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Creating Universally Accessible Materials: Expectations of Faculty

Accessibility is a public health issue. Having the opportunity to access, use, and understand information, applications, and other resources is a determinant in every individual’s quality of life. Furthermore, it is a fundamental human right. Taking a proactive approach, Johns Hopkins University has made a commitment toward accessibility for all of our constituents, and in all of our environments: physical and digital. Faculty have a significant role to play in achieving this.

Universitywide guidelines require all new course materials be digitally accessible as of January 1, 2021. This includes all resources authored by faculty and distributed to or otherwise shared with students. (Note that while it is a best practice to share only accessible resources, anything created or shared before 2021 does not fall within the current mandate.)

To define “digitally accessible,” Johns Hopkins follows WCAG 2.1 AA (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) success criteria put forth by the World Wide Web Consortium. These success criteria will help make our learning environment one that provides equitable opportunity and usability for all individuals, and enable us to reach and interact with the most people possible without the need for further adaptation.


The expectations toward meeting these guidelines are that faculty will, at a minimum, embrace a set of best practices. Of course, faculty are encouraged to do more than this to grow their comprehension and implementation of digital accessibility. As a start, they can go beyond the minimum expectations to learn more about Authoring Accessible Materials. Additionally, faculty may attend a class or workshop specific to accessibility or the related discipline of Universal Design for Learning. Another opportunity is for faculty to familiarize themselves with this simplified WCAG checklist maintained by WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind).

A stand-alone PDF document of these faculty expectations is also available.

Best Practices

All Johns Hopkins faculty are asked to embrace the following best practices as initial steps toward creating universally accessible materials.

Skip to Checklist

Use Templates

Whenever possible, use Word and PowerPoint templates designed in such a way to promote the use of recommended contrast ratios, alternative (alt) text for images, accessible fonts, headings, and logical reading order. In addition to the accessible templates offered by the School, Microsoft Office has several available accessible templates

Use Built-in Tools, Including Styles, to Maintain Structure and Formatting

Use tools that are built into your software (e.g., PowerPoint and Word) for formatting such as heading levels, bulleted and numbered lists, paragraph spacing, and alignment. 

Consider Color Contrast Ratios and Never Rely on Color Alone

When you use color in your documents, for instance, text written across a solid-colored slide background, be mindful of the contrast ratio (passing for level AA) of overlapping objects. And whether you are emphasizing text in a paragraph, working in a table cell, or editing a chart or other visual, do not use color alone to identify an object.

Provide Alternative Text for Images (and Other Nontext Elements)

For any image or other nontext element that is not purely decorative, provide appropriate alternative text that is succinct and conveys the purpose or meaning of the nontext element in context to the rest of the document, including using appropriate terminology for the intended audience.

Use Accessibility Checkers

Use the accessibility checkers that are built into your software (such as Microsoft Office’s tool and Adobe Acrobat Pro’s accessibility check tool) whenever they are available.

Provide Captions and Alternative Accessible Formats for Video and Audio

For both video and audio content, share alternative accessible formats of the media. This includes transcripts and accessible versions of any slide presentations. Video should include captioning or interactive (time-based) transcripts. For all synchronous and asynchronous video production, when possible, use self-recording tools with built-in captioning or interactive transcription, such as Panopto’s automatic speech recognition (ASR) or Zoom’s audio transcription for cloud recordings. If built-in transcription is not available, use Microsoft Stream for transcription or another third-party service. 

Note that while the quality of automatic transcription and captioning services is constantly improving, their outputs will not meet the required accommodation for an individual with a documented disability. Discuss meeting this accommodation with Student Disability Services.

Become Familiar with University Resources

Look for upcoming training and take a few minutes to review the Office of Institutional Equity’s Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility site.


Accessibility Checklist for Johns Hopkins Faculty

Keep the following in mind when creating accessible instructional content.

Accessibility Item
How to Achieve?

Use accessible templates, adhering to placeholders and maintaining reading order.

Built-in Tools

Use built-in tools for styles (Heading 1, Heading 2, etc.) and layout (bullets, numbering, etc.).

Alt Text

Provide alt text (succinct, alternative descriptions) for images and complex nontext elements.


Avoid using color as the only means of distinguishing information.

Contrast Ratio

Be mindful of color contrast ratios of text against a background and when objects overlap.


Make hyperlinks meaningful by linking only text that indicates the linked resource or destination. Use full URLs (Universal Resource Locators) only when that is the meaningful text.


Use tables only for organizing data (and never for layout). Make sure that tables have header rows and visible borders.


Use only accessible, tagged PDFs and never scanned documents. Accessible PDFs are usually created using Adobe Acrobat Pro with an accessible text, spreadsheet, or presentation file.


Use built-in accessibility checkers.

Alternate Formats

Provide alternate forms of the content (for video and audio files), including transcripts and captioning.

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