Preparing Accessible Electronic Resources

Preparing Accessible Electronic Resources

Instructors should ensure that their teaching addresses the learning needs of all students. When preparing lessons and resources instructors should consider Universal Instructional Design (UID) ensuring that their resources can be used by students of varying abilities.

Electronic Resources

Instructors need to consider the principles of UID when creating electronic resources. These principles apply to both the content and format of electronic resource. The asynchronous availability, variable pacing and the general flexibility of electronic resources can be of great value to learners with disabilities. Unfortunately electronic resources are not innately accessible, but a little attention to the preparation to electronic resources is all that is needed.

The technical measure of the accessibility of the format of an web-based resource is the WCAG2 standard. The requirements of the WCAG2 are summarized in the four letter acronym POUR:

  1. Perceivable
  2. Operable
  3. Understandable
  4. Robust

Preparing Electronic Resources

The good news is most modern tools that help construct content directly for the web help individuals create accessible content. At Brock University the main web site's Drupal-Based Content Management System (CMS) helps ensure content created in it is accessible, as does Isaak, Brock University's Sakai-Based Learning Management System (LMS). The tools for creating content directly in these systems helps ensure the content is perceivable, operable and robust.

The challenge is in ensuring that content created in desktop applications is accessible, especially when multimedia is used. Content created on a desktop application is often not robust enough to perceivable and operable on the web - often traded for more control of the layout. Content that is "exported" to a web page can prevent individuals that are poorly sighted or individuals with learning disability from using strategies and tools that would normally work on properly created and accessible electronic resource.

Multimedia content is particularly challenging, as it can require the use multiple senses, and unless accommodations such as transcription or description are added, some individuals may not be able to access multimedia content.

This table is intended give a guide to instructors when they are creating/uploading content to the web. Ideally all information should be entered using the methods found toward the right of the table, however instructors should be aware of the compromises they are making when using other methods.


Level of Accessibility: Unacceptable Poor Good Best
File type or Format Images with text, such as scanned news articles

Images without alternative or descriptive text.

Tables/Images used for decoration not for organizing information.

(assuming no alternative is given)

The inconstancy of presenting content in these formats presents a problem.

Files in MS Office format: DOC, DOCX, XLS, PPT

Portable Document Format

The Adobe Portable Document Format can be easily created from most programs (See Making PDF documents).

Create pages for the web on the web.

Create or copy content directly in Isaak/Sakai via options like "Create HTML Page" or use other web-based tools.

Explanation Content cannot easily be searched or read by screen readers. Text that is no in an image is naturally more transformable and scalable. Generates a "Blocked by Internet Explorer!" alert.

The inconstancy of presenting content in these formats presents a problem. Requires MS office ($120 ~ $600) Inconsistent presentation based on version of Office, IE, etc.

An obvious exception would be an accounting course would need to use MS Excel files.

PDFs are generally a good choice.

Try to avoid documents with columns, as they can confuse some software.

The native text editor's HTML pages are fast to access and accessible to assistive technologies.

Your use of this tool and its headings and bullets option will enhance the experience for all students.

Notes and References

  1. Introduction to Universal Instructional Design (UID) at the University of Guelph. University of Guelph Teaching Support Services. retrieved on August 1, 2008 from
  2. The Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University, in partnership with UNESCO and the Government of Ontario, has developed consolidated and publicly-reviewed guidance to help ensure the accessibility of office documents and the office applications with which they are created. These guides can be found at