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Instructional Technology Support Office (ITSO)


Online education has great potential for people with disabilities. However, accessibility is one its greatest challenges. Website and online course accessibility is mandated for public institutions under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In developing online courses and course content, it is important to think about and plan for accessibility from the start.

Detailed information on accessibility standards is available at the following sites:

Course Content Tips

Accessibility describes the degree to which a person can access products, services, devices or environments. Accessibility in education is not only morally and ethically right; it is a Federal mandate. The information presented here will focus on accessibility of online courses- the ease by which all students, regardless of ability, can access course materials and the steps that can be taken to make this happen.

Below is a short list of guidelines that you can implement in your course to remove potential barriers for students with disabilities.

Alternative Text (ALT Text)

Providing alternative text (ALT Text) is one of the easiest accommodations to provide. Alternative text provides an alternative to images, media, and any other non-text content. The focus here is on images, graphs, and charts. When uploading or inserting an image, there is normally a field in which ALT Text can be input. ALT Text can also be added to many existing elements by editing its properties.

ALT text provides:

  • description and context for visual or cognitive disabilities using screen readers.
  • information that is displayed when the browser cannot display the image or the user has images turned off.

Every image should have an ALT attribute. However, if an image is truly decorative it may be given an empty, or null, ALT attribute (Alt=" "). Some guidelines:

  • Consider the context of the page and represent what is important.
    • If the image is meant to convey the content of the image, then a description is appropriate.
    • If an image of a magnifying glass is being used to execute a search, its ALT text should be 'search' or 'find' not 'magnifying glass.'
    • If the image is meant to convey data, then describe the data.
  • Be succinct. Typically a few words suffice, but a short sentence or two may be necessary for clarity.
  • DO NOT be redundant. If the same information is available in the surrounding text, then an empty, or null, attribute is sufficient. However, it is best to err on the side of more information rather than less.
  • DO NOT use phrases such as "image of..." or "graphic of..." in the alternative text description. It is not necessary to indicate the information is an image or graphic.


Screen readers announce a link to the user before identifying the link. For example, a screen reader will say "link: Hawaii Community College." When creating links, consider the following:

  • Screen readers inform users when text or a graphic is a link.
    • Use text that makes sense - go to the Hawaii Community College website...
    • Do not use words like "link" or "here" for the link - link to the Hawaii Community College website.
  • Screen readers allow users to navigate from link to link, without reading the surrounding text.
    • Words like "link," "click here," and "more" do not make sense out of context.
    • Do not create links that comprise of complete sentences.
  • Keep link phrases intuitive and familiar.
  • Use familiar link terms like Contact Us rather than recreating the wheel and using something like Connect with the Crew.

HTML standards indicate hyperlinks by underlining the text, and usually by adding additional color (usually blue). At a minimum your links should be underlined. Note: refrain from underlining text that is not a hyperlink.

Font Choices

Colored Text

The use of colored text may create a barrier for people with vision problems as well as for those with cognitive disabilities.

  • On average, 1 in 12 people are affected by some sort of color deficiency (color blindness).
  • Students with dyslexia, ADHD, or cognitive impairments may find multiple colors distracting or confusing.
  • Most students who use screen readers turn off the announce color feature because it interferes with the flow of the text. For example, a screen reader will say "Color: green. Make sure to submit your first drafts no later than Saturday at 10:00 PM."

This does not mean you have to turn all images to black and white or remove all color, but be sure that color is not the only way important information is conveyed.

Serif or Sans-Serif

Serifs are the small tails and corners you will find at the end of letters. Serif fonts are generally easier to read in print, but not necessarily on a computer monitor. At smaller sizes, serif fonts can be difficult to read, and therefore sans-serif fonts are preferred.

  • Times New Roman, is a common serif font
  • Arial, a common sans-serif font
Best Practices:
  • Pick one accent color, or simply use bold and/or italics to draw the reader's attention.
  • Use high contrast colors to make sure the text stands out from the background.
  • Use sans-serif fonts for materials your students will read online.

Font Style

Avoid using ALL CAPS for emphasis or to indicate a heading.

  • Screen readers cannot identify ALL CAPS as a heading, so it will not organize the page content properly.
  • Using ALL CAPS is the text equivalent of yelling, and is improper netiquette.
  • Using ALL CAPS makes it more difficult to distinguish letters and words.

Refrain from using underlined text for emphasis or to indicate a heading. HTML standards use underlined text on a web page to indicate a hyperlink. Underlined text that is not a hyperlink may confuse or frustrate students as it will appear to be a broken link.

Closed Captions and Transcripts


Closed captions are simply a text version of the spoken word. They are most often associated with the deaf, but many individuals can benefit from captions. They also provide support for ESL students, or students in a noisy environment.

Captions do not have to be verbatim, but they must:

  • Be synchronized to the audio
  • Be equivalent to the spoken word
  • Be readily accessible

A good practice is to include your lecture script in the Notes area of your narrated PowerPoint slides. The Adobe Presenter program can be set to create automatic captions using the text in the notes area.

Audio descriptions

Audio descriptions are a type of captioning that provides additional information about the activity happening on the screen. Often in movies or videos, what is happening on the screen is at least, if not more important as what is being spoken. Audio descriptions provide this information for the visually impaired.


Transcripts provide a textual version of the content that can be accessed by anyone. They also allow the content of your multimedia to be searchable. Transcripts do not have to be verbatim accounts of the spoken word in a video. They often contain additional descriptions, explanations, or comments that may be beneficial. Transcripts allow deaf/blind users to get content through the use of refreshable Braille and other devices.

Best Practices:

  • Whenever possible, use videos that already include closed captioning.
  • Request transcripts from commercially produced shows or news casts.
  • Include your own speaker notes for narrated PowerPoints or provide them in addition to your podcasts.
  • If you must use a video or audio file that is not captioned, contact ITSO as soon as possible for advice and recommendations.


Many colleges have adopted the Section 508 standards or the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) as part of web accessibility policies on their campuses. However, neither Section 508 nor the WCAG cover "second generation" documents that are non-web formats, such as PDF and Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint.

The GRADE Project, in cooperation with the Multimedia Education Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT), developed a set of guidelines for "second generation" documents. Based on the WCAG priority levels, these guidelines are divided into three categories:

  • Must - critical items for basic access by users with disabilities
  • Should - items to make access to online materials significantly easier
  • May - items that can provide added functionality for users with disabilities

Note: It is suggested that universities and colleges address all of the "Must" items and address the "Should" and "May" items according to the user needs.

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Contact Information
Instructional Technology Support Office
Office of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

Leanne Urasaki
Upper Campus, 346-109
(808) 934-2647

Hawaiʻi Community College
200 W. Kawili St.
Hilo, HI 96720