Teaching Guidelines for Making Courses Accessible

In an effort to engage all students in classes, every course should be accessible. To make courses accessible, this guidance has been developed using Universal Design for Learning as the framework.

Universal Design is the design of products, environments, and communication to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without adaptation. Universal Design for Learning, or UDL, is based on the premise that diversified learners are the norm and not the exception. The variability learners bring to the classroom is an asset, not a detriment, to the success of the course.

UDL features of accessible classes include:

Digital Accessibility

  • Use Ally to improve the accessibility of images, documents, and files in your course. Use Canvas’s accessibility checker to review anything you’ve typed into Canvas. This is key.
  • Use captioned videos: faculty should look for versions of media with captions when uploaded or linked. Faculty delivering lectures (material that you might use again and again from semester to semester) will need those lectures captioned. This does not include student work nor video you would only use once (for example, a video comment made in Speedgrader or on a discussion thread about a student's work).
  • Use HTML or electronic versions of readings as much as possible. Reading on a web page is more adaptable than reading on paper or PDF: the text can be read aloud, and and the reader can customize size, contrast and format. 
  • If you need to use scanned PDFs, make sure they are high quality scans, so that screen readers can access the content. If you need help finding electronic versions of resources, please contact the library.
  • For faculty-created content (assignment handouts, lecture notes, etc), Canvas Pages are more accessible than PDFs and Powerpoints; consider converting them.
  • Add alternative descriptive text to photos or graphics wherever possible.

Course Organization and Operation

  • Students will appreciate consistency in their lives and in their learning. A consistent learning environment will lower anxiety and allow students to focus on the material, rather than the mechanism. The Canvas course template helps students locate key elements of the course and navigate multiple courses more easily.
  • Use the Canvas Assignments tool. Assignments should include detailed instructions, appropriate settings and due dates. This will help students keep all of their assignments on one calendar. Electronic work should be collected through Canvas Assignments (vs. email).
  • Use the Canvas Syllabus tool to add your course syllabus. Adding your text directly into Canvas will be more mobile friendly and easier for you to update versus uploading a PDF.
  • Use Gradebook to centralize and keep student grades secure and up to date.
  • Make the grading rubrics readily apparent and available.
  • Regularly post grades on Canvas. Be sure that grades are up to date so that students have an accurate idea of their standing in the course.
  • Use Announcements to communicate with the whole class. Announcements do get sent as emails, but students can access all course-related communication in Canvas if you communicate via Announcements.
  • Office hours can either be virtual (using Zoom) or face to face. Meet with students individually at least once a semester.
  • Ask students for feedback during the semester so you can make adjustments to the course in progress. Here are suggested forms for anonymous mid-semester feedback.
  • The College’s Attendance Policy notes individual instructors can set policies about how many times a student can be absent or tardy before their grade is affected; however, grading Participation alone may be a better way to recognize a student’s grasp of the material. Requiring notes or other documentation for missed classes may place a significant burden on the student.
  • Establish a community of trust by creating ground rules for engaging in the classroom. Clarify expectations for synchronous and asynchronous discussion.
  • Consider offering multiple modes of student expression of knowledge of the material. Students could respond to lectures, viewings, readings, etc. either in writing or in short videos.
  • A 2-hour lecture is difficult to pull off, so break the lecture into smaller components. Shorter is generally better, and shorter elements with embedded participation and other activities can be very effective.
  • Include Student Learning Objectives, and create assessments to meet those outcomes.
  • We encourage you to develop scaffolded, lower-stakes assignments that can be used to provide regular and helpful feedback to your students.
  • Divide major assignments into their component parts, and assess each part.
  • Use pre-tests, polling, as well as creative and reflective assignments to help you and your students gauge where they are with the material.

UDL considerations for asynchronous online courses

  • If you’re teaching an online course, use Canvas Modules to articulate course structure. A Module should correspond to each week of class, but a given course unit can span multiple Modules. Use Modules for:
    • linking files and documents
    • assignments
    • discussions
    • topic notes
  • Make some kind of a connection with each student at least weekly. This can be through submitted assignments, responses, email, attendance to a synchronous class, etc. Establishing an individual time for each student to come to office hours on a weekly basis is a good way to maintain dialogue and connection.
  • A good rule-of-thumb for participation in online-only courses is 30% of the semester grade. Discussion thread comments, video responses, and synchronous discussion would all count.
  • Record lectures and demonstrations. A 2-hour Zoom lecture is difficult to pull off, so break the lecture into smaller video components. Shorter is generally better; 15-minutes is the recommended upper-time limit, and shorter modules with embedded questions can be very effective.
  • Schedule meeting times throughout the semester if there are synchronous components.


Student Accessibility Services, the Instructional Technology Group, Information Technology, the Iwasaki Library, Dr. Tuesda Roberts, the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning and the Writing & Academic Resource Center are resources for faculty.


Faculty members own the intellectual property of their original contributions (see Emerson’s intellectual property policy.) Emerson retains the right to archive the course and to allow read-only access to NECHE accreditors, but faculty own everything in the course (including but not limited to: syllabus, lecture notes, discussion questions, topic notes, presentations, screencasts, videos, assignments, grade feedback or images used in the course).

Last updated June 7, 2021

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