Are You Ready for the Mission: Accessible Challenge?

by Christine Scherer

Northwestern University wants to help you make your Canvas course sites more accessible! No matter what you teach or how you use Canvas, accessibility is crucial to building an inclusive and usable digital educational experience for all our students. And Mission: Accessible aims to help instructors and staff learn seven core skills to ensure that when they create or revise in Canvas, the content will be accessible.

What is Mission: Accessible?

Mission: Accessible is an opt-in challenge for anyone with a Canvas course site. After signing up, you’ll receive email prompts outlining a new challenge for you to complete to make your course more accessible. After you’ve completed all the challenges, a consultant will review your course and provide you with a certificate of completion. You and your course will be displayed on the Wall of Fame, your Dean and Department Head will be notified of your completion, and you’ll receive text to display in the course description so students know this course has been designed to be accessible.

Seven Core Skills

Digital accessibility is a vast field, touching on every aspect and iteration of the digital world. For Mission: Accessible, we’re focusing on seven core skills that will address major and frequent accessibility issues—the kind that will show up most often and have the most effect on students. Read on to learn more about each of the core skills!


Headings pull-down menu in Canvas text editor
The headings pull-down menu in Canvas text editor

Use the Headings drop-down menu in Canvas to tag section titles or other headings throughout your text. Once text has been marked as a heading, you can change the appearance: make it bigger or smaller, bold or underline, or even a different color. Headings make it easier for students to skim through a page, whether they’re reading with their eyes or with assistive technology.


One of the best things about an online course site is the ability to easily and quickly link to content across the internet. However, it’s important to make sure your links are formatted correctly! By embedding each URL in unique and descriptive text, you ensure that all students know exactly where the link is going—and no one has to deal with long, unwieldy web addresses.

Alternative Text

Also known as image descriptions or alt text, this seems simple at first—it’s a text description of an image. But it can quickly become more complex. What do you need to describe the image for students to understand if they can’t see it? Alt text is more of an art than a science; you have to consider context, student background, and the purpose of the image in the first place. Once you learn to think about images through this lens, writing alt text can be quite fun!


Tables are a great way to organize and share data and can be easily inserted into Canvas. But because they’re so easy to use, they can sometimes be misused for layout instead. It’s important to ensure that your tables are used for data only and that data tables are properly formatted to be accessible. If you want to build an accessible Canvas page without using tables, contact Teaching & Learning Technologies for their accessible Canvas templates.

The Canvas acccessibility checker highlighting a problem with color contrast
The Canvas accessibility checker helps remedy problems with color contrast

Color Contrast

Have you ever visited a website with a font so similar to the background color that it was hard to read? Are you one of the many people around the world with colorblindness? If so, you’re already familiar with the importance of color and contrast! Ensuring that your content has a high contrast makes it more readable to all users. And using colorblind-friendly palettes ensures that your colorblind users won’t get confused or struggle to understand information. The built-in Canvas accessibility checker will flag any instances of low color contrast, so pay attention to it!


If you’re making a list in Canvas, be sure to use the list tool! This tool will turn your text into a bulleted or numbered list based on what you need. These properly formatted lists are easier to read, are screen reader accessible, and take less time to create.

Video and Audio

All video and audio content posted on your course site should have captions or transcripts. This is obviously important for D/deaf or hard-of-hearing students, but it’s also a huge benefit for many other students! Non-native English speakers, students with learning disabilities, or students working in an environment where listening to the audio isn’t an option all benefit. If you’re creating video or audio yourself, you can write a script and use that as the basis for your captions or transcript, or you can use the auto-caption feature in Panopto.

Take the Challenge!

Whether creating a new course or updating an old one, taking the Mission: Accessibility Challenge will ensure your course site is accessible for all students. Sign up today and get started!