Accessibility & Accommodation

Accessibility ensures that all students can equally access, use, and understand learning content. New accommodation needs may arise in hybrid and online learning environments. Also, making course content accessible to all students in these scenarios requires some adjustments in relation to face-to-face settings.

Whether a course is taught in person or online, course materials should be accessible to all students.  In addition, for online instruction, Cornell offers an array of services to support faculty including:

  • CTI can consult on ways to use specific tools (captioning video recordings, providing alternate text for images, and more) to facilitate accessibility in an online learning environment
  • the library can help identify teaching materials that are already fully accessible as well, and in many cases, the judicious choice of such materials greatly alleviates accessibility issues

Jump to Accommodation

Getting Started With Accessibility

Plan: What do I need to know?

Accessibility means ensuring that all students can equally access, use, and understand learning content. Universal design for learning can help with creating accessible content through consideration of a variety of learning modalities and disabilities. Accessible course materials include but are not limited to alternate text for images and graphs, a clear course structure, and captions and transcripts for course media like videos and audio.

Campus Resources

Prepare: What do I need to do for my courses?

Course content and documents in Adobe PDF, Microsoft Word or Microsoft PowerPoint format can be accessible, but these formats are not accessible by default. Many of the issues are the same as for web pages (e.g., appropriate headings, alternate text for images) but the techniques vary across document authoring tools.

How do I get started?

Use an accessibility checker to ensure that all types of content in your course meet requirements:

  • Canvas: for your Canvas course itself

  • Ally: an accessibility checker integrated into Canvas to check your course content

  • Equidox: a more intuitive and user-friendly tool for checking and remediating PDFs than the accessibility checker in Adobe Acrobat Pro

  • Adobe Acrobat PRO: for PDFs
  • MS Office: for Word, Excel, or PowerPoint documents
  • Website content: WAVE and SiteImprove are available to Cornell instructors

Topics not included in the Accessibility Guide include PDFs and audio and video resources.


Audio & video content

  • Pre-recorded lectures can prove helpful in terms of accessibility. They also can be accessed at any hour of the day from any place which provides a great deal of flexibility to students. Moreover, they are more amenable to use in future courses
  • There are several options available for recording your lectures for remote teaching. This table compares the main features of tools to help you decide which one is most appropriate for your teaching needs
  • Tips for Pre-recorded Lectures


  • Audio files should have written transcriptions and video files should be closed-captioned
    • Student Disability Services provides captioning services for qualified students with disabilities at no cost: Contact SDS for assistance
    • Videos automatically captioned by YouTube, Kaltura, or Panopto are not adequately captioned and should be reviewed for accuracy before using. Learn how to edit auto-captions in KalturaPanopto, or Zoom
    • Narrated PowerPoint presentations are not accessible. Consider recording presentations in Panopto and then having the lectures captioned
    • Create a plan to provide equitable alternatives to inaccessible AV
    • Cornell's Video on Demand service can help you caption your videos
  • Captioning is not required for synchronous lectures or discussion sections.  If you are interested in providing captioning:

Transcripts & Audio Descriptions

  • Transcripts are similar to captions but provide a text version of the audio or video recording
  • Audio descriptions provide a narrative of all the information in video content


Plan: What do I need to know and do for my courses?

Cornell University's policy is that faculty should prioritize addressing known accessibility needs for students enrolled in their classes. Student Disability Services (SDS) works closely with faculty to support students who may need specific accommodations (e.g., support to complete classwork or additional time for examinations). SDS support can help address new accommodation needs that arise in online and hybrid learning environments. Many accommodations are possible; this includes a Alternative Testing Program, a pilot program that provides centralized support for testing accommodations. 

Prepare: How do I get started?

Some students may not have enough privacy to be able to participate freely in class discussions, especially around sensitive topics. Consider surveying students at the beginning of the course to learn about their remote environment. This will help you better understand how to make accommodations that might affect student learning but might not be apparent in a hybrid or online setting.

Ways to accommodate student remote learning environments for hybrid & online teaching

In addition to suggesting tips for minimizing distractions and creating a schedule to follow, suggest that students:

  • use headphones during synchronous discussions or when watching videos
  • share concerns about their environment and access to technology that might affect their participation
  • select a virtual background in Zoom that might allow for more privacy

Use a flexible course design to help make accommodations for hybrid & online learning