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Accessibility in Canvas

February 15, 2017

By Michelle Tuten, Coordinator of Accessibility and UDL

When it was announced that we would be moving from Blackboard to Canvas, I was very excited. With this move, we would be saying hello to a learning management system (LMS) that is cleaner and has a lot more technical support than Blackboard. Additionally, Canvas developers were already collaborating with accessibility-minded users in the Canvas Community and with the accessibility group ATHEN to ensure that Canvas is as accessible as possible.

When I refer to accessibility, I do not mean that the LMS can be accessed 24/7 every day of the year–although Canvas does guarantee 99.9% uptime. Instead, I mean that it is accessible to people with a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive abilities.

For example, Canvas has carefully designed its interface so that students should be able to access and interpret the color-coded information in their interface regardless of whether the faculty or student has vision impairments (such as color blindness) or has a malfunctioning display on their device that distorts colors. Part of this design includes a built-in High Contrast Mode which makes the colored content that was mostly readable in the default mode absolutely readable in the high contrast mode.

In Blackboard, there is no such mode and the interface has many examples of color combinations that do not have a strong enough contrast to be considered mostly readable.

As another example, Canvas has partnered with Amara.org to give instructors a means to caption the videos recorded directly into the course. Blackboard has no such partnership. If they did and instructors took advantage of the partnership, the students would be able to watch and understand the videos regardless of whether the student

  • was in a noisy environment (such as a dining hall)
  • was in a quiet environment (such as a library)
  • had a language barrier to overcome
  • had hearing or learning impairment

By constantly maintaining and improving the accessibility of their interface, Canvas ensures that all of its users have an equal opportunity to access, use, and benefit from its product regardless of (dis)ability, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and other demographic categories. Also, it helps to ensure that students are not inadvertently graded on their ability to access and use course content in addition to being graded for what they know and learn.

With the switch from Blackboard to Canvas significantly improving our learning environment, many of the obstacles that students will now face are within the control of the faculty and staff at Clemson. So, it is our turn to step up our accessibility game, which, being Tigers, I know we can do. We’ll be distributing more information on how to begin developing accessible classes as quickly as we can make them available.

Go Tigers!



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