Accessibility Matters: The Fundamentals of Achieving Accessible Content

It’s no secret that CourseArc is an accessibility-first content authoring management system. We are constantly working on ways to improve accessibility for our users and helping clients do the same. In fact, we have endless blogs and resources on the topic of accessibility, so anyone curious to learn more can access them at the click of a button.

Why Accessibility 

Accessibility goes beyond ensuring that our buildings, roads and walkways are safe and usable for as many people regardless of ability. It also extends to our digital spaces – websites, online courses, social media, apps, etc. – to ensure that information and activities are sensible, meaningful, and usable for as many people as possible.

Accessibility needs can be permanent, temporary or situational. Digital accessibility is for everyone, regardless of ability. While much of accessibility work focuses on ensuring people with disabilities have equal access to online information and activities, it benefits everyone.

accessibility needs diagram
Accessibility Need Touch See Hear Speak Cognition
Permanent One Arm Blind Deaf Nonspeaking Learning Disability
Temporary Arm Injury Cataract Ear Infection Laryngitis Sick
Situational New Parent Distracted Driver Bartender Quiet Space Distracted

© 2023 by CourseArc licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Global Document Accessibility

No matter which tool you are using to create a document, the same requirements apply. Just like a website, documents are required to meet accessibility standards.  These document accessibility standards can be broken down into three areas:

  • Structure
  • Readability
  • Perceivability 


The structure of a document is the behind-the-scenes organization. Commonly used word processing applications, like Microsoft Word and Google Docs, have features to support a user in setting up the document’s structure when you use their built-in tools. These programs add in the background code automatically when you use their built-in tools. The structure allows users to easily navigate the document. 

Structure refers to headings, lists and tables. Persons using assistive technology or keyboard navigation are unable to read structural elements when they are not properly formatted. Using programmatically formatted tables allows screen readers to identify the table and allows users to know when they are entering and exiting a table.

Example of a word processing application's feature to support a user in setting up the document's structure when you use their built-in tools.


A document is readable when it is in the correct language; free of unnecessary jargon, acronyms, abbreviations and unusual words; and written at an appropriate reading level for the audience. For example, an ESL learner or learners outside the U.S. may not understand the idiom “ballpark” to mean educated guess. The term is colloquial (informal) only in the United States. Jargon refers to words and phrases that are specific to an industry or occupation. The military may say someone is AWOL (Absent Without Leave) and a doctor may direct you to apply a prescription subcutaneously, but they mean under the skin. The best rule of thumb to ensure your documents are accessible is to keep your language plain and concise.


Perceivability is the ability to recognize, discern, or understand. Documents with images and colors must contain certain elements to ensure they are accessible. Perceivability in a document can fall into three main categories: 

  • Alt Text
  • Color
  • Contrast 

Alt Text

Alt text describes an image so that anyone unable to see the image can gain the same information. 


When choosing color, consider users who might be colorblind. Color combinations like red and green and blue and yellow are more likely to cause issues. Color should be used sparingly so that those with vision impairments can understand the information. Overuse of color can cause cognitive overload and distractions. 


Appropriate contrast is key so that readers can distinguish text within the background. WCAG 2.0 level AA requires a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text. Contrast cannot always be discerned with the naked eye. There are free online tools that can help check the contrast level for accessibility requirements.

Deep Dive 

This is just a touch of what our team will be discussing in the second of our Actionable Accessibility Advice Series. Make sure to register for our upcoming webinar to learn more and test your knowledge. Take a look at what we covered in our first session and come ready with questions! 

CourseArc, a content authoring and management system (CAMS) was built to support organizations as they facilitate the collaborative creation of engaging and accessible online learning. Check out our resource site to see how we can help your team. Check back to our blog and social media feeds for additional resources and case studies on how our clients are using CourseArc to move their classrooms online. 

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