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Accessibility & Universal Design for All

Canvas Accessibility IconDesigning your course with accessibility in mind enhances the learning experience of students with disabilities, as well as students with different learning styles. Instructors can achieve this by applying Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. UDL principles and guidelines provide instructors with strategies to create equitable and flexible course materials, activities, and assessments. Accessibility is an essential part of UDL, and Canvas includes accessibility features to help instructors develop and deliver course materials in a universal and accessible way. Below you will find resources to help you get started. Also see: CTLT Accessibility Resources.

Self-enroll in the following online tutorials to learn more:

Content  |  Media  |  Style  | Math  |  Files   |  DRC Accommodations  |  Video

CSU Policies & Requirements

Who benefits from Universal Design for Learning?

  • Students with disabilities
  • Students with different learning preferences
  • Underrepresented minority students
  • First-generation students
  • English Language Learners
  • Veterans
  • Students with varying access to technology
  • Students with busy schedules
  • Faculty who want to ensure success for all students

Principles of UDL

The UDL Guidelines are a tool used in the implementation of Universal Design for Learning, a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific research in how humans learn. The guidelines are based on three principles aligned with the brain networks we use for teaching and learning. These guidelines offer concrete suggestions that can be applied to any discipline or domain to ensure that all learners can access and participate in meaningful and challenging learning opportunities. Learn more: CAST: Universal Design for Learning framework.

The three principles include:

  1. Provide multiple means of engagement: Motivate learners in different ways.
  2. Provide multiple means of representation: Provide content or materials in different ways.
  3. Provide multiple means of expression: Give learners different ways to communicate and demonstrate what they know.


  • Align course content, activities and assessments with course learning objectives
  • Provide multiple means for communication within the system, and invite students to contact the instructor with questions and concerns: Canvas Inbox, Q&A Discussion, direct email, Canvas Scheduler for office hours
  • Include a course pre-survey (Canvas Quiz) to get to know your students, including the challenges and strengths they bring to your course
  • Use accessibility features within the system or software to develop and deliver the course information (Canvas Rich Content Editor and Accessibility Checker)
  • Integrate supports for learning (Canvas Student Guide, Canvas Help feature, links to Student Support Services and Virtual Learning Resources)
  • Use a variety of methods and formats to present material (Canvas Pages for text information, audio podcast, video (embed), websites, electronic textbook)
  • Provide multiple means for engaging with materials and working with peers (Canvas Groups, Collaborations, Discussions, etc.)
  • Provide multiple means of assessment to allow students to demonstrate knowledge and skills (Canvas Quizzes/exams, Discussions, essays, video or audio presentations, etc.)
  • Create accessible electronic files that support all learners (Word documents using Styles; tagged PDFs, PPT using accessible templates) and avoid scanned documents when possible. Videos should include closed captions; audio podcasts should include transcripts. (Self-enroll tutorial: Creating Accessible Documents)


  • Post course content online in the Learning Management System (Canvas or PolyLearn) allowing students to access information that might have been missed in lecture
  • Use peer mentoringgroup discussions, and cooperative learning methods rather than strictly lecture
  • Use guided notes to highlight essential concepts to reduce the need for note-taking
  • Update course materials based on current events and student demands
  • Provide a comprehensive syllabus with clearly identified course requirements, accommodation statement and due dates
  • Fluctuate instructional methods, provide illustrations, handouts, auditory and visual aids
  • Clarify any feedback or instructions, ask for questions, and repeat or give additional examples
  • Relate a new topic to one already learned or a real-life example
  • Allow a student to tape record lectures or provide him/her with a copy of your notes
  • Allow the student to demonstrate knowledge of the subject through alternate means
  • Permit and encourage the use of assistive technology
  • Develop study guides
  • Give more frequent quizzes that are shorter in length

The Canvas LMS itself is accessible, but the files that are added by instructors and students are most likely not. The course layout, settings and content added should also be usable, easy to read, and find. 

For additional information on creating accessible course materials, including Word documents, PDF files, PowerPoint and more, please see the following:

Canvas Tips

  • When possible, place text information in Canvas Pages rather than uploading documents
  • Use Canvas heading and paragraph styles in the Rich Content Editor
  • Use a hierarchical order for your information
  • Use high contrast, adjustable fonts and colors
  • Add alt text to images and charts
  • Always use the Check Accessibility feature in the Rich Content Editor to check for issues before publishing

Content Types

Canvas Pages

Placing content directly in Canvas, rather than uploading documents, is infinitely more accessible for students, and provides efficiencies for instructors as well. Always consider whether the information in your document, such as syllabus information, assignment instructions, or a list of readings, might provide better access displayed on a Canvas page. Students may have trouble opening a document or displaying the content, depending on their device, browser and software. Text content in a Canvas page is immediately accessible and perceivable on any device or computer, and does not require a download. The added benefit for the instructor includes efficiencies in quick access to make updates or revisions, as well as adding or removing content. Of course sometimes you are uploading documents for good reasons, such as providing a printable version of a syllabus or reading.

Rich Content Editor

Canvas has a simple, yet powerful, content editor that is available anytime for creating new content. The Rich Content Editor is used in features that support the editor such as Pages, Announcements, Assignments, Discussions, Quizzes, and Syllabus. The editor appears anytime you create or edit any of the above.

Although clean and streamlined, the Rich Content Editor is sophisticated enough to support embedding any video content, math formula, and other rich media.

text editor headings


There are three options available for Headings: Header 2 is the first-level heading; Header 3 is the second-level sub-heading, and Header 4 is the third-level sub-heading. Note that Heading 1 is the title of the page. Do not skip headings, always use them in the correct hierarchical order, so students using screen readers understand the order and nesting of the information.


Ordered lists (numbered) are used to identify steps in a process, such as steps to change the oil in your lawnmower, or a list of tasks to complete for a particular unit in a course. Ordered lists are also sometimes used to identify a particular item, such as a learning outcome in a course.  Unordered lists (bullets) are used for items that are related, but do not require completion in a certain order, such as a grocery list, or a list of readings in a course.

Hyperlinks should be descriptive, so those using screen readers know exactly where the link will take them:

Inaccessible hyperlink examples Please visit the Cal Poly Disability Resource Center: to learn more about accessibility services for students with disabilities.

Accessible hyperlink example: Please visit the Cal Poly Disability Resource Center Website to learn more about accessibility services for students with disabilities.


Students using screen readers can more readily locate and information in a table cell when column headers are set and when alt text or captions are included.  Proper headers allow students to associate text or data in a table with the column header.  Captions and alt text allow students to scan the full page for tables for a quick preview.  Luckily the Canvas editor is set up to easily include these elements in your table.

While adding Tables, begin by selecting the table button in the editor as shown below.  Here you can select the number of rows and columns for your table.

Add Table

After inserting your table, you can select any cell in the table to select the "Table properties" icon on the far left, as shown in the image below.

table properties

This opens a pop-up window for further options (see image below):

  • Caption (always check the box!)
  • Width and height 
  • Border (default is 1 to show a solid boarder around all cells
  • Alignment
  • Cell spacing and padding (if your text is too close to the edge of the cell, add "5" in cell padding)

Table Prep 2

To make sure your table is fully accessible, use the Check Accessibility feature in the editor, which appears as a small person in a circle on the bottom right of the editor. If your table is missing a header row, the accessibility checker will display the issue, and provide you with an option to make the correction. If your screen is enlarged, you may need to scroll to the right to view the icon.

Accessibility Checker in Canvas Rich Content Editor

Accessibility Checker displaying no header row on table

Pictures, Graphics and Charts

Adding images and graphics to your course pages can add meaning, reinforce ideas and make your page more interesting and attractive to students. There are some important considerations to keep in mind when adding images, such as size, color, and adding alternative text, also known as image descriptions, for screen readers. Alternative text (often referred to as alt text) provides screen readers with image descriptions that help students with low vision or blindness connect the image to the text. This reinforces meaning that is readily apparent to learners with full vision. If you are adding a decorative graphic element that does not add meaning, you can select an option in Canvas "description not necessary" and the screen reader will know that the image is simply decorative.

Size: before you upload your image into Canvas. Make sure the width doesn't exceed 600px. Large images can take a long time to load and changing the size (width / hight) in Canvas doesn't make the item smaller in MB. 

When you add any images, make sure to add the Alt Text or choose "Decorative image" for images that do not add meaning to the text.

alt text field for images in Canvas

Embed Video & Audio

Always embed video, or add links to your web-based videos, to your Canvas course. Avoid uploading video files, such as MP4s, as video files use lots of storage space and cannot display captions. Whether you use ZOOM, Screencast-O-Matic, Camtasia, Vimeo, YouTube or Microsoft Stream to store you videos, always link to these or embed them. Audio files are best embedded as well, using the same process. When you embed or link to audio or video content, remember to display closed captions options for videos, and upload a transcript with audio.


Styled and Colored Text

Students with low vision often have difficulties distinguishing letters based on certain font types and font colors, as well as color contrast. While it's fine to use color, it's important to keep certain things in mind, and follow the WCAG 2.0 guidelines.

When you add text to your Canvas page, the default is black text on a white background. The Canvas editor provides options for selecting other font colors and background colors. When using the editor, select the Large letter A icon buttons to display a menu of color choices. Highlight your text, then select the text color and/or background color to apply it to the text.

text color options in Canvas editor

The Canvas Check Accessibility feature in the editor allows you to test color contrast on your page. The Check Accessibility icon appears as a small person in a circle on the far right of the editor. If your screen is enlarged, you may need to scroll to the right to view the icon. If your color contrast does not meet requirements, the accessibility checker will display the issue, and provide you with an option to make the correction.

ADA checker

Math Notation

Canvas has an integrated tool for math and science formulas based on LaTeX, the industry standard for academic publication. The LaTeX Math Editor is built into the Rich Content Editor.  Canvas also includes the option to create equations and expressions with its graphical point-and-click editor. 

The Math Editor can be used for basic mathematical formatting for introductory math courses or for more advanced mathematical text for higher-level math courses. Both students and instructors have access to the editor. Learn more: Canvas Guides: Math Editor

Note: To have characters #, $, %, &, ^, _, {, and } appear in the Rich Content Editor, when your equation is inserted, you must use Advanced View and type a backslash (\) before the character. The ~ character can be inserted through Advanced View by typing \~~. The $ character can be inserted through Basic View by typing \$$.

Math notation

Once you open the equation editor, a window opens to allow you to create the notation, or switch to Advanced view to type and paste LaTeX.



NOTE: After setting the Moderate (Classic Quiz or New Quiz) options,...make sure the UNTIL date is set to allow DRC students their date/time as well (see below example).

The Rutgers page is also very helpful in explaining the requirements and settings. 

Classic Quiz - NO time limit:
You did NOT use the time limit option in the Quiz Settings
Canvas no time limit
...instead you used the Assign to create a 1hr quiz. 
You created a Classic Quiz that is ONLY set to allow students to have 1 hr based on the (2) Available from and the (1) Due.
Classic Quiz Assign to image

Due Date: the date and time that the Quiz is due
Available From: the date and time when the Quiz will become available for students to take the quiz
Until: the date and time when students can no longer take the quiz

You would need to modify the (6) Until to allow for the extra time needed for the DRC students set in the Moderate tool. In this example the highest time is 1.5 additional time so instead of 10am, it is 11:30am.
Classic Quiz UNTIL change
NOTE: All the other students (everyone) can take longer than 1 hr (exceed time limit) since the (6) Until allows them to continue in the quiz. 

New Quiz:
Same as the Classic...the Until needs to allow the Moderate students to complete.

Better Options

Use the Quiz Time Limits to set how much time the students' have to take the quiz and then use the Moderate tool to give the DRC students extra time. You would then Allow the students MORE time in the (1) Due, (2) Available, (3) Until settings.

Classic Timed

Classic Assign To more time
Even with the Start at 9am and Due 3pm (6 hrs)...students only have 1 hr from when they start. You can hide the answers from all the students until after 3pm. See the Secure Exam options page. 


Files and Documents

Instructors can upload files and documents to share within the course shell. Students who are blind or low vision use screen readers to navigate the document and read content aloud.

Documents must include the following for full screen reader access:

  • Documents should include accessibility features, such as Word Styles, PDF tags, and accessible PowerPoint features.
  • Use descriptive titles that match references from the syllabus
  • Inform users when new window or pop-up will occur
  • Avoid abbreviations
  • Name file with name and extension (ex: BIO131Syllabus.pdf)
  • Avoid using file names that repeat weekly. For example, if the students are required to enter information into a "Weekly Journal", name the link in each session based on the week (ex: Week One Journal, Week Two Journal)

When placing files into Canvas as a Discussion Forum attachment, Email attachment, Course link, or Assignment attachment, it is important to name the files properly before attaching them. 


  • Dog.docx
  • theDogRan.docx
  • thedogran.docx
  • Dog1.docx
  • Dog 1.docx
  • Dog_1.docx


  • dog&ran.docx
  • Dog#1.docx
  • dog/ran.docx
  • dog.ran.docx
  • the dog ran over the road to a field.docx


Assistive Technology: Assistive Technology (AT) refers to a broad spectrum of devices and software that can be helpful to people with disabilities. In online learning, AT typically refers to a range of technology used to access content, interact with course materials, communicate with peers and the instructor, and participate in activities. Examples include screen readers, screen magnifiers, speech recognition, smart pens, and read aloud features.

Alternate means: Demonstrating mastery of course material in a substitute manner. An example would be an oral presentation or written essay in place of a multiple-choice exam.

Auditory aids: Equipment or software items designed to assist a person who is deaf/hard of hearing. Auditory aids allow students with hearing disabilities the same access to information and production as their peers.

Captioning: Video captions display the spoken text on the screen matching the timing of the speech. Captions assists persons who are deaf/hard of hearing, as well as students with learning disabilities. It also assures that important information is clearly conveyed to all students, including English Language Learners and those with limited internet connection. Audio transcripts provide the additional text content for those who cannot hear the audio.

Color Contrast: The difference in luminance between two adjacent colors or overlaid colors (foreground / background). Minimum contrast requirements are WCAG 2.0 level AA requires a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text. There are many tools available to check color contrast, including the web-based WebAIM Color Contrast Checker.

Cooperative Learning: students work together to accomplish shared learning goals. Clear goals, expectations, structure and process are established by the instructor.

Comprehensive syllabus: At minimum, a comprehensive syllabus includes information on the following: 

  • course description
  • course learning outcomes
  • text books and required readings
  • organization and methods of instruction
  • chronological outline of topics and required readings
  • explanation of specific assignments, including due dates
  • grading information
  • office hours and class procedures
  • an accessibility statement regarding process for notifying instructor of necessary accommodations

Group discussion: Pooling ideas and experiences of the group on specific tasks or questions.

Guided Notes: Skeleton outlines that contain the main idea and related concepts of lecture with designated spaces for students to complete during lecture. Guided notes use a consistent format and provide maximum student response.

Handout: Paper announcement given to students to supplement oral presentation.

Illustration: A visual representation, comparison, or example that is used to make subject matter easier to understand.

Instructional methods: Methods used by teachers to convey subject material to students. Every method a teacher uses has advantages, disadvantages, and requires some preliminary preparation. There is no one "right" method for teaching a particular lesson, but there are some criteria that pertain to each that can help a teacher make the best decision possible.

Online: Actively using a computer system, rather than paper or other medium, especially with the Internet.

Peer mentoring: Providing students with a peer they can trust, respect, and learn from who is knowledgeable, and interested.

Real-life: While teaching, using examples drawn from actual events or situations. Using real-life examples often makes it easier for a student to "grasp" a new concept.

Study guides: Aid developed by instructor to direct or indicate material to be studied in preparation for test or quiz.

Varied Instructional Strategies: Refers to different instructional techniques which when used often and effectively, usually address individual learning styles. Examples are small group discussion, videotapes, brainstorming, case studies, role-playing, worksheets/surveys, and lectures.

Visual aids: Equipment or software items designed or used to assiste persons with vision impairment. Visual aids allow students with visual disabilities the same access to information and production as their peers.

Planing for Accessibility when Teaching Remotely - CTLT page 

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