UDOIT: Putting digital accessibility within reach

Young woman with cochlear implant studying at home

When I started participating in online course quality reviews, I was struck by the fact that digital accessibility is a key component of every quality rubric—but faculty are seldom prepared for this. Unless instructors have worked closely with an instructional designer, their courses are unlikely to meet the digital accessibility standards.

Over the years, I’ve taken every opportunity to bridge that gap, helping faculty understand why digital accessibility matters while seeking ways to make it less daunting. So I’m thrilled that Missouri Online now offers a tool to do exactly that: the Universal Design Online (Content) Inspection Tool, or UDOIT (pronounced “You Do It”).

Why does digital accessibility matter?

But let’s back up a minute. What is digital accessibility, and why is it so important that your online course cannot pass a quality review unless you have ensured that all your materials are accessible? 

The National Federation for the Blind defines digital accessibility as “the practice of designing electronic material so that it is usable by all people, including people with disabilities.” This includes individuals with visual, hearing, motor, or cognitive impairments. 

You might wonder, “Can’t I wait until I get an accommodation request to worry about accessibility?” But legally and ethically, being proactive about digital accessibility is the right thing to do. Just as physical spaces must be accessible to all users, so must digital spaces. It will also save you time in the long run, as you will not have to hastily retrofit your course materials in response to a request for accommodation, possibly delaying the student’s ability to fully participate in your class. Digital accessibility must be part of the foundation of inclusive course design.

How can UDOIT help?

UDOIT will scan your Canvas course site and catch issues that can present barriers for students with some disabilities. As you use UDOIT to check your courses, you will become familiar with these issues and be able to create new materials with digital accessibility in mind.

How do I run a UDOIT scan?

If you do not see UDOIT 3 in your Canvas course site navigation menu, go to Settings > Navigation and drag it from the bottom half to the top half, and then be sure to Save. (Note that students will not see UDOIT in their own course navigation, nor can they access any reports.)

The first time you select this link, you will be prompted to authorize the app. Then, it will scan your course site, checking the following:

  • Announcements
  • Assignments
  • Discussions
  • Files
  • Pages
  • Syllabus
  • Module URLs

The scan will take a few minutes, depending on how much material you have. When the scan is done, select the Continue button to view your report.

How do I use the UDOIT report?

Your report will be divided into Errors (most critical to address) and Suggestions (still important but might be ignored in some cases).

UDOIT report showing 115 errors and 129 suggestions

Errors you are likely to encounter include the following:

  • Headings—must contain text and cannot skip levels
  • Color—insufficient contrast between text and background
  • Links—must contain text; for example, do not just make an image a link to another resource unless you have also provided alternative text for the image.
  • Alternative text—should not be empty and should not be just the image filename (which is the Canvas default), but should not contain more than 150 characters.
  • Tables—must have headers and must define row and column scope for headers

Suggestions can include these:

  • Headings—Should be used in longer documents to provide structure (to achieve this, you can create an outline of your document and use that to determine appropriate heading levels).
  • Links—Should be descriptive, not a filename, URL, or “click here.” For example, state “University of Missouri System,” not “https://www.umsystem.edu/” or “click here to visit the University of Missouri System website.”
  • Color—Do not use color alone for emphasis; add bold, italics, or an icon to call attention to your content.
  • Content length—Consider splitting content longer than 3,000 words onto multiple pages.

Then you can choose how you want to address these issues; for example, tackling all at once or starting with the easiest to fix. When you select Get Started, you can review each flagged item and decide how to fix it.

In this example, a URL has been used instead of descriptive link text:

UDOIT flags plain URL. Options to fill in descriptive link text, visit page to fix, or mark resolved.

Options include typing in new link text, deleting the link completely, or manually resolving the issue. A preview window shows the effect of the change, and if you are comfortable doing so, you can switch to HTML view. You can also click the item title below the preview window and make your changes directly within the item; it will open in a separate browser tab.

In this case, the URL text is changed to the title of the item linked:

URL changed to Guide to Facilitating Dialogues (MU Division of Division of Inclusion, Diversity & Equity)

Will UDOIT catch all the digital accessibility issues with my Canvas course?

UDOIT will identify accessibility concerns within the Canvas site itself, but if you upload files (such as Word documents or PowerPoint slides) to your course site, it will not address those. However, there is an Accessibility Checker in Microsoft Office that works similarly—it will flag issues, explain why they need to be addressed, and guide you in resolving them.

It will also not check the content on links to outside internet resources you have included, such as websites or PDF files.

Finally, if you have Panopto videos in your course site, UDOIT might not accurately detect whether they are captioned. See How to Add ASR (Automatic Speech Recognition) Captions into a Video to learn how to do this.

How can I learn more about digital accessibility?

  • Missouri Online provides some Accessibility Help Guides.
  • You are also invited to reach out to Missouri Online to consult with an instructional designer. We are available for one-on-one meetings or small-group workshops to discuss how digital accessibility supports student learning and how you can ensure the accessibility of your online courses.

—Laura Foley, Instructional Designer at Missouri Online and member of the University of Missouri System Digital Accessibility Task Force