Accessibility in Virtual Learning Environments

Whether in-person or online, we want all of our students to have access to learning. Accessibility can, of course, encompass many things—but you don’t have to take on every issue and concern at once. Here are a few of the most important things that you can do to make your courses accessible to students. We also encourage you to reach out to students to find out about possible accessibility needs and accommodations they might have. Reach out to the Academic Resource Center at or (202) 687-8354 with any questions you have.

Use digital resources that can be read by screen readers. 

  • When creating MS Word docs or Google docs, format your document using Styles that indicate if something is a heading, normal text, quote, etc. 
  • Before converting a Word or Google doc to a PDF, use the accessibility checker to see what aspects of the document might need to be modified.
  • When scanning documents to share with students online, use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology to convert hard copies (typed, handwritten or printed) into machine-readable text. This website provides instructions for OCR in Adobe Acrobat
  • Try your best to identify resources that are already in digital format through Georgetown Library or through existing websites. 


Make your Canvas site accessible.

  • Pages and documents that contain many paragraphs should be chunked to help learners navigate the text. In Canvas, use the “Headings” to create a logical structure.
  • Create descriptive hyperlinks (i.e., when applying a hyperlink, the link should be attached to a phrase that tells the student where the link is going. E.g., instead of 

“click here,” “interview with the author” or “Washington Post article on policy”, etc.)

  • When listing items or points, it is important to use ordered (i.e. numbered or lettered) or unordered (bulleted) lists to structure your content in an accessible form.
  • Provide alternative text to images (i.e., text that describes what the image depicts).


Provide captions and/or transcripts for video lectures. 

  • Captions not only benefit students with hearing impairment but also those watching videos in their non-native language. Some of the tools available to you such as Panopto and Google slides can generate auto-captions.
  • Transcripts are also a great way to make your videos or audio materials accessible to all students. You can upload your transcript as an accessible PDF for students to read.


Provide options for students in countries where the internet is partially blocked. 

  • UIS now has a travel VPN specifically for this purpose. It’s separate from the standard VPN and you have to request access. It’s mostly for researchers traveling abroad (especially in China). Here is the link from UIS: UIS is currently advising students to reach out to to enquire about the travel VPN, and users can also reach out directly to UIS at 
  • If Google (or Google Scholar) is not available, try Microsoft Academic Search and ResearchGate.
  • The Library recommends that students see if they can use tools to find open access research like Unpaywall and OA Button, as well as tools to organize their research like Zotero. If they find articles where they can only access the title/abstract instead of the full text, they can fill out an interlibrary loan request, but it might also be a good idea to reach out to first to check for options re: how to send the digital copies of articles, if students can for whatever reason not use their Georgetown emails because they’re on Gmail.

Additional Resources

A printable version of this document is available here.

CNDLS: or 202-687-0625

Need Help?



If you need support with tools and tips for teaching online, CNDLS provides virtual office hours, Monday-Friday. Click here to enter virtual office hours between the hours of 9 and 5 pm, or dial in at (646)-558-8656 (meeting ID: 386 980 1070). After hours, you can reach us at


CNDLS is hosting a series of webinars to help address key questions when teaching at a distance. Please find a list of the webinars below and for more training opportunities, please visit the training page. Recorded sessions are available here.