Creating Accessible Course Materials

All materials distributed to students, whether in-class or online, in hard copy or electronic format, by faculty or TA, must be accessible to those who use adaptive technology software, such as screen readers. This page has various resources on how to make your course materials accessible for all students. 

Here are 5 quick tips for inclusive course design:

  1. Select and use video content (DVDs, YouTube videos, etc.) that has closed captioning. Best practice is to always turn captions on. This benefits not just Deaf or hard-of-hearing students, but students whose first language is not English or students who are not auditory learners
  2. Select textbooks and readings or update existing course materials at least five weeks before classes start. Many of our students require course materials in alternate formats. Students with print disabilities require texts in Braille, large print, electronic and/or audio formats. The DRC works in advance of each quarter and then throughout the first weeks to convert required readings into formats that are usable by students with disabilities. A delay in providing updated course materials results in delays for our students, a challenge that is difficult to overcome in a 10-week quarter.

  3. Include the following language in your syllabus:

    UC Santa Cruz is committed to creating an academic environment that supports its diverse student body. If you are a student with a disability who requires accommodations to achieve equal access in this course, please submit your Academic Access Letter from the Disability Resource Center (DRC) to me privately during my office hours or by appointment, as soon as possible in the academic quarter, preferably within 1 week. I also encourage you to discuss with me ways we can ensure your full participation in this course. I encourage all students who may benefit to learn about the DRC and the UCSC accommodation process. You can visit the DRC website at drc.ucsc.edu. You can make an appointment and meet in-person with a DRC staff member. The phone number is 831-459-2089, or email drc@ucsc.edu.

  4. Provide clean copies of articles for course readers, library or ERes holdings, and Canvas postings (e.g. not crooked, and free of underlining and/or notes in the margins).

  5. Learn about and use accessibility and universal design practices. Examples include website PowerPoint Slides with Alt Tag descriptions and text instead of image PDFs.


    Resources at UCSC

  • The Faculty Insturction Technology Center (FITC) at McHenry Library provides help to instructors use Canvas in an accessible way, add captions to videos, and set up webcasting. However, not all rooms are equipped to handle webcasting. In this case, the professor and department need to work with the Registrars Office ahead of time to have classes put in rooms with webcast enabled. For more information, please check out FITC's commitment to accessibility and a list of the resources they also provide.

    The Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning (CITL) can provide support and training for faculty members and graduate students about teaching with universal design. For further information, please check out their workshops and certificate programs.


  • Accessible PDF's

  • Students using adaptive technologies like Screen Readers need documents to contain “live text” in order to access the information on the document. Scanned documents cannot be read by Screen Readers.If you would like to learn more about screen readers, we have a Screen Reader Quick Start Guide created by Kevin Andrews available to download as a pdf or word doc.

    UCOP Creating Accessible PDF's

    Adobe's Accessible PDF's

    Web Aim's Accessible PDF's through Word and Adobe

    Scanning Documents into an Accessible PDF

    Sensus Access converts documents into an accessible/readable version. Sensus Access can convert the following formats: .DOC, .DOCX, .PDF, .PPT, .PPTX, .TXT, .XML, .HTML, .HTM, .RTF, .EPUB, .MOBI, .TIFF, .TIF, .GIF, .JPG, .BMP, .PCX, .DCX, .J2K, .JP2, .JPX, .DJV and .ASC


  • Accessible PowerPoints and Word Documents

  • Web Aim's Accessible Powerpoints

    Web Aim's Accessible Word Documents


  • Accessible Media

  • Web Aim's Captions, Transcripts, and Audio Descriptions

    Web Aim's Alternative Text your Pictures

    Web Aim's Accessible Fonts


  • General Guides to Accessibility

  • Portland Community College's Guide to Electronic Web Accessibility.

    Adobe's Accessibility

    UCOP Electronic Accessibility

    Web Aim's Web Accessibility

    University of Nebraska-Lincoln's self-paced workshop for creating accessible online courses for faculty


  • Checklist to Ensure Student Access to Instructional Materials

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    1. Identify textbook selections at least six weeks before classes begin. This will allow enough time for the materials to be converted into alternate formats.
    2. Request an electronic version and/or an additional desk copy of your textbooks to facilitate their conversion into alternate formats.
    3. Use publishers who offer electronic copies. California law requires publishers to provide electronic copies of textbooks.
    4. Make the class syllabus available online (e.g., in Canvas or on the web) in accessible format before the first day of class. This can help students plan ahead so they can convert materials into accessible formats ahead of time.
    5. Include a statement in your syllabus inviting students with disabilities to meet with you to discuss accommodations in advance. See Syllabus Statement for an example from our office.
    6. Use Canvas  to make reserve items available to students in accessible formats.
    7. Provide clean copies of print materials before they are covered in class so they can be scanned and converted into accessible formats such as audio or large print. This includes handouts, course reserves, course packs, etc.
    8. Caption all video used for instruction. Buy only captioned videos and DVDs and have captions added to existing videos before using them online or in the classroom. This can be done quickly and inexpensively, especially if an audio transcript already exists.
    9. Provide transcripts for audio-only presentations and materials. Consider using a speech recognition software tool (such as Dragon Naturally Speaking) to convert your lectures and other audio-only materials into text.
    10. Make course websites accessible by complying with Section 508 guidelines; more information is available at the UC Web Accessibility site. Consider using the UCSC web site template, which is already compliant, to create new sites and/or migrate existing sites. This can be much easier than trying to design it yourself or repair a non-compliant site. 
    11. Create or convert and post electronic course materials online in accessible formats. Creating accessible documents is not difficult and there are online tutorials (see "Access eLearning" below) and other resources for commonly used applications to assist you. Doing it right the first time is much easier than trying to fix it later!
    12. Make materials available as soon as possible to facilitate student learning, at least four weeks prior to the first day of class.
    13. Consider using Canvas to post the course syllabus and other important class information and course materials electronically. While Canvas itself is accessible, make sure files posted to the course are in accessible formats.
    14. Provide students with alternative methods to receive lecture materials, e.g., post lecture notes online, provide transcripts, allow students to record class lectures, etc. In your syllabus and early in the course, ask students to let you know privately if they require alternative methods.
    15. Be open to communicating with students about their learning styles and using multiple instructional methods to address their needs. Consider the possible learning styles of your student and construct your materials accordingly. Provide alternate ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge.

  • Universal Design Resources

  • Universal Design of Instruction (UDI) strategies may reduce or eliminate the need for individual accommodations in many cases. UDI also serves the variety of learning styles and cultural backgrounds of our diverse student body and it is consistent with the UCSC Academic Senate COT focus on “learning centered teaching.” Many of your colleagues have already implemented UDI strategies.

    Association of American Colleges and Unversities: Fostering Inclusion with Universal Design for Learning: This article by Kevin Kelly provides a brief overview of Universal Design Learning and examples of how to create an inclusive learning environment. 

    CAST is a nonprofit education research and development organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals through Universal Design for Learning. 

    University of Washington presents, DO-IT: Strategies for Accessible Teaching: This website provides a large overview of what Universal Design (UD) means and what it entails. It also includes different strategies and applications of UD in the classroom.

    Universal Design for Learning in Higher EducationUDL provides useful guidelines for developing curricula, selecting materials and creating learning environments that takes into account the wide variability of learners in higher ed environments. Their website provides helpful guides for: Course Design, Media and Materials, Accessibility and Policy, etc.


  • Access eLearning

  • Access eLearning is a free, online ten-module tutorial that offers information, instructional techniques, and practice labs on how to make the most common needs in distance education accessible for individuals with disabilities, and enhance the usability of online materials for all students. This tutorial was developed by the Georgia Tech Research on Accessible Distance Education Project (GRADE) in partnership with IDET Communication Inc.(IDET).

    It requires registration the first time and allows saving a location in the tutorial so you can continue at the same location when you enter the tutorial again.

    The 10 modules are:

    1. Accessibility Issues of Disabilities in Distance Education
    2. Planning for Accessibility in Distance Education
    3. Making PowerPoint Slides Accessible
    4. Making Video Accessible
    5. Making Flash Accessible
    6. Making Word Documents Accessible
    7. Making Excel Documents Accessible
    8. Making PDF Documents Accessible
    9. Making Webpages Accessible
    10. Making Scripts and Java Accessible

Some of the information on this page was developed by staff at CalPoly, San Luis Obispo, and is used with their permission.