Universal Design - Accessibility

Course strategies and materials with accessibility in mind enhances the learning experience of students with different learning styles and abilities. Instructors can achieve this by adopting Universal Design for Learning (UDL). The principle is to create equal and flexible plans and learning materials. Taking advantage of the accessibility features within the software will help to publish the materials in a universal way.

Who benefits from Universal Design for Learning?

  • Students with and without disabilities
  • Students with varying access to technology
  • Students with English as a second, third, or fourth language
  • Students with crazy schedules
  • Students with different learning preferences
  • Faculty who want a large number of their students to gain enduring understanding
  • Faculty whose teaching style is inconsistent with the student's preferred learning style


  • Identify the essential course content
  • Clearly express the essential content and any feedback given to the student
  • Integrate natural supports for learning (i.e. using resources already found in the environment such as study buddy)
  • Use a variety of instructional methods when presenting material
  • Allow for multiple methods of demonstrating understanding of essential course content
  • Use technology to increase accessibility
  • Create accessible electronic files that support all types of learners
  • Invite students to meet/contact the faculty member with any questions/concerns


  • Put course content on-line allowing students to "pick up" information that might have been missed in lecture
  • Use peer mentoring, group discussions, and cooperative learning situations rather than strictly lecture
  • Using guided notes enables students to listen for essential concepts without copying notes off Whiteboard or Projector Screen
  • Update course materials based on current events and student demands
  • Provide comprehensive syllabus with clearly identified course requirements, accommodation statement and due dates
  • Fluctuate instructional methods, provide illustrations, handouts, auditory and visual aids
  • Clarify any feedback or instructions, ask for questions, and repeat or give additional examples
  • Relate a new topic to one already learned or a real-life example
  • Allow a student to tape record lectures or provide him/her with a copy of your notes
  • Allow the student to demonstrate knowledge of the subject through alternate means
  • Permit and encourage the use of adaptive technology
  • Develop study guides
  • Give more frequent quizzes that are shorter in length

The PolyLearn (Moodle) application itself is accessible, but the files that are added by instructors and students are most likely not. The course layout, settings and content added should also be usable, easy to read, and find.

For additional information on creating accessible Word, PowerPoint, Web Pages, and PDF files, please go to the Cal Poly: Accessibility and Disability Related Recourses site.

PolyLearn Tips

  • Use a hierarchical order
  • Use Moodle styles (e.g., heading 1) for course titles and topic titles
  • Remove/hide unused blocks or features
  • Use high contrast, adjustable fonts and colors

Content Types

Use the Accessibility Friendly ATTO text Editor

Moodle has created a HTML editor called "Atto." This is now the default HTML editor for all users. This HTML editor creates accessible (ADA) content and saves your work automatically while typing.

"It is the policy of the CSU to make information technology resources and services accessible to all CSU students, faculty, staff and the general public regardless of disability." CSU Chancellors Office
Web Accessibility at CSU

Accessible Web Pages

  • Use heading styles instead of font changes. Word has many built-in style sheets and you can create your own. Using styles also allows you to create a table of contents that automatically adjusts to document changes.
  • Use the built-in formats for bullet lists, columns and tables.
  • Avoid floating text boxes.
  • Include alternative text for images.
  • NEVER use Microsoft Word to create or edit web pages.

If you prefer using the OLD HTML editor instead (Tiny MCE), you can change your HTML editor.
If you would like to use the Tiny MCE HTML editor, please view the instructions.

Atto top buttons, screen image

  1. Bold
  2. Italic
  3. Style (accessible - ADA)
  4. Font Family [New]
  5. Colors (accessible - ADA) [New]
  6. Bulleted list
  7. Numbered list
  8. Add link
  9. Unlink
  10. Add image
  11. Manage embedded files
  12. Underline
  13. Strike-through
  14. Subscript
  15. Superscript
  1. Align left
  2. Align center
  3. Align right
  4. Increase indent
  5. Decrease indent
  6. Equation editor
  7. Special character
  8. Table
  9. Clear formatting
  10. Undo
  11. Redo
  12. Accessibility checker
  13. Screen-reader helper
  14. HTML code view

Pictures, Graphics, Movies & Animations

Instructors are required to provide alternate text for images and graphics. A general description can be typed within the "Image description" box. The long description is available within the Advanced tab. Movies and animations require browser plug-ins to display. Instructors should provide links to the plug-ins and point students to the browser checker (opens in new window).

First upload the image into the HTML editor window...

  1. Select Turn editing on.
  2. Click on the Add an activity or resource link.
    Add Page Resource
  3. Choose the Edit Summary, Lable or Page tool (any tool that has the HTML editor).
  4. To ADD the image, Click either the Insert/edit image icon.
    media buttons boxed
  5. Click the Find or upload button.
  6. Choose Upload a file in the left column.
  7. Click Browse... in order to locate the file that is going to be uploaded.
  8. Navigate to the location on your computer in order to find the image. Click the file and then click Open.
  9. Click Upload this file.
  10. Type in the Image description and then click Insert.
    Accessible Images require a "Image Description". This is the text people hear from a screen reader...
    screen image of Moodle's ALT box
  11. Choose either Save and return to course or Save and display.


Styled and Colored Text

While designing course blocks, titles, and content materials, keep the users in mind. Not all browsers and computers will display the colors and text style the same. Information conveyed with color is also conveyed without the use of color.

Course Layout / Organization:
The PolyLearn (Moodle) courses should be easy to read and have a high contrast between the text and background color.

Course View

Topic Block

Content Materials:
The WYSIWYG / HTML Editor within PolyLearn allows the creation of web pages within the course. While using the HTML Editor make sure:

screen image of Moodle's HTML editor

  • The text color is dark and easy to read on the white or a very light gray background
  • Use sans serif font types such as Helvetica, Arial, and Verdana rather than font types like ‘Times New Roman’, because it is very difficult to read font types with serifs on computer screens
  • Use Format headings in a proper, hierarchical way (Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3)--not simply making bold or large text
  • Break up long pages by use of appropriate sections
  • Do not use the color red or green to emphasize a needed action, such as: click on the red button, important information is in red, or green means go, etc.
  • Use table summaries (Table Caption) and header rows (Rules)
    screen image of table captions or summaries
    Screen image of table row or collumn headers

For more information about creating usable, organized, and accessible HTML pages, please go to the Cal Poly: Accessibility and Disability Related Recourses site.

Turn Off HTML Editor (Plain Text Only)

If an instructor or student is unable to use the HTML editor due to screen contrast or a screen reader application, the user can edit their Profile to provide a Plain Text option instead of the HTML editor.

  1. On the top right of the page, click on your name.
    Screen image of edit profile link in settings block
  2. Click on the Edit profile link.
    screen image of edit profile link
  3. On the top right, choose Preferences in the breadcrumbs.
  4. Click on the Editor preference link.
  5. Choose the text editor.
  6. Scroll to the bottom and Save changes.

Files & Documents

Instructors can upload files and documents to share within the course shell. Screen reading applications will read web site content to people with visual impairments. To support screen reading users...

  • Use descriptive labels
  • Use consistent file naming conventions
  • Use labels that match references from the syllabus
  • Inform users when new window or pop-up will occur
  • Avoid abbreviations
  • Name file with name and extension. (ex: BIO131Syllabus.pdf)
  • Avoid using file names that repeat weekly. For example, if the students are required to enter information into a "Weekly Journal", naming the link in each session based on the week (ex: Week One Journal, Week Two Journal..) will allow for the students to find the correct weekly journal.

When placing files into PolyLearn as a Discussion Forum attachment, Email attachment, Course link, Assignment attachment or as an attachment in the wiki, it is important to name the files properly before attaching them.


  • Dog.docx
  • theDogRan.docx
  • thedogran.docx
  • Dog1.docx
  • Dog 1.docx
  • Dog_1.docx


  • dog&ran.docx
  • Dog#1.docx
  • dog/ran.docx
  • dog.ran.docx
  • the dog ran over the road to a field.docx


SJSU (2007). Course Design for Accessibility, Center for Faculty Development.
Received from http://www.sjsu.edu/cfd/accessibility/

Kelly, K. & Ramsaran, C. (2007). Accessible Online Instructional and Learning Management Systems.
The California State University - Accessible Technology Initiative.

OSU (2007). ADA: Fast Facts for Faculty - Universal Design
Received from http://ada.osu.edu/resources/fastfacts/Universal_Design.htm

universalusability.com (2007). Universal Usability: A Universal Design Approach to Web Usability.
Received from http://universalusability.com/access_by_design/index.html


Adaptive Technology: equipment or software items designed or used to compensate for areas of disability or impairment. It allows students with disabilities the same access to information and production as their peers.

Alternate means: demonstrating mastery of course material in a substitute manner.

Auditory aids: equipment or software items designed or used to compensate for a person's total inability to hear or limited ability to hear. The auditory aid(s) used depends upon usable residual hearing and preference. Auditory aids allow students with hearing disabilities the same access to information and production as their peers.

Captioning: video / audio, needed by persons who are deaf, also helps students with learning disabilities by presenting text visually. It also assures that important information is clearly conveyed to all students, including those for whom English is a second language and those who are connecting to the Web over slow, telephone connections.

Contrast: the degree of difference between tones. Enhancement of the apparent brightness or clarity of a design provided by different colors or textures.

Cooperative Learning: students work together to accomplish shared learning goals.

Comprehensive syllabus: at a minimum, a comprehensive syllabus includes information on the following:

  • course description
  • text books and required readings
  • organization and methods of instruction
  • chronological outline of topics and required readings
  • explanation of specific assignments
  • office hours and class procedures
  • other handouts to consider, as well as a statement of course material being available in alternate format
  • a statement regarding process for notifying instructor of necessary accommodations

Group discussion: pooling ideas and experiences of the group on specific tasks or questions.

Guided Notes: skeleton outlines that contain the main idea and related concepts of lecture with designated spaces for students to complete during lecture. Guided notes use a consistent format and provide maximum student response.

Handout: paper announcement given to students to supplement oral presentation.

Illustration: a visual representation, comparison, or example that is used to make subject matter easier to understand.

Instructional methods: methods used by teachers to convey subject material to students. Every method a teacher uses has advantages, disadvantages, and requires some preliminary preparation. There is no one "right" method for teaching a particular lesson, but there are some criteria that pertain to each that can help a teacher make the best decision possible.

On-line: actively using a computer system, rather than paper or other medium, especially the Internet.

Peer mentoring: providing students with a peer they can trust, respect, and learn from who is knowledgeable, and interested.

Real-life: while teaching, using examples drawn from actual events or situations. Using real-life examples often makes it easier for a student to "grasp" a new concept.

Study guides: aid developed by instructor to direct or indicate material to be studied in preparation for test or quiz.

Varied Instructional Strategies: refers to different instructional techniques which when used often and effectively, usually address individual learning styles. Examples are small group discussion, videotapes, brainstorming, case studies, role-playing, worksheets/surveys, and lectures.

Visual aids: equipment or software items designed or used to compensate for a person's total lack of sight or limited sight. The visual aid(s) used by a student depends upon usable residual vision and preference. Visual aids allow students with visual disabilities the same access to information and production as their peers.