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Accessibility Essentials: Make Online Courses Accessible

Design Your Course Content for All Learners

UMBC's National Distance Learning Week 2022 Lunchtime Series created space for candid conversations about online learning. The candid conversation on Monday, November 7th focused on course design and Quality Matters.   

The Quality Matters Higher Education Rubric (6th edition) is a set of 8 General Standards and 42 Specific Review Standards used to evaluate the design of online and blended courses. QM Standards are research-supported and based on published best practices. The rubric's General Standard 8 focuses on course accessibility and usability, and is designed to assess whether "the course design reflects a commitment to accessibility and usability for all learners."

Creating and adding content to an online course offers students the opportunity to engage with customized course materials, but may not provide equal access if the content is not accessible. The following content creation best practices promote accessibility so that all learners can access course content.

Content Accessibility Best Practices

  • Add captions to videos. 

  • Visual information that is critical to meaning should include an audio description.

  • Panopto and VoiceThread offer automated captions. Edit and correct automated captions for accuracy.

  • Add slide presentations in video lectures to Blackboard for student view.

  • Provide transcripts for audio files.

  • Audio files can be uploaded to Panopto for automated captioning.

  • Provide alternative (Alt) text for all images that are not decorative.

  • Long descriptions may be appropriate for complex illustrations or graphs.

  • Add alternative text for images embedded in slide presentations, documents, or individual image files.

  • When adding an image to Blackboard, use the Alt text field to provide a meaningful description of the image. 

  • Add labels to charts, graphs, and illustrations.

  • Use text heading levels to format text, instead of editing text size or style.

  • Use heading levels in order (h1, h2, h3, etc).

  • Avoid using underlined text unless the text is a hyperlink.

  • Avoid using text color alone to convey meaning.

  • Color combinations provide sufficient color contrast.


  • Create tables with column and/or row headers.

  • Avoid using tables to format a document. Use text heading styles instead.

  • Create tables using text. Avoid using tables as embedded images. 

What UMBC Resources Support Course Content Accessibility? 

Blackboard Ally

Instructors can use Ally to gauge the accessibility of course content.

  • Receive feedback on the accessibility of course content through an Ally accessibility report.

  • Improve content accessibility with Ally's step-by-step instructions.

  • Create alternative formats for course content.

Students and instructors can use Ally to create alternative formats for course materials. This feature allows students to choose the type of file they want that best suits their needs.

SDS Information for Faculty

This SDS faculty resource include

  • Accessible online/remote teaching resources

  • UMBC SDS information and tools

  • Disability Resources for instructors

Quality Matters Impact

As an extension of the award-winningPIVOT program, the Quality Matters Impact program is a new initiative to formally recognize courses that meet Quality Matters standards and demonstrate exemplary online/hybrid course design.

UMBC Instructional Technology

As always, if you have any questions about teaching, learning, and technology at UMBC, please consider the following options:

Content accessibility best practices adapted with permission from University of Maryland IT Accessibility's DIY Six Essential Steps.

myUMBC post image: 2022 National Distance Learning Week Logo

Posted: November 10, 2022, 3:16 PM