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ADA Topics

Why does accessibility matter?

Many students may be eligible for accommodations but do not seek them out due to a variety of reasons (stigma, lack of documentation, or lack of unawareness of the student resources). You may not be able to tell who those students are because the most prevalent forms of disability on college campuses are hidden/invisible disabilities (learning disabilities, anxiety, chronic pain, traumatic brain injury, etc.)

There are also faculty and staff with disabilities, as well as parents and caretakers. Our colleges serve not only our students but our community. They provide jobs, resources, events, and opportunities for continued growth and education. Disability touches every population and is very likely to touch each of us at some point in our lives.

Accessibility does not just benefit people with disabilities. Think of it this way: Elevators allow people unable to use the stairs to reach the different floors in a multi-story building. But does that mean you must be impaired to use the elevator? If someone is carrying a lot of items, or they are running late to a meeting on the 25th floor, then the elevator benefits them as well.

Accessible content works the same way. For example, a captioned video is not only helpful to someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, but it can help a person trying to watch the video in a noisy public space, or help someone for whom English is not their native language. Designing buildings, or digital content, in such a way as to maximize use for the most people possible, is known as Universal Design.

For more information about accessibility at UNCW, please contact the Disability Resource Center.

To learn more about creating accessible course content, please check out DRC's accessibility guides.

Additional Resources

Color Use & Color Contrast

For normal text, there should be a minimum of 4.5:1 contrast ratio between text foreground and background colors. For large text (18pt or larger) or bold text, the minimum contrast ratio requirement is 3:1.

Helpful Tips

  • Avoid meaningful use of red, green, or colors that are rich in red or green hues, because they can be difficult to distinguish for people with deuteranopia or protanopia.
  • Avoid the use of black text on red background or red text on a black background (some colorblind people cannot see lower color wave frequencies that are associated with red, so red appears black).

Recommended Color Contrast Tools

Accessible Text

When creating content, it's important that you avoid using images of text. Images of text cannot be (easily) modified or read by assistive technologies like text to speech or screen readers.

If you have text housed within an image (like a screenshot or a banner with text that's converted to a jpg or png file), then the text is essentially unreadable by assistive technology.

Real text is searchable. This allows users to use search functions like Ctrl + F to locate specific terms and find what they need quickly.

Additionally, searchable text means that search engines can scan the document/page and determine if the content is relevant to the terms the user typed in. This can help ensure your document/page is easier to find for those using search terms to find it.

Real text can be modified by assistive technology. This is important for users who may need to increase the size of the font or contrast in order to see better.

This can also help students who are dyslexic and may want to change the font type to one that's easier for them to read.

People often fear making documents editable without realizing that allowing people to make modifications may help ensure that they receive the valuable information contained within the document.

How do you know if you're working with real text? To check if the text is "real" or not, try to select the text with your cursor. If you're unable to highlight/select it then it is not real text, and therefore not accessible for all users.

Helpful Tips

  • Avoid using too many combinations of fonts and typing long phrases or sentences in ALL CAPS.
  • Avoid fancy or cursive fonts as these can be difficult to read.
  • Try to use a simple font in a good size - no smaller than 11pt for printed materials, or 20pt font for projected presentations.
  • Make sure that the text color contrasts strongly with its background.
  • Make sure that the font appearance (e.g., color, shape, variation, placement) is not used to convey meaning.
  • Avoid text that blinks or moves.
  • Please use fonts that are simple and easy to read like Sans serif fonts (e.g., Arial, Calibri, Verdana)

Additional Resources

WebAIM: Fonts


Headings are the labels given to each section title of your document. They give your document structure by organizing the content into sections.

Often, people use a bold or larger font to indicate section titles (which allows sighted users to scan the document for the section they need).

Assistive technology, however, does not allow the user to navigate based on whether the text is bold or larger.

By using headings, a person using assistive tech can jump from section to section rather than read through all of the text to find what they need.

Without headings, a document/web page is essentially one long stream of text that forces students using assistive tech to navigate through from the start, rather than jump to what they need (imagine if you could only navigate a web page by using the right and left arrow keys - no scroll bar, no up and down arrows).

Heading Hierarchy

Heading 1 is usually the document title or main content heading. It is the most important heading, and typically, there should be just one.

  • Heading 2 is usually a major section heading.
  • Heading 3 is usually a subsection of a Heading 2.
  • Heading 4 is usually a subsection of a Heading 3.
  • And so on, ending with Heading 6.

Helpful Tips

Making text bolder and larger is not the same as creating headings. If possible, please use the heading tool provided by an application to create headings

Additional Resources

WebAIM's Creating Accessible Documents: Microsoft Word


Numbered lists (also called “ordered”) and bulleted lists (also called “unordered”) are important elements of an accessible document because they help users of assistive technology to navigate and understand the items on the list.

For example, a screen reader can identify a list and tell someone how many items are on the list by vocalizing the information, for example, “List of five items. Bullet 3.”

Helpful Tips

  • Use your software's built-in list function. Do not manually create lists.
  • Use a bulleted list to group together related items.
  • Use a numbered list to show steps in a process or the number of parts in a whole.

Accessible Hyperlinks

Hyperlinks connect a hypertext file or document to another location or file. Linked information is typically presented in the form of text, websites, files, or video content. Hyperlinks play a very important role in course accessibility.

Accessible hyperlinks are easy to create. There are a few simple concepts to keep in mind as you create these links in the resources you provide to students:

  1. Embed Links Within Text
    • Embed a link within a concise string of text instead of using its URL as the link text. A screen reader user will more easily understand where an accessible link leads and will not have to listen while the reader pronounces every single character of a URL.
  2. Create Concise Hyperlinks
    • Users can scan a concise hyperlink and quickly determine whether they want to click through and read the material it links to.
    • Beware of the "Long Link" Monster! A longer link is more likely to break across lines in a web page or document and may appear to be two separate links. It may also reveal some of the information that users will find when they click on the link, which may or may not be your intention.
      • Concise: Creating Accessible Hyperlinks
      • Not Concise: This page lists ways in which accessible hyperlinks can benefit screen reader users.
  3. Create Descriptive Hyperlinks
    • Descriptive hyperlinks will more clearly explain what information they link to and will improve the experience of all your students.
      • Descriptive: Benefits of Accessible Hyperlinks
      • Not Descriptive: Benefits
  4. Write our Full Email Addresses
    • Use the full email address as link text rather than embedding it in other link text.
      • Accessible:
      • Not Accessible: Accessibility Help (This example does not convey that it is an email address.)

Helpful Tips

  • Choose hyperlink text that clearly identifies the content of the resource being linked to.
  • Hyperlink text should not consist of the URL unless it is likely to be printed; e.g., Word document.
  • If a hyperlink downloads a file, be sure to mention that.
  • Example: Campus Map (PDF, 5.62 MB)
  • If a hyperlink opens in a new browser tab or window, be sure to mention that.
  • Example: UNCW Homepage (opens in new tab)
  • Underline hyperlink text.
  • Give hyperlink text a different color from the surrounding text. Also, please make sure to use the same color for all hyperlinks in a given document.

Additional Resources

Create Accessible Links in Word (Video, 2:09)

Accessible Images

Meaningful images should have alternative text (alt-text). This is information about the image that is used by assistive technologies like screen readers and will also become visible if an image cannot load.

Helpful Tips

  • The alt text should be concise (typically 180 characters or less) and convey the meaning of the image.
  • Decorative images should be marked as decorative images.
  • Provide alt text for complex images, graphs, or charts in another way on the page. Ideally as a caption under the image/graph/chart or within a paragraph on the page and make the alt text of the image the image's name.
  • Do not use color as the only way to represent information in an image.
  • Use real text instead of images of text.
  • Avoid using images that flash more than 3 times per second.

Additional Resources

Accessible Tables

Information presented in tabular format requires special attention to ensure the content is accessible. The structure and formatting of tables are often visually implied.

Ideally, tables are used for tabular data and not for presentation.

Accessible Tables Requirements

  • A designated header row and title.
  • Tab order of table cells that follows reading order.
  • Table cells that are not split or merged.
  • If color is used, it is not the only indication of meaning.
  • Real table structure (refrain from using images of tables)

Additional Resources

WebAIM: Creating Accessible Tables

Introducing Ally

To support UNCW's commitment to inclusiveness, Ally was integrated within UNCW's LMS (Canvas). Ally assists instructors with the creation of accessible course content in Canvas without changing how anything works in your Canvas course.

What is Ally?

Ally is a software solution that sits in Canvas and provides real-time analyses of the accessibility of all course content.

It clearly identifies which items could be improved and helps faculty to remediate course content. Ally updates in real-time, so faculty can see the progress they are making instantaneously when creating courses that are universally accessible for all students.

Ally can help faculty proactively address accessibility issues rather than having to respond to individual concerns reactively.

In addition, Ally allows students to access multiple formats of course materials to meet their needs, without putting the additional workload on faculty or changing how anything looks in Canvas.

Benefits of using Ally

  • Enhances learning opportunities for all students in your courses.
  • Automatically creates multiple formats without affecting your original course files.
  • Saves time in the course design workflow.
  • Assists faculty in creating more accessible content in the moment.

To learn more about Ally or departmental trainings, please email us.


Ensuring an accessible and pleasant experience for all users, regardless of disability, is a key element of Canvas software. The Canvas platform was built using the most modern HTML and CSS technologies and is committed to W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative and Section 508 guidelines.

Here are some accessible features within Canvas:

  1. Font Sizing
    • The Canvas interface uses rem sizing for fonts so any typography will meet the following:
      • It will zoom when the browser is zoomed.
      • It will scale if a custom browser sized font is chosen or set from a browser's setting
  2. Rich Content Editor
    • The Rich Content Editor supports multiple accessibility features for easy creation of accessible content:
  3. Calendar
    • The Calendar supports Agenda View, which lists all assignments and events in a list or agenda format. Learn how to access the Calendar Agenda View.
  4. Quizzes
  5. Gradebook
    • Both the default (assignment) Gradebook and the Learning Mastery Gradebook support an individual view, where instructors can view assignments and grades for one student at a time. Learn more about individual view in the Gradebook and Learning Mastery Gradebook.
  6. User Settings
    • The User Settings page hosts two feature options to enhance accessibility. Learn how to change user settings.
    • High Contrast UI: When enabled, this feature offers higher contrast in buttons, tabs, and other areas throughout Canvas.
    • Underline Links: When enabled, this feature underlines hyperlinks in navigation menus, the Dashboard, and page sidebars.
  7. Chat Tool
    • The Chat Tool has an option to enable audio notifications when new messages are posted.
  8. SpeedGrader/DocViewer/Annotations
    • Students can now access annotations and comments with a screen reader, including information about the annotation type, author name, comment, and any reply comments at the end of the document. Please see Canvas Community blog post for more information.

Additional Resources

Creating Accessible Video Content

Videos are becoming more and more common as we move material and lectures/presentations online. As the instructor of the course, you must ensure that instructional videos are accessible. This guarantees that the largest audience possible can benefit from your video.

Captions do not only benefit deaf or hard-of-hearing viewers, but they also benefit users in loud environments, users in quiet libraries, and students learning new languages. Captioning is not just about meeting the UNCW ADA policy.

It is all about making your content inclusive, which will enhance learning and allow for a more significant number of students with diverse learning needs to access a variety of media content.

DEeL's Closed Captioning Services

As part of UNCW's commitment to providing accessible course material, UNCW Distance Education and eLearning offers FREE closed captioning and transcription services for video and audio files in English and many other languages for instructional purposes.

Distance Education and eLearning will return your captioned media within two weeks of the request. Our closed captions and transcripts are created manually by our third-party vendor.

If you have additional questions about our CC services, please email us.

What are closed captions (CC)?

Closed captions are timed-text is shown on screen as the video plays (attached to your video). For captions, your video will need to be stored in Echo360.

What is a transcript?

A transcript is your audio converted into an editable text document. Our office provides you with the Word document file and you would be responsible for storing it.

Should I request for captions or a transcript?

Our office recommends captions for instructional videos. Captions allow students to stay within one platform. Overall, whether it is captions or a transcript, you want to make sure to have an alternative option for your videos, just in case your students need it.

If you are not sure which option would work best for your videos, you can always reach out via email at for assistance.

How do I caption my content in VoiceThread?

VoiceThreads are automatically captioned by VoiceThread when created in Canvas. To learn more, please email us.

How do I caption my recordings in Zoom?

Zoom meetings recorded by the Zoom Cloud are automatically machine-transcribed. While Zoom can record meetings, Zoom storage is limited by UNCW, and recordings stored in Zoom will be deleted at the end of each term.

Please use your Echo360 account to store and share all recordings, where storage is unlimited and will not be deleted.

Zoom and Echo360 are integrated at UNCW. This means any time you record a Zoom meeting to the cloud, it will automatically be saved in your Echo360 library.

If your recording requires captioning to fulfill a student or employee accommodation request, Zoom Cloud's machine-generated transcripts are not sufficient, and you will need to submit a captioning request ticket to DEeL. Please email us for guidance.

How do I caption my videos on YouTube?

YouTube automatically captions videos that are stored on their video streaming platform. Since YouTube captions are computer-generated, your captions will not be 100% accurate, but you are able to edit the captions if you are the owner of the video. If you find a video on YouTube that does not have captions, our office can provide you with a written transcript. If you need any assistance with YouTube, please contact YouTube Support.

Why is the turnaround two weeks?

The turnaround time is up to 2 weeks per CC request because it depends on how long the videos are, how long it takes our third party to caption them manually, and how long it takes for us to handle all the CC requests we have in the queue once we get your captions back.

Overall, we do our best to provide a quick turnaround time, especially if a student needs it, which is usually 2 to 3 days, but we say two weeks to provide DEeL some time to manage all the CC requests. This is why it is essential to make sure you submit your videos for captions as soon as possible.

We understand how busy things can get during the semester and the importance of accessible content for your students. So, once you create your video, send us a CC request as soon as you can. No matter what, DEeL is here to help!

How do I request captions from DEeL?

To submit a CC request to DEeL, you can locate our form within the Help tab in Canvas or on TAC's website. We will just need:

  • The name of the course
  • The name of the videos
  • The location of the video files

What things should I consider before submitting a CC request to DEeL?

  • If you are not the primary owner of the video/audio or your requested videos are stored on YouTube, DEeL can only provide you a transcript for your requested video.
  • Please make sure that your video is not uploaded directly into Canvas. We are only able to get captions for your videos that are stored in your Echo360 library. To learn more about Echo360, please email
  • There is a limit of 5 videos per request. For example, if you have 10 videos, you will need to submit 2 separate CC requests.
  • Echo360 videos are not automatically captioned. You will need to submit a CC request for captions.

Accessible PDFs

PDFs tend to cause a lot of anxiety when it comes to accessibility. The main reason is that PDFs are often created in order to prevent editing, thereby making them more difficult to fix if someone does not own the source document.

Additionally, if a PDF is a scanned document, then it is an image of text and someone using assistive technology like a screen reader will be unable to access the text. So, the first rule of thumb when it comes to accessible PDFs is to avoid scanned documents.

Another issue that many people run into with PDFs is that they do not have the appropriate software to edit the PDF.

Many people have Adobe Acrobat Reader, which allows them to view PDFs. In order to edit a PDF, you will need Adobe Acrobat Pro. To install Adobe Acrobat Pro on your device or for technical assistance, please contact TAC.

Please check out our quick, accessible PDF checklist down below to help you get started.

Accessible PDF Checklist

  • Is the PDF searchable?
  • Does the PDF contain tags?
  • Are the tags correct? (ex. headings, paragraphs, figures, tables)
  • Are the heading levels correct?
  • Does the PDF contain figures with appropriate alt-text?
  • Does the PDF contain tables with appropriate header cells?
    • Within the Accessibility Tool, use the Reading Order feature (Table Editor) to properly label header cells.
  • Is the reading order of elements on each page correct?
    • Within the Accessibility Tool, use the Reading Order feature to correct the reading order on each page.
  • Are the title and language properties of the PDF correct?
    • Select File
    • Click Properties
    • Click Description (for the title) and Advanced (for language) tabs to correct title and language

If you are unable to make your PDF files accessible, please contact Randall Library. They can provide you with alternative options for articles and ebooks.

If you have any questions on how to make your PDFs accessible within your online course, email us or schedule an appointment with DEeL using our booking tool.

Additional Resources

Learn the 4 Why's of PDF's from Randall Library and the importance of linking your resources.

Web Accessibility Guidelines

UNCW is committed to creating an inclusive campus and providing equal access to all aspects of campus life, both programmatically and physically. We provide guidelines to help improve accessibility to our web pages.