Creating Accessible Course Materials

Course Accessibility Checklist

For a general overview about how to think about the accessibility of course and exam administration, video and audio, Canvas and other online content, and course readings, please download our Accessibility Checklist for Faculty (PDF).

Who Needs Alternative-Format Texts?

The term “alternative-format texts” usually refers to texts in electronic format that can be accessed through the use of assistive technology, such as a screen reader software program. Students with a print disability either are unable to read, or have difficulty reading, course materials in printed formats. These students need course materials in an electronic format in order for them to engage with the material. Other students may have a disability that limits the amount of time they can look at a computer screen; alternative texts for these students may include printouts of online materials.

One common misconception is that blind or low-vision students are the only people who require texts in electronic format. In fact, the majority of students receiving their course materials in electronic format do not have a visual disability. Students with dyslexia, reading disorders, and other learning disabilities that make processing written text difficult can benefit from screen readers that read the text aloud as the student follows along on the page. Students may also have physical disabilities that make it difficult to carry books or turn pages.

Having course materials available in accessible formats and ready to go in Canvas as the quarter begins will ensure that students with print-related disabilities can have equitable access to these materials.

How to Make Readings Accessible

Not all PDFs are accessible to screen readers. When a book is scanned, the resulting PDF is image-only; the text is presented as a picture. These PDFs must be edited by a software conversion tools that use Optical Character Recognition (OCR), which allows the image-only PDF to be converted into a machine-readable format.

You can convert inaccessible documents, such as image-only PDFs, into an accessible format using an online conversion tool called SensusAccess.

Using SensusAccess

The University of Chicago’s license for SensusAccess allows anyone with a UChicago email address to use this conversion service independently. SensusAccess can be used to convert print material, textbooks, and articles into an accessible document with some limitations described in the “How Does it Work” section. 

SensusAccess Formats

SensusAccess can convert inaccessible documents into a range of formats, including audio books, ebooks, digital braille, and accessible PDFs or Word documents.  If you would like your document converted into an accessible EPUB or MOBI (Kindle) file, select ebook. If you would like your document converted into an accessible PDF or Word file, select accessibility conversion and choose the preferred format. Notice: The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. The person using this equipment is liable for any infringement.

How Does It Work?

Scan and upload your file into the application, or upload your electronic document. The text is run through an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) processor, which attempts to recognize each letter of text. Its accuracy is dependent on the clarity of the document. Scans that are blurry or that have lines through or near text can be illegible and result in an unusable converted file. A poor-quality scan or copy will require a human to check the conversion for accuracy. SensusAccess also may have trouble with images, charts, graphs, complicated tables, or other content that isn’t part of the main text. SensusAccess can convert text that is part of images, but it cannot provide context or description of images or figures.

  • If this file is is a clean scan and only has text or has non-text content described in text, then you can upload the file to SensusAccess.
  • If this file is blurry, heavily marked, or if it has images, charts, graphs, or other non-text content that is important but not described in the text, it will need additional enhancement that SensusAccess cannot provide, so you should send it to

Accessible Images

Files with images (graphs, charts, or other images meant to convey information) must be given an alternative text (alt-text) description in order to convey the images as readable text. The alt-text description allows students using screen readers to receive either a text or audible description of the image. This description might be short or long, depending on the student’s needs and the importance of the image.

Increasing Accessibility for Migrated Canvas Courses

Canvas allows instructors to copy course materials from previous Canvas courses to courses in Canvas that are currently being taught. (For more information, see the workshop Copying Material between Canvas Courses) Copying course material eliminates the need to re-upload files for commonly taught courses; however, the automatic process means that inaccessible materials will remain inaccessible unless you request the converted copies from SDS. SDS converts course materials for students with current access needs, and, when available, can proactively work with Library Course Reserves and instructors to convert inaccessible materials for frequently taught courses to ensure that the course materials are accessible prior to posting on Canvas each quarter.

Materials That Commonly Do Not Require Conversion

  • Chapters in eBooks held by the library
  • Articles in journals to which the library has a subscription

Materials That Need Conversion

When book chapters or other items are scanned to create a PDF, the default is an image-only PDF. These PDFs are not accessible to students who use screen readers and need to be converted.

  • If this file is only text/has non-text content described in text, then you can upload the file to SensusAccess.
  • If this file has images, charts, graphs, or other non-text content that is important but not described in the text, it will need additional enhancement that Sensus Access cannot provide, so you should send it to
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