Designing Accessible Instructional Materials

Universal Instructional Design (UID) is a philosophy of practice that aims to ensure teaching and learning is accessible to the widest group of people. The design and composition of learning environments can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of age, size, ability, or disability. As instructors, we need to apply UID to the instructional materials that we provide for our students. You must know how to present your material effectively to people with a variety of abilities and respond to requests for specific accommodations. 

Here are some simple ways you can be more inclusive in your digital spaces in the coming weeks: 

The Accessible Deck 

Presentation slides are an important teaching artefact that is used by all your students before, during, and after your class. Therefore, think about the design of your next deck and apply some universal design principles to make all your students feel included. 

Font size and type – We may be tempted to use fancy font types to make our slides look attractive but using handwriting or script fonts, particularly ones whose letters link together, makes text much harder to read. The Sans serif font is typically the most readable. You may want extra space between letters, words, and lines. Also, people with vision impairments will appreciate the larger text too. 

What colour is that? – We often use colour to tell a story. For example, Do’s in green and Don’ts in Red. Instead of just using colour to represent your story, enhance your slides with labels, icons, or other visual markers.  If your graphs only use color to differentiate, think about using patterns or labels to tell each bar, or pie segment apart. Colour Safe is a great resource to use if want to test contrast ratios of your colour palettes and ensure whether it is accessible. 

Less is more – Your slides are not speaker notes. Too much text may make students with attention deficiencies and reading difficulties struggle to keep up with reading from the slides and listening to you. A rule of thumb is to have three ideas per slide that are described through short phrases. 

Avoid the roller-coaster ride – Animations in slides are fun but they can make many people feel dizzy if you have too many transitions happening within a short period. Also, for people with vestibular disorders, certain transitions such as parallax scrolling can trigger headaches. Entertain your students with a lame joke than making them feel ill! 

Screen Reader experience – When creating the next deck of slides, consider the experience of someone using a screen reader. If you are not using an image for aesthetic purposes on your slide, insert a caption to describe the purpose of the image used. Watch a Screen Reader Demo for Digital Accessibility to get a first-hand look at how they work and reflect on what needs to be changed on your presentation’s slides. 

Tidy up your communication 

The next time you are writing an email, avoid hyperlinking words such as “click here” or “learn more” – these carry little meaning for someone using a screen-reader, and you add unnecessary bulk to your message. Screen reader users often tab through content, skipping through it as a way of scanning an email. Giving your links some context will help these users to decide if they want to click through or not. Avoid using a PDF poster or image as a standalone email invitation for an event. You can improve accessibility by inserting text that everyone can engage with. You can add alt text to convey the content and the purpose of the image in a concise and unambiguous manner. The alt text shouldn’t be longer than a short sentence or two—most of the time a few thoughtfully selected words will do. 

Keep learning! 

A Universal Design for Learning approach can increase student engagement and academic success. A key factor in creating accessible material is learning how to design them.  Consider completing Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities (AODA) training through your institution or enrolling in a course in accessibility and inclusive design – 

Revisit a current work project 

Make an active commitment to review your work and find opportunities to re-evaluate processes, policies, or environmental design of your digital spaces. In your end of course surveys, ask whether students found your materials accessible and ask what barriers they faced. This process should be cyclical and with every iteration, you will include more people than before. 


Hamraie, A. (2017). Building access: Universal design and the politics of disability. U of Minnesota Press. 

Making Your Online Course Content Accessible 

Make your PowerPoint presentations accessible 

Make your e-mail accessible  

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