Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

FAQ: Course Accessibility

Yale’s Accessibility Policy

Does Yale’s accessibility policy cover course sites and associated digital materials?

Yes: all Yale sites that are used to conduct University business, including the business of teaching and learning, are covered by the policy. Digital files shared through these web sites should also be accessible, conforming to the WCAG 2 Level AA standards.

Does the policy include files shared via email as attachments?

No it does not, although it is good practice to check the accessibility of any attachments you distribute broadly via email, especially if they are required for your course. 

I don’t have any students with disabilities in my class. Do I need to worry about accessibility? 

In all likelihood, you do have students with disabilities in your class but you may not be aware of them. The largest number of students with disabilities who register with Yale’s Student Accessibility Services (SAS) have “invisible disabilities” including dyslexia and learning disabilities. While 11% of Yale College students choose to register with SAS, the actual percentage of Yale students with one or more disabilities is likely much larger, since many students choose not to self-identify.  With this in mind, you should aim to make your courses as accessible as possible regardless of whether a student has approached you with concerns or a request for accommodations.  

Can’t I just address any accessibility issues if and when a student brings them to my attention?

One problem with a reactive approach is that many students will never bring accessibility challenges to your attention, and instead work twice as hard to access your digital resources. Another problem is that each time you reuse the same course resources, you may have additional students who cannot access them. The best approach—for you, your students and the University—is to begin learning ways to increase the accessibility of the web sites and digital materials you develop for your classes. Staff at the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, as well as support providers in some of Yale’s professional schools, will be happy to show you some simple things that you can begin doing immediately, which can lead to significant improvements in your course accessibility over time.  

Canvas questions

Are Canvas sites accessible? 

The Canvas environment meets the University’s accessibility standards, however it is possible that the content you create in Canvas and files you upload to a Canvas site may not. Using the metaphor of a house, the general architecture of Canvas ensures that all users can enter the front door and gain access to the interior rooms (tool areas within Canvas), but objects you place in those rooms (like digital files) may be difficult or impossible to access.   

Do all of my Canvas files need to be accessible? 

Yes: the policy requires that “all content provided through University Websites be accessible,” which includes files shared through a Canvas site. Files from past courses do not fall under the policy, but any files shared since March 1, 2018 should meet the University’s accessibility standards.  

Are there things I should do in Canvas to make my course sites as accessible as possible?

Yes! The Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, in association with Information Technology Services, offers Canvas accessibility drop-in hours. Upcoming hours are listed on the Thinking about Accessibility series calendar. You may also request a consultation at any time, or contact a local support provider in select professional schools.

Are tools within Canvas that leverage external services covered by the policy?

The policy covers only sites over which Yale has significant control (Yale-controlled domains), yet we are under broader ethical and legal obligation not to discriminate against students with disabilities. If you require students to use an external service that does not meet our accessibility standards, you may be putting some students at a significant disadvantage, which can result in the need to provide special accommodations so such students can participate fully and equitably in the learning activity. The Poorvu Center is happy to work with you to audit the accessibility of external resources, and to help you plan alternative ways of achieving your teaching goals if students identify a chosen resource as inaccessible.  

Course-related files

I regularly share video clips in my Canvas course from various sources. Do they all need to be captioned?

To meet the WCAG 2 Level AA standard that the University has adopted, all video that is an integral part of a University website should have closed captioning. Seek out options that have closed captioning: many videos on YouTube and other public sites have captions available. In some cases it may be especially difficult to provide accurate captioning for all of your course-related activities. Members of the Poorvu Center are happy to discuss such cases with you.  

How do I get my Media Library videos captioned? 

The Canvas Media Library includes an option to include automated closed captioning for all uploaded videos. These captions are machine generated, so they may contain some inaccuracies, but you can easily review and edit the captions for accuracy if you choose. Support staff members in the Poorvu Center would be happy to show you how to turn on this option in the Media Library.  

Are Word documents and PowerPoints automatically accessible?

No. In fact, unless the creator of the file is consciously striving for accessibility, there is a good chance that the Word doc or PPT file will have accessibility obstacles that could make it difficult or impossible to use by some members of its audience.   

What do I need to do to make my Word docs and PPTs accessible?  

You can use the accessibility checker tool within the most recent versions of Word and PPT to check and fix accessibility problems as you’re creating the files. Files uploaded to Canvas are automatically checked for accessibility issues by the Ally tool, which also includes step-by-step suggestions for making improvements. You may also choose to attend a presentation covering some simple tips for improving the accessibility of Word documents and PDFs, or reference the information available on Yale’s Accessibility website.  

What about PDF files? 

PDFs frequently pose accessibility challenges for students who rely on screen readers (which allow you to listen to text as well as see it). Many faculty members share PDF scans of books and articles with their students, but depending on how those scans were made, these PDFs may not be accessible. The accessibility support providers in the Poorvu Center or in your local school would be happy to help you assess the accessibility of your PDFs, and support you in improving them or replacing them with more accessible versions. You may also want to consult the tips on creating accessible PDFs on Yale’s accessibility information pages. 

External platforms

I incorporate technology from outside Yale into my courses. Do these technologies need to be accessible, too? 

Under federal law, the University cannot discriminate against students with disabilities, which includes setting up technological barriers to their full participation in the learning experience. You should keep accessibility in mind whenever you select tools for course activities. If the technology you choose is not accessible, you may need to work with students to find alternative ways for them to engage in class activities in an equitable manner.   

How can I tell if a technology or external website is accessible?

If you are thinking of using an external platform or web site for your classes, members of the Poorvu Center will be glad to work with you, in association with ITS’s Accessibility team, to assess the accessibility of your chosen resource. Please contact us for a consultation.

Getting started

What are some initial steps I can take to improve the accessibility of my course materials?

  1. Contact the Digital Accessibility Specialist, your local faculty support staff, or the Library’s Course Reserves staff to assess and improve the accessibility of course materials.
  2. Reference the top eight tips for instructors on the Poorvu Center’s Accessible Teaching pages.  
  3. Attend an upcoming accessibility event or enroll in this self-paced tutorial.