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Office of Instructional Technology Guides

Making Your Course More Accessible for Students

Accessibility Best Practices

Contact the Office of Instructional Technology

The Office of Instructional Technology team can assist faculty and teaching assistants on using Ally on Canvas.


Contact the Instructional Technology Lab (ITL)

The Instructional Technology Lab team is available to assist faculty and teaching assistants with making course content accessible through one-on-one consultations and workshops.

PHONE: (202) 994-0485
LOCATION: Gelman Library, lower level

Why Accessibility Matters?


accessibility modalitiesAccessibility removes barriers enabling learners to engage and participate in activities seamlessly and effortlessly. Including accessible resources or content within your course, reduces and helps to overcome these barriers that might occur for people with disabilities during their digital or physical interactions.

Designing your content for accessibility and inclusion will benefit users who are or have:      

  • neurodiverse (for example, ADD or ADHD)

  • a specific learning difficulty (for example, dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia)

  • social and communication issues (such as Autism Spectrum Disorder)

  • sight loss and low vision

  • screen reader users

  • physical and motor issues

  • deafness or hearing loss


What is Ally?

Ally logo









Ally is a content accessibility service, that integrates seamlessly with the GW Law School’s Canvas learning management system to automatically check course content and files uploaded by instructors for accessibility issues. Using advanced machine learning algorithms, Ally generates alternative formats—such as text that is readable by a screen reader, electronic braille, or audio—that students can download and use to support their learning.

How to use Alternate Formatting

Students have access to alternative formats of content you have added to your course site. To observe how students engage with these alternative formats, utilize the Student View option within Canvas.

An alternative format is a varied representation of educational materials beyond traditional print, designed to accommodate diverse learning needs and preferences. It includes formats such as audio, electronic braille, and other modalities, fostering inclusivity by allowing individuals to choose how they access information based on their unique requirements.

Many in-person and online classrooms today are integrated with students with diverse needs. Alternative formats allow everyone to access the information they need in the way they need or want it. With alternative formats, all students can meet the same learning objectives using resources built to target the individual student's needs.

Alternative formats aren't just for a select group of students. Alternative formats benefit everyone. For example, your students may be prone to eye strain, or maybe they are auditory learners. Ally creates audio and electronic braille alternatives for visually impaired students, or learners can access the HTML or ePub formats for easier reading on a mobile device. Faculty don’t need to do anything. Ally creates the alternative formats for you.

Finding available alternative formats

Ally creates alternative formats of the original content instructors add to their courses. These formats are made available with the original file so everything is in one convenient location. 

NOTE: The alternative formats created depend on the original content. If you don't see an option to download alternative formats, Ally isn’t enabled for that course or the file is not a supported content type.

Select the Download Alternative Formats icon wherever you see it to download the content in a different format. Choose the version that is best for your needs!



Ally provides alternative formats for these content types and more:

  • PDF files
  • Microsoft Word files
  • Microsoft PowerPoint files
  • Content created in the LMS course editor

Ally can generate these alternative formats. The alternative formats available to download depend on the original file or content type:

  • OCR’d version (for scanned documents)
  • Tagged PDF
  • Immersive Reader
  • Mobile-friendly HTML
  • Audio
  • ePub
  • Electronic Braille
  • BeeLine Reader



How the Alternative Format icon will look in your course







For additional information on the use of Alternative Formats, please visit: Help Center - Alternative Formats

Source: Ally for LMS Instructors - Alternative Formats

Understanding Accessibility Scoring

An accessibility score is a measure of how well a website conforms to accessibility guidelines and best practices. It takes into account factors such as the use of alt text for images, closed captions for videos, heading structure, and much more. An accessibility score can help you monitor the accessibility of your course and ensure that everyone, regardless of their abilities, can use it. This includes learners with visual, auditory, and motor impairments, as well as those with cognitive and neurological disabilities. 

Ally checks accessibility for your new and existing course content. To measure accessibility, Ally assigns your content an accessibility score. The score range is represented as Low-Perfect with higher scores indicating better accessibility.

  •  Low (0-33%): Needs help! There are severe accessibility issues.

  •  Medium (34-66%): A little better. The file is somewhat accessible and needs improvement.

  •  High (67-99%): Almost there. The file is accessible but more improvements are possible.

  •  Perfect (100%): Perfect! Ally didn't identify any accessibility issues but further improvements may still be possible.

The accessibility scores are determined by the severity of issues in each file. A low score indicates the file has severe or multiple accessibility issues; a high score means there are minor or no accessibility issues. For accessibility scores less than 100 percent, Ally gives you suggestions for improving the accessibility of the file.

Each score is composed of both a numerical number and a colored gauge that reflects the number. Typically, you should see your accessibility score within 15-90 seconds. However, this may take longer if your content is complex, or if you have a lot of course content and it is being assessed all at once. The content must be added directly into the course to be included in the scoring. 

Once you know the accessibility score, you can begin to explore the accessibility issues and improve your content to raise the score. Accessible documents are important for all audiences, and Ally gives you the tools to understand common issues and improve your course files.

Find a content item and select the Accessibility score indicator to view the instructor feedback panel.


Source: Ally- Accessibility Scores

Course Accessibility Report

The course accessibility report acts as a complement to the existing accessibility indicators. It provides an accessibility summary and overview at the course level.

Ally’s course accessibility report includes Overview and Content tabs so that you can get the big picture as well as specific details about the accessibility of your digital course content.

  • The Overview tab shows the accessibility score for the course, course content grouped by content type, and a list of all issues identified in the course
  • The Content tab shows you the content with accessibility issues.












At the top of the report is an accessibility score for the entire course.

Scores range from Low to Perfect. The higher the score the fewer the issues.

  •  Low (0-33%): Needs help! There are severe accessibility issues.

  •  Medium (34-66%): A little better. The file is somewhat accessible and needs improvement.

  •  High (67-99%): Almost there. The file is accessible but more improvements are possible.

  •  Perfect (100%): Perfect! Ally didn't identify any accessibility issues but further improvements may still be possible.

See all content in your course grouped by content type. Select Start to go to the Content tab and start fixing issues.

Currently, Ally checks files in these formats:

  • PDF files
  • Microsoft® Word files
  • Microsoft® PowerPoint® files
  • OpenOffice/LibreOffice files
  • Uploaded HTML files
  • Image files (JPG, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF)
  • WYSIWYG/VTBE content

Use the accessibility report to help you decide what to fix first. For example, content with the most severe issues first or start with the content that's easiest to fix. Choose between Content with the easiest issues to fix and Fix low-scoring content. See how many pieces of content you'll be fixing. Select Start.

Issues are listed in order of priority from severe to minor. Those at the top of the list should be addressed first. Ally looks at the number of students impacted, how often the issue occurs, and the accessibility score to determine the priority.

  •  Severe. These issues are the greatest risk to accessibility and require the most attention.

  •  Major. These issues impact accessibility, and while not severe, require attention.

  •  Minor. These issues should be considered for a better accessibility score.

Select an issue to see all the pieces of content that have that issue. Select a piece of content to open the Instructor Feedback panel to fix the issue. 

The Course Accessibility Report is located in the Left Navigation Bar in Canvas. 

Source: Course Accessibility Report