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The TEACH Symposium will pop up again November 30 to December 4, 2020. 

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Crash Course in Accessibility

An inclusive education is an accessible one: all students should be able to access the materials they need for their learning.

As you prepare to start the Fall Quarter online, here are some considerations for inclusive and accessible teaching.


  • Students’ physical abilities and their environment — Students are now limited to digital access, and their assistive technologies might not play well with some of our digital tools. They may have limited/no access to personal aides and accommodation service providers. They may be trying to learn in a less-than-ideal environment with other members of their household working from home or learning remotely.
  • Students’ technologies and their technical knowledge — They may be limited in their devices, digital tools, connection bandwidth, as well as lack of familiarity with the new tools and format we are adapting for class use.

How to Plan for an Accessible Course:

  • Start by sticking to well-established technologies that have been checked for accessibility. At Stanford, the tools that we have available, such as Canvas, Zoom, and Google Drive, have been vetted for accessibility concerns. Tools outside of Stanford's ecosystem may not have been checked for accessibility. If you have questions about whether a tool that you think is critical to your students' learning is accessible, contact the Office of Accessible Education.
  • Provide multiple formats of instruction (i.e. in text, audio, and video formats). To create accessible course material, consider multiple methods of equally effective assessment, and be flexible with the tools and format for students to submit their homework. Give yourself extra time for course preparation, as you might have to augment your instructions and logistics. It could take longer to adapt to new technologies, re-think assessments and modify your teaching format for your online class.
  • Be flexible with extended time (for accommodations), office hours (across time zones), homework and grading turnaround time, requests for alternative formats, class discussions and class presentation requirements. This flexibility will be helpful for all students, especially in a Fall term that could be tumultuous and where more students could be ill than in prior quarters.

How to Prepare Instruction in Multiple Modes (Text, Audio, Video)

  • Video: In your lectures, describe images and charts with greater detail, describing exactly what the chart or the image displays. Turn off the default HD video in your Zoom settings to help those who might not have reliable bandwidth. Record your lectures so that students may review them when they are on a stable Internet connection. The Stanford Online Accessibility Program (SOAP) The Stanford Online Accessibility Program (SOAP) offers great tips on captioning and has a list of captioning services available at Stanford. You should also contact the Office of Accessible Education (OAE) if there is an accommodation request. 
  • Text: Prepare your material in an accessible format. In addition to PDF files, provide the source files (e.g. docs or pptx). In a pinch, you or your student may use automated tools such as SCRIBE to convert your file into more accessible formats, but always check the converted file to verify the results. Contact OAE to get help with accessible text conversion if you have to convert a complex file.
  • Class activities and interactions: Consider alternatives such as online discussions in Canvas, or small group discussions with report-backs. Let each group decide on the best format for them. Rather than sharing back to the class live, assigning it as homework due by the end of week will also provide flexibility for students when learning asynchronously.
  • Assessment: Review your course's learning objectives. Can students acquire the same knowledge with other formats of instructions, and with different digital tools? Are there equivalent ways that you can use to assess them? Contact CTL for a pedagogy consultation.

Interested in learning more?

Check out relevant teaching articles to get a deeper dive into creating accessible online learning experiences: