Planning for Accessibility

Penn State's settlement with the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) required that all web pages be accessible by Oct. 2014. Accessibility remediation may sound like a big task but if you start thinking about accessibility in the planning phase and continue all the way through the development process (rather than waiting until the course is fully developed and then trying to do remediation) it isn't as difficult as it may seem. There are many specific things that need to be "done" on a web page to make it accessible and that information can be found on our Accessible Webpage Creation page or from your Learning Designer, but for now we will discuss what you should be thinking about as you write the course materials and decide what multimedia elements to utilize.

When developing a course always assume that you will have students that are deaf, blind, learning disabled and non-native speaking in your online classroom. They need all of the information that other students have access to in order to be successful so we need to think about how to provide that information. Below are the six primary considerations:


When using images, think about what you want the students to get out of the image. Do not assume that a student can see the image or is able to interpret or understand it even if they can see it. Provide all of the pertinent information in the text surrounding the image or in the caption. If that isn't possible, then provide a long description of the image that your Learning Designer can add to the course. The rule here is text first. Use images to add to or enhance the text but not in place of text.

Charts / Graphs

Think about the important information you want students to take away from a graph or chart. Some graphs are data-dense, but you really only want the students to notice the trends. Include that information in the text or caption. If the details are necessary, consider adding a table or list that correctly represents the data below the original graph. Consult with your Learning Designer for more details.


When creating a new video keep accessibility in mind. Think about what you are doing in the video and if it is not too cumbersome, verbalize what you are doing as you do it. You might consider saying "when I bend this wire" rather than "when i do this...", etc. If you are doing a demo of software, be cognizant of the language you use. You might say something like, "select the start button" rather than "click here". If you are describing a complex image, remember to describe what you are referring to.

Once the video is created and a transcript is made, it may be necessary to edit the transcript to include a description of the visual elements that are not verbalized.


When writing your text, limit the use of slang and sarcasm and avoid using too many examples that are unique to a single culture or geographic location.


In order for a screen reader to properly read math, it needs to be rendered in the code using MathML or Latex rather than images. Consult with your Learning Designer for more details.


PDF documents cannot be the sole source of presenting online information. This is because PDF documents, by default, are not readily accessible to people with disabilities or to those who use mobile devices. Although PDF documents can be made accessible, it can be a difficult, time-intensive, and costly process. As a result, web pages are the preferred method of presenting online information. Another possible option is to provide the PDF content in an alternative format, such as a Word document (that has been remediated for any accessibility issues). As long as the content is provided in an accessible format (i.e. a web page or Word document), you may still provide a link to the PDF.

Additional Resources

The following Penn State resources provide additional details.

  • ACC 101: Accessible Course Design is a resource developed by the World Campus Accessibility Consultants and contains an excellent overview of accessibility and details about web accessibility. Some of the details about technology and code might not apply as the World Campus uses a different CMS but the vast majority of the material is immediately applicable to your course design. 
  • is a website that is maintained by the IT Accessibility Group and contains detailed information on everything from making accessible images, PowerPoints and Word documents, Math, and everything in between. 
  • World Campus Online Faculty Development offers two self-directed courses on Accessibility: OL 2600: Course Authoring Accessibility Basics and OL 3000: Supporting Accessibility for Online Learners.


If you have any questions, please contact your Learning Designer.