Accessibility Toolkit – Making Your Open Textbook Accessible

Why an Accessibility Toolkit?

The focus of many open textbook projects is to provide access to education at low or no cost. But what does access mean? If the materials are not accessible for each and every student, do they fulfill the mandate to deliver fully open textbooks?

The goal of the Accessibility Toolkit is to provide the necessary resources to each content creator, instructional designer, educational technologist, librarian, administrator, and teaching assistant to create a truly open and accessible textbook —  one that is free and accessible for all students. Being proactive about accessibility is one of the principles of Universal Design for Learning.

Within the toolkit you will find information on how to make content accessible, with specifics on:

As you work through the content of the Accessibility Toolkit, you will find that the suggestions provided are intended for the non-technical user. If you are looking for more technical descriptions of how to make your work accessible, we suggest you review the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines).

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Open Textbooks

Universal Design is the process of creating products (devices, environments, systems, and processes) that are usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities, operating within the widest possible range of situations (environments, conditions, and circumstances).

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) uses concepts of universal design to build instructional material and activities. As described by Ryerson University’s Learning & Teaching Office:

The essential qualities of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) include valuing each learner’s unique perspectives and accommodating individual differences in learners’ backgrounds, interests, abilities, and experiences.

The cardinal rule of UDL is that there is no single method for representing information that will provide equal access for all students; no single method of expression that will provide equal opportunity for all students; no single way to ensure that all students are engaged in learning because any method that works for some students may present barriers to learning for others [1]. Accordingly Universal Instructional Design emphasizes flexibility in curriculum and instruction.

Access Rather Than Accommodation

The goal of Universal Design for Learning is to create learning experiences and materials that are by default accessible to all learners, rather than having to make individual accommodations for learners with specific needs. An example of this would be captioning a video. While captions are often added to videos as an accommodation for learners who are deaf or hard of hearing, they also benefit students who have English as an additional language (EAL), students with learning disabilities, and students who are new to a field or discipline and may be unfamiliar with certain terminology or jargon. Research has shown that captions on videos make it easier for students to take notes, and provide bimodal access to information, thus improving their retention of information.[2]  The UDL approach would therefore dictate that all video content be captioned by default, rather than as an accommodation later. This will have the added benefit of making your teaching material AODA compliant.

For our purposes, we frame the practice of using Universal Design in a holistic and manageable way, and begin by addressing the barriers that are easy to anticipate and proactively re-mediate. This toolkit, therefore, will provide guidance to you if the answers to any of the following questions is “yes”:

  • Do I have visual materials (images, figures, tables) that present core concepts that not all students may be able to see or understand?
  • Do I have multimedia (audio, video) materials that present core concepts that not all students may be able to be hear, see, or access?
  • Do I have documents that present core concepts in a format that not all students may be able to access?
The “Accessibility Toolkit” section of this book is an adaptation of the B.C. Open Textbook Accessibility Toolkit by Amanda Coolidge, Sue Doner, and Tara Robertson, CC BY 4.0. We have revised the toolkit to be AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) compliant and to address principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

  1. ERIC/ OSEP, 1998; as cited by Mino, J. (2004). Planning for Inclusion: Using Universal Instructional Design to Create a Learner Centered Community College Classroom. Equity And Excellence In Education, 37(2), 154-160.)
  2. Bird, S. A., & Williams, J. N. (2002). The effect of bimodal input on implicit and explicit memory: An investigation into the benefits of within-language subtitling. Applied Psycholinguistics, 23(4), 509-533. doi:10.1017.S0142716402004022


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Ryerson Open Textbook Authoring Guide by Ryerson University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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