The Fingerprints of Your Classroom

“The way people learn is as unique as their fingerprints.” (CAST, 2020)

Image is a photo of graffiti on a red wall, the black paint stencil is an outline of a man in a suit with a fingerprint for a head
Original photograph by Bryce Edwards, licensed under CC BY 2.0

When you think about the composition of your classroom and begin to design your course, you should focus on three general themes for Universal Design for Learning (UDL); student access, building upon their knowledge, and creating ways to internalize and activate the learning (CAST, 2020). For this article, we will focus primarily on student access and how you can prepare your course for all learners. If you have an interest in learning more about universal instructional design for learners and UDL, I highly recommend reading Angie Bond’s article on this topic and reviewing the UDL Guidelines by


What does access look like to you? Is your accessibility lens focused solely on an ability spectrum, or does your lens extend to include the variable access needs of your students? The many competing priorities of our students’ lives mean we need to get creative with how students can access their content. Luckily, with partners like Ally and Canvas, we are poised to provide variable access with ease. 

Ally helps students access their content in variable ways and ensures your students feel supported and cared for regardless of their ability level, and with consideration of their preference for consumption. However, for Ally to work properly, we need to take steps to ensure our content is accessible. 

WCAG 2.0: What You Need to Know

WCAG 2.0 guidelines define the foundation of access as content that is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. In consideration of those guidelines, our basic duty is to ensure our content and interfaces meet these baseline principles. This could take a lot of work, but we have partners in this journey and all of our students will benefit from your efforts and intentional planning.

Ways you can apply the foundational principles of WCAG 2.0 compliance:  

  1.   Use heading styles in all documents and within Canvas pages, assignments, discussion boards, and quiz instructions, follow a hierarchy to define how content is arranged. 
  2.   Ensure all images have alt-text (or text alternatives) and are visibly perceivable in reference to contrast.
  3.   Use PDFs that are tagged properly, to guide a screen reader or audio translation.
  4.   Curate videos with closed captions and transcripts and use the automatic speech recognition tools to create captions for your own videos.

While this focus on accessibility can feel overwhelming when applying it reactively, for instance, catalyzed by a disability resource request, we have the tools to help us identify the easiest path to accessible course design. Additionally, my recommendation would be to pick one area of opportunity for each session, improving the course with an iterative strategy. Moving forward, it may be helpful to understand how our partners can assist with proactive accessible design and how all your students will benefit from accessible design practices.

Partners in the Journey to Access

At ASU, in consideration of meeting our Charter, “to be measured by whom we include,” we have adopted a couple of tools and devised some resources in your journey to accessible course design.


Ally is a tool that provides color gauges to highlight accessible and inaccessible files within your course. Ally also provides variable access to students who need a flexible approach to content consumption.

How Ally works!

From the student’s perspective, Ally provides access to files within the course in a variable manner, including converting documents into audio files and translating content into 50 languages.

Alternative options listed are: HTML, ePub, Electronic Braille, Audio version, BeeLine Reader, Translated version. Also shows the student perspective and access point of Ally in an attached file, displaying the option to preview, download or access alternative formats.

From the instructor’s perspective, in the files of your course, an indicator gauge is color-coded to indicate the accessibility score of each file:

  • Red gauge with a left-pointing arrow = low accessibility score
  • Yellow gauge with an upward-pointing arrow = medium accessibility score
  • Green gauge with a right-pointing arrow = high accessibility score

Red Gauge = needs help!, yellow gauge = a little better, light green gauge = a little better, green = perfect

Ally checks all files in your course, including images, slideshows, spreadsheets, PDFs and Word documents. To learn more about Ally, sign up for a training session with our University Technology Office on their site,

Ally will not check the videos in your course or the Canvas pages, assignments, discussions, and quizzes. To check the accessibility of these items, leverage the accessibility checker in Canvas and your University resources.

Accessibility Checker in Canvas

Screenshot of the accessibility checker icon in the rich text editor of Canvas.In the rich text editor toolbar of every Canvas page, assignment, discussion, and quiz you will see an accessibility checker icon, which when activated checks the accessibility of your page design within Canvas. The accessibility checker will also check your images for alternative text and tables for formatting and captioning. This tool needs to be deployed within the edit menu of each page to ensure the course content is accessible. 

Training and Resources at Arizona State University

Ally and the accessibility checker within Canvas provide tips to improve your content and we have additional resources to assist you at the University as well. Avoid exhaustion on this journey, leverage your partners in course design and deploy an iterative approach.

For accessible content curation, be sure to partner with our ASU Librarians through the ASU Reading Library list. The Library at ASU is committed to providing accessible content and will work with you to ensure your curated content meets the needs of all learners. 

The University Technology Office (UTO) hosts a web accessibility website with many best practices and how-to guides. In addition, the web accessibility specialist at the UTO hosts a weekly clinic for 1:1 assistance, sign up for a web accessibility clinic appt here. 

Ally can help with some accessibility tasks, but you need to be informed to be successful. Keep in mind, you do not need to fix everything at once and there are plenty of resources across the University to enable your success.  I also highly recommend reading Tips for Making Your Courses More Accessible for additional quick tips on accessible course design. 

Quick tips to remediate PDFs into accessible documents:   

  1.   Leverage ASU Reading Library Lists, much of your content may be accessible and available through the library.
  2.   Leverage Best Practices & How-To’s.
  3.   Use Acrobat Pro to correct your PDFs using their accessibility tool.
  4.   Attend a web accessibility clinic for additional assistance.

Defining Success

Access is our starting point in catering to a Universal Design for Learning; it is the foundational step to cognition. Take the time to iteratively redesign your course with access in mind. Your efforts will benefit all learners, regardless of their ability, ensuring all learners can utilize the format they need for a successful learning experience. Creating new courses with accessibility as a focus will be easy with our partners and with your passion for student success. We can be measured by whom we include and Ally and the Canvas accessibility checker help us take those measurements. Let’s go green across the University, or as CAST says, let’s take action “until learning has no limits.” (CAST, 2020)

We encourage you to pursue the accessibility digital credentialing and training, available to ASU Faculty and Staff. Register at   


CAST. (2020). About Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from

How to Meet WCAG (Quick Reference). (2019, October 4). Retrieved from

Special thanks to Julie Allen for access to your deep well of knowledge and openness to share your experience, which has informed my approach and tips shared within this article.