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Accessibility Checklist for the Digital Components of Your Course

“The George Washington University is committed to providing all Digital Content and functionality, including University Website(s), necessary for participating in university programs, services or activities in an accessible manner to all users.”

From GW’s Web and Digital Content Accessibility Policy

This checklist is designed to enable faculty, program directors, and other support staff to make improvements to the accessibility of online course materials. Following accessibility guidelines helps ensure that all students are able to access instructional material, including students with disabilities. This entails evaluating documents, tools, and Blackboard items used in courses. The steps in this checklist improve usability not only for students with disabilities, but makes course materials more clear and usable for all.

The authoring of this checklist was driven by the following standards:

Below the checklist are resources and instructions to implement these changes. 

Accessibility Checklist

In workflow order for ease:

  • Make GW’s disability support resources clearly available to students
  • Use the built-in accessibility checker for Blackboard, Microsoft applications, and Adobe files
  • Use consistent styles for headings and subheadings
  • Provide text alternatives for graphics
  • Provide captions and/or transcripts for videos and provide transcripts for audio
  • Make links that state the purpose of the link, not the url 
  • All multimedia in the course is easy to view, operate, and interpret
  • Use tables only for tabular data and use table headings to organize 
  • Use best practices when providing PDFs in your course: PDFs should be selectable and searchable; use PDFs provided from the library whenever possible
  • Make vendor accessibility statements available to students

Make Disability Support Resources Clearly Available to Students


GW has centralized resources in the Office of Disability Support Services (DSS) for students that have differentiated needs. Through DSS, students can request accommodations as needed, in both physical and online classrooms. 


In your syllabus and in Blackboard, you must alert students to the existence of the Office of Disability Support Services (DSS)so students who require accommodation can provide documentation and get necessary support. Visit DSS’s Faculty Support for a Syllabus Statement.

Use the Built-in Accessibility Checker for Microsoft Office, Adobe, and Blackboard


Programs you are already using to create your course materials have built-in features to help you identify areas where you can improve your accessibility without needing extra expertise or training. 


Below are guides for using some of the built-in accessibility checkers:

Provide Text Alternatives for Graphics


Students with visual impairments will miss crucial parts of your instruction in graphs or charts if there is no alternative text (or “alt text”) given for their assistive technology to read.


Example of graph

Alternative Text

The following information is displayed in bar graph form:

Y-axis increases in frequency by 2. Y-axis points are 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10.

X-axis provides the following ratings: poor, below average, average, good, and excellent.

Poor Rating is 2, Below Average Rating is 2, Average Rating is 5, Good Rating is 9, and Excellent Rating is 2. 

When you add an image into a document or on Blackboard, enter into the image description or Alt Text field. Your text should be descriptive, but not verbose. For instance, describe the general activity or name the person in a headshot. If there is text in the image, all of that text must be included in the alternate text field. 

If a graphic is purely decorative or background (not essential to learning the content), you can indicate this and the screen reader will pass over it.

For more information on creating alt text, visit the following sites:

Provide Captions and/or Transcripts for Videos and Provide Transcripts for Audio


Adding more media enriches and diversifies a course, but be sure to include alternative means of access to meet the needs of your diverse learners. Students with hearing impairments will miss critical information if videos only have audio, and heavily visual videos will not be accessible for students with visual impairments. Students with hearing impairments will be entirely unable to access a podcast or audio recording. Be mindful when creating and selecting instructional materials so all of your students can access the content.


Here is a helpful guide from the Web Accessibility Initiative on making audio and video media accessible.

Media should include captions and/or transcripts. When you create any multimedia pieces for your course, be sure to provide:

  • Captioning for video: use a captioning service, such as Rev, CaptionSync, or another tool, to add captions to your video. Some are fee-based, while others require editing effort and time. Be sure to leave some room at the bottom of your slides/video so that captions won’t overlay content.
  • Scripts for video: as an alternative to captions, consider writing out scripts before recording videos.  
  • Transcripts for audio: use a transcription service, such as Rev, CaptionSync, or another tool, to transcribe audio-only files.
  • Written transcripts for any heavily-visual video: think from the perspective of someone who is blind or low-vision - would they be able to understand your content with just audio? If not, you may need to write out a brief explanation for any visuals (similar to alternative text).

For live, synchronous sessions in courses: DSS can provide live captioning when there is a student with a documented need. This can be provided regardless of the web conferencing tool being used (Blackboard Collaborate, Zoom, WebEx, Skype, etc.). If this is done, any recorded sync sessions will include the captions. Recordings of live sync sessions that are not live captioned will not include closed captions if saved in the course. Integration with third-party captioning service for recorded sync sessions in Blackboard with 3Play Media exists at a cost. Contact for more information.

Check for captions and transcripts for third-party materials you use: When you select third-party materials from places such as YouTube, Vimeo, news organizations, podcast providers, etc. they must have closed captions or a transcript. If not, link to a transcript. 

Make Links that State the Purpose of the Link, Not the URL 


Links to websites should be contextual - they should be meaningful if they’re read out of context and help users understand the destination if they click it.


Using only “Learn more” or “Click more” on the link doesn’t provide information about where the link goes and should be avoided. Use descriptive text such as “Learn more about the Amazon rainforest” or “Visit our library resources”. Visible urls should also be avoided. Having visible urls in a course can get ugly and means that students using screen readers would need to listen to a computer read aloud a meaningless string of characters. 

For example:

Use: Tips for Writing for Web Accessibility

Not: Click here


For more information on creating links in Blackboard, visit: Blackboard: Create a Web Link

Use Consistent Styles for Headings and Subheadings


Easy-to-read and well-organized materials are not just accessible design - they are good design for all users. With simple built-in tools, you can make consistent, good-looking documents that are also readable to all students, including those with vision impairments. Assistive technologies rely on hidden “markup” or code to determine the structure of a document, and these are automatically included in document styles. Watch a video on how screen readers read documents and how to use header styles from Microsoft.


Use built-in headings and styles to format “chunks” of text: Microsoft applications have built-in title and header styles and templates that will not only make your content look more consistent and professional, but will also include the markup needed for accessibility. Learn more about applying styles to your document using Microsoft.

Do not use text-size, underlining, and color alone to organize your document: If you simply make your titles or section headings larger font size, a screen reader won’t be able to “skim” and find the important headings in the document. If you use color to show meaning (i.e. making important things in the color red), students with color blindness won’t be able to distinguish what’s important. If you use underlining for regular text, students may not be able to differentiate clickable links from plain text. Instead, identify importance by using a signifier in addition to color, such as headings, subheadings, or by using an asterisk by important items.

Use good color contrast: Text color should have enough contrast from the background color so that people with low vision, color blindness, or other visual impairments can read all content. Black and white is a good standard for written text. If you want to add additional colors, use tools such as the WebAIM Color Contrast Checker to confirm your color combination is readable.

All Multimedia in the Course is Easy to View, Operate, and Interpret


All course users should be able to easily access and use multimedia elements, such as images, audio, animation, video, etc. in their course. Segmenting videos into manageable chunks leads to an increased student understanding and retention.


Use media that has clear, high-quality audio. The average listener should be able to comfortably hear the audio even when it’s played at 50% volume. Videos should be broken into segments of no more than 20 minutes. Players should allow students the ability to control their movement through presentations and video. This includes the ability to navigate the video using only their keyboard. If possible, ask someone else to test the media in your course prior to providing it to students. 

Use Tables Only for Tabular Data and Use Table Headings to Organize 


Tables are primarily designed for data - where row headers, column headers, or both are present, and where relationships between data are shown. Tables also are often used to layout information, like in a calendar. Screen readers for users with low-to-no vision are able to read tables generally speaking. However, if tables are used simply to layout pages and do not have defined headers, the screen reader will read the table to the user stripped of context and cause confusion. 

Here is an explainer from WebAIM on why to try and avoid layout tables versus data tables.


Designate header rows and header columns so screen readers can determine the relationship between data in the table. Avoid using split cells and merged cells. Here is a video on creating accessible tables in Word

Use Best Practices When Providing PDFs in Your Course

PDFs should be selectable and searchable; use PDFs provided from the library whenever possible.


PDFs that are scanned are not readable by screen readers. This is because scans save the page as an image and the text in that image is not readable by a screen reader - it would read as blank pages. Text must be scanned through Optical Character Recognition (OCR) so that screen readers can access it. Scanned PDFs might also be violating copyright law. Most readings can be provided legally and accessible as links to public websites or durable links to GW Library’s subscriptions. 

The best way to provide readings in Blackboard is by using durable links through the GW Libraries to link readings from the appropriate journal, news organization, website, or book in a fully accessible version. You can also review your own PDFs in Adobe to ensure they’re readable for all of your students.  


GW’s subscription materials should not be converted into PDFs. Instead, all subscription materials should utilize durable links that take students through Library subscriptions:

  • Creating Durable Links from the Himmelfarb Library (for use at all GW schools and libraries)
  • Consult a librarian if you need help with resources

Before sending or posting your own PDF for students:

  • Try to select a line of text with your mouse – if you cannot do this, the text is unreadable with an assistive technology tool. Consult a librarian if you need help with this.
  • Run the Adobe Accessibility Checker and make the recommended changes on all PDFs before distribution.

Make Vendor Accessibility Policies Available to Students


Technology companies publish accessibility statements on their websites to describe their specific approach and policy on web accessibility. These statements may also include instructions on how to use specific accessibility technology available on the website, and they can encourage users to report any issues of inaccessible material.


Include accessibility statements for any tools you are using in the course. Here is a list of some of the most common: