  1. *Burgstahler, Sheryl. (2017, January 30) “ADA cCompliance for oOnline cCourse dDesign.” EDUCAUSE Review., 16 Dec. 2021,

  2. Office for Civil Rights. (2013, February 28). Resolution agreement: South Carolina Technical College System, OCR Compliance Review No. 11-11-6002. U.S. Department of Education.

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