Creating an Accessible Course

Students in classroom

It creates an equitable learning space for all students, not just students with disabilities.  

The best place to start with designing an accessible course is to think of ways to make your course accessible to all types of learners. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for designing curriculum in a manner inclusive of all types of learners, regardless of ability, disability, age, gender, cultural background, race, ethnicity, linguistic background, etc. A course that is universally designed will include multiple ways for students to receive information and demonstrate their learning. 

Classroom Layout

  • Classrooms, labs, workspaces, fieldwork spaces, and spaces used for office hours should be physically accessible to students with limited mobility or using mobility aides (crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, etc.) 
    • If your office is not physically accessible, provide alternative office hours in an accessible location on campus. 
    • Consider providing office hours both in-person and virtually via Zoom or another online meeting platform. 
  • Arrange seating to give every student a clear line of sight to the instructor and instructional materials. Seating should allow room for users of wheelchairs, assistive technology, and other devices to be seated inclusively within the group. 
    • Do not segregate accessible seating. 

Learning Design 

  • Deliver course requirements and assignments clearly and in multiple ways (e.g., orally, in printed form, and electronically). 
  • Use multiple instructional methods that are accessible to various learning styles (e.g., lecture and small group discussions, visual aids and hands-on activities). 
  • Be clear and transparent about how students will be assessed in their learning. Provide a grading rubric in advance of all assignments and exams. 
  • Minimize time constraints, unless time is an essential learning outcome. 
    • For example, write all exams so they can be finished in less time than students are provided. Don’t try to fill up the exam period by creating longer or more complicated exams. 
  • Announce assignments well in advance of their due dates. Ideally, announce all due dates for assignments and all exam dates at the beginning of the semester (or as soon as you know them for final exams). 
  • Provide adequate time for all students on assignments and projects. 
  • Provide multiple ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge. 
    • Include options for written and oral exams, papers and presentations, group projects and solo work, etc. 
  • Consider allowing students to choose the methods that work best for them to share their knowledge, instead of requiring all students to use the same methods. 
  • When conducting in-class discussions, avoid cold calling on students. Allow students to choose when and how they are comfortable sharing their knowledge. 
  • Provide multiple chances for students to ask questions, in different ways (e.g., in-class, during office hours, written via email or Canvas, etc.) 


  • Use a microphone (even if you consider yourself to be a “loud speaker” or think you can “just project your voice.”) 
    • Either repeat all student questions or comments into the microphone before answering them, or require students to speak into a microphone. 
  • Practice speaking slowly and clearly. If you have any concern about students’ ability to understand/hear you, solicit student feedback after the first few lectures (this can be anonymous). 
  • Face the students in the classroom when speaking. Do not speak while facing the board or otherwise facing away from students. 
  • If using a PowerPoint or other lecture aid, ensure that it has sufficient font size and color contrast to be easily read anywhere in the classroom. 
    • Provide copies of PowerPoint presentations to students before class as a study aid and aid to following in lecture. 
  • If writing on a whiteboard or chalkboard, or using an overhead projector, use large clear letters/drawings and don’t crowd the board. 
    • Allow students sufficient time to copy materials or photograph important information before erasing material. 
  • Invite students, via your syllabus and verbally in class, to meet with you to discuss disability-related accommodations and learning needs. 

Course Materials 

  • Ensure that all handouts, course readings, and textbooks are available in an accessible format for all learners. This may mean providing hard copies and digital copies of readings, or choosing a textbook that is available in an accessible format. 
  • Course websites should be fully accessible. 
    • Ally is a Canvas tool that can help you identify content that may need attention to become accessible, but it won't detect everything.
    • You can consult with your unit's web accessibility liaison (per Cornell policy 5.12) for guidance and resources on assessing content posted to a course website or Canvas and ensuring its accessibility.
  • If playing audio in class or posting an audio file online, also provide a text transcript. Provide the transcript to all students before playing the audio in class so students can follow along while listening.  
  • All videos shown in class should have accurate captions. If posting videos on Canvas or another website, make sure they have accurate captions, and provide transcripts of the audio. 
    • Automatic captions, such as those created by YouTube or PowerPoint, are not sufficiently accurate and do not provide an equitable learning experience. 

Refer to the Center for Teaching and Learning Universal Design for Learning webpage for more information about UDL.

Getting Help

The Center for Teaching Innovation is leading the efforts to guide faculty and staff on meeting course accessibility standards and offer multiple means of resources and support for inclusive classrooms.

When to Contact SDS 

If you have a specific question about meeting the accommodation needs of a student in your course, please let us know. 

If you have concerns about a student who is not yet connected to our office, please refer the student to us and also contact us with any concerns.