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Quick and Dirty Tips for Accessibility when Pivoting to Online Teaching & Learning

As UT is pivoting to taking classes online, a reasonable goal for faculty who have not already developed significant teaching and learning experiences on Canvas and/or Zoom for their classes is to prepare a “minimum viable product” until we are cleared to resume teaching as we were.

In other words, rapid migration from in-person to online teaching will bear very little resemblance to a well designed course that was always intended to be taught online.


1. Minimum Viable Product

The first benchmark is simply to have a minimum viable product to connect with your learners and continue the learning experience to the best of your ability in the circumstances. OIT’s Teaching Remotely webpage provides tips and support for getting started to this end.

2. Address Accommodations as Needed

The second benchmark is to do your best to ensure that students who receive accommodations through Student Disability Services have what they need when the class is shifted to an online environment. Because accommodations are case-by-case, if you have students in your class who receive accommodations please collaborate with SDS to ensure that those student’s needs are met as expediently as reasonably possible in the circumstances. 

3. Take Steps to Enhance Accessibility

A third and related benchmark is to follow some “quick and dirty” practices for ensuring accessibility of content. Unlike accommodations, which are targeted to individuals and facilitated by SDS, accessibility is a feature of the learning environment and materials that helps ensure usability for everyone. There is frequent overlap between accommodations and accessibility, but they are not the same thing.

For example, if SDS provides captions for a given student who is hard of hearing, that is an accommodation. If videos that an instructor uses in class are captioned up front (for anyone who turns them on), that’s an accessibility practice.

In this emergency situation, accessibility practices are encouraged, but not mandated by the University.

“Quick and Dirty” Accessibility Tips        

  • Text Contrast: Use black text on a white background to ensure that the text stands out on the page. Avoid UT orange text on white background – it doesn’t have enough contrast.
  • Text Styles: Do not use color alone to denote differences in emphasis and content meaning, that is, “Items in red are important” will be undecipherable for some people.
  • Heading Styles: Use built-in heading styles to designate content organization.
  • List Styles: Use the built-in bullet or number styles for lists.
  • Alt Text: Provide a brief text alternative for images, graphs, and charts. Alt text should briefly convey the information of the visual element in text form.
  • Closed Captioning: Captioning your media provides greater student comprehension of the material covered and provides access media for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • Link Text: Use descriptive titles for link text, titles, and headers. For example, when linking to a webpage, you may say, “please visit our descriptive hyperlinks document to learn more” as opposed to copying the URL into the body text or using non-descriptive links such as “click here.”
  • Tables: Use simple tables when possible, with column and row headers. Avoid empty cells and avoid using tables to layout visual content.