Open Content

Spotlight on Accessibility

Accessibility is an essential part of inclusive design. This section will dig a little deeper into its importance — and will offer some practical approaches to creating accessible content for your learners.

Accessible Design

Learners learn differently. The goal of education is to support learners in reaching their full potential. While part of the educational process is to challenge learners to facilitate their growth, many learners experience constraints that make it difficult — if not impossible — to access certain learning resources.

These potential barriers to learning can include:

  • sensory, motor, cognitive, emotional and social constraints;
  • individual learning approaches or preferences;
  • linguistic or cultural preferences;
  • technical, financial or environmental constraints.
A diagram showing a cluster of black dots on a white starburst background. The dots are densest at the centre of the starburst and become more and more spaced out as they move away from the centre. Three concentric, coloured circles are drawn around the dots. In the centre, the smallest blue circle is labelled “Design works”, moving outward from centre the next yellow circle is labelled “Design is difficult to use”, and finally a red circle around the outside is labelled “Can’t use design”.
Starburst image by community members of the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Consider a scatter-plot of the needs of any group of people. Everyone brings a variety of different ways of being and working — and different skills and needs — to the table. This starburst plot features a dense set of dots in its centre (circled in blue) — which represent the majority needs — and dots that are more widely spaced out the father away from the centre they appear (circled in yellow and red) — representing the needs of the minority.

Now think about who may be unintentionally left out? Consider those learners who exist “at the edges” and who “can’t use your design.” A mismatch between how our content is designed — and how a user accesses or uses the content — makes the content inaccessible.

When we have limited time and resources, we tend to follow the 80/20 rule; to tackle the 80 per cent (majority needs) first — and leave the most difficult 20 per cent (minority needs) for later. However, change and innovation are found at the margins. Designing your course for the 20 per cent might take more time and resources at first, but because the result will be dynamically resilient and adaptable, it will pay off in the long term and will end up being inclusive and accessible for 100 per cent of your learners.

This section adapted from:

Where to begin? by the Inclusive Design Research Centre is licensed under CC BY 2.5 CA

The Inclusive Design Guide created by the community members of the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University is licensed under CC BY 3.0.


Accessible Content

As instructors, we have legal and ethical obligations to ensure our courses are fully accessible to all learners — including those with disabilities. We use digital resources in our courses because we believe they enhance learning. However, unless carefully chosen with accessibility in mind, these resources can have the opposite effect for students with disabilities — erecting daunting barriers that make learning difficult or impossible. For example, consider the accessibility challenges students described below might face.

  • Students who are deaf or hard of hearing are unable to access the contents of a video presentation unless it’s captioned.

  • Students who are blind or visually impaired use assistive technologies such as audible-screen-reader software or braille devices to access the content of websites, online documents and other digital resources. They depend on authors providing alternate text that describes the content of images — as well as headings, subheadings, lists and other markups that help them understand the structure and outline of the resource. To form a mental picture of a video, they rely on a narrated description (described video) to convey information about important non-verbal elements such as setting, costumes and body language.

  • Some students who have learning disabilities such as dyslexia use assistive technologies that visibly highlight digital text as it’s read aloud — and are therefore dependent on text being compatible with screen-reader software (as opposed to a scanned image of a text-based resource).
  • Students who are physically unable to use a mouse are unable to use interactive web and software applications unless these applications can be operated with a keyboard.
  • Students who are colour blind may be unable to understand content that communicates information solely using colour (for example, a bar chart with colour as the sole means of differentiating between the bars).

Adapted from: Module 9: Accessibility by Open Washington is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Using Personas

Designers use personas to represent the different types of people who might access a website or product. We will use personas to help you keep in mind the types of students and their various abilities while you’re developing content. These personas will also help to introduce different types of hardware and software that students typically use.

Extend Connections

Please randomly choose one (or more!) of the following learners and read through their persona. Think about some of the content you are planning to adapt/create for your course and consider whether it would be accessible for this learner.













Content in the accordion menu has been adapted from Accessibility Toolkit – 2nd Edition by BCcampus is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Digital Content and Media Accessibility — Best Practices for Beginners

Please work through the following accordion menu to learn about some accessibility basics that you can start applying to your content right away.


For additional practical information about making your content more accessible, the Accessibility Toolkit – 2nd Edition by BCcampus (CC BY 4.0) is an excellent comprehensive resource.

The text in the first five parts of this accordion menu is adapted from Digital Content and Media Accessibility by the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology at UBC is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. Links to videos and supplementary resources have been added, as has the sixth section on multiple formats. The content in this accordion menu is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, which is different from the licence of the book.

Checklist for OER Accessibility

Image by James Kerr from Pixabay


Although there is no definitive checklist for accessibility, a checklist is a good place to start to get a sense of some key elements that are used to determine the accessibility of content.


Extend Activity

Add Accessibility Design Elements to Your OER Course Plan

Return to Part 4 of your OER course planner and include information about the accessibility elements you will include in your OER. Examine the existing OER you have found and consider ways you can adapt that material to make it more accessible. For the material that you need to create from scratch, make notes about the accessibility elements that will be incorporated right from the beginning of the creation process.



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Extending Into the Open Copyright © 2022 by Paula Demacio; Alissa Bigelow; Tricia Bonner; and Shauna Roch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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