Accessibility is a crucial requirement in online classrooms. All materials need to be represented so learners with hearing or vision impairments can equally access all the content. Two crucial ways we accomplish this are captioning and alternate text. During the development process, your Instructional Designer (ID) will support you in finding resources that are accessible or assisting to make accessible any resources that aren't already. For more resources, visit Accessibility at GWU, WebAIM, or GW's Disability Support Services.

Captioning and Transcripts

Videos included in the course should have textual captioning. Not only does this represent materials for students with hearing impairments, but captioning can also help students with processing difficulties or language learners. Live captions can be provided on the video as it plays or in a separate transcript. For audio like podcasts, transcripts should also be provided. Captions are also helpful for students if the speaker in the video has a heavy accent or uses jargon with which the viewer may be unfamiliar. They can also help to focus the viewer.

Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit conducted a national survey with 3Play Media, in fall 2015, to learn about how all students—those with disabilities and those without—use and perceive closed captions as related to their learning experiences in the college classroom. For the full version of the report can be found on the 3Play Media website. Educause posted a summary on their site.

When including a third-party video (e.g., YouTube, Vimeo, Ted Talk) or a video you or students have created, ensure all videos are closed captioned. If closed captioning is not available, a text transcript will be needed. When including audio, ensure a text transcript is made available. If captions or transcripts are not available at all, the media should be removed from the course. If a student cannot access materials because the materials are not closed captioned, the student cannot fairly be assessed on their content. 

Video: The Importance of Captioning 

Watch the following video to understand more about why captioning is important. 

Please note that the Instructional Design Team does not provide closed caption or transcription services for media that we do not produce.

Alternate Text ("Alt Text")

Students with visual impairments use tools like a Screen Reader to have text read aloud to them. Alternate Text or "Alt Text" provides a description of the contents of an image. This description is hidden to a sighted user. Below is a video illustrating how a Screen Reader encounters an image with and without alt text.

Video: Screen Reader Alt Attribute Accessibility Test 

Watch this video to see how a screen reader announces an image with and without alternate text. 


Accessible Documents

All Microsoft Office documents and PDFs in your online course should meet accessibility guidelines. Microsoft Office and Adobe have built-in accessibility features. Here is how to run the accessibility checker tool that is part of the software program.

  • In MS Word: Tools > Check Accessibility
  • In Adobe Acrobat: View > Show Tools Panel > More Tools > Accessibility > Full Check. Then click “Start Checking."

​Then address the issues that the accessibility checker finds, such as including alternative text for images, table headings, etc.

Consult GW’s Accessibility Checklist for helpful tips to build accessibility into documents as you create them.

Web Links

Participants, particularly those using screen readers, benefit from contextualized web links online. For instance, instead of pasting the URL “” into a Blackboard item, the link text should read “The George Washington University home page”. 

Avoid link text such as “click here”. Instead, links should be placed in meaningful contexts. For instance, “To begin your assignment research, visit the GW Libraries website.

If you have further questions about accessibility, please consult GW Disability Support Services.