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This list of frequently asked accessibility questions was compiled based on inquiries received from campus members. For further assistance, contact a member of one of our campus accessibility groups.

What is the difference between accessibility and accommodation?

Accessibility is a proactive, intentional design choice that is meant to help a broad audience. Accessible content is aware of different audience needs and different use cases.

Accommodations address barriers in existing content that create challenges for specific individuals. Accommodations are retroactive, because they adjust content or conditions that have already been created. 

While they are different, both are necessary for inclusive learning and working environments. A more in-depth explanation and details can be found on our Why Accessibility page. 

How do I make my synchronous meetings accessible?

Synchronous virtual meetings require planning in order to provide sufficient access to all participants. If not designed well,  the cognitive load of video-conference meetings can be overwhelming for both participants and presenters. 

Please visit our Synchronous Meetings tutorial page for tips and best practices to properly prepare before, during, and after your lectures and meetings. 

How do I know if my PDF is accessible?

The accessibility of a document relies on a number of factors, including:

  • properly identifying content types, such as headings, subheadings, lists, etc.
  • good color contrast between the text and page
  • alternative text descriptions for visuals such as images, charts, graphs, and other figures
  • descriptive hyperlinks
  • logical reading order
  • metadata that conveys information like the document's language to assistive technologies

The easiest way to determine your document's accessibility is by using an accessibility checker, such as Blackboard's Ally tool or the checker available in Adobe Acrobat Pro

Scanned PDFs are inaccessible and create many challenges for students. It is recommended to replace scanned PDFs with an updated digital text document. Ally can often be used to generate alternate formats. You can also check with a librarian to see if they have access to a digital format through library subscriptions or databases. 

How can Ally in Blackboard help students? How can it help faculty/instructors?

For students: Ally is a tool in Blackboard that creates alternate formats of documents. Wherever you see an "A" icon next to a file, you can open the alternate format menu and choose the version that best suits your needs. Alternative formats that are available inlcude audio, ePub, HTML, etc. A detailed set of instructions can be found in the Ally Quick Start Guide for students.

For faculty/instructors: Ally is a tool in Blackboard that can help you review and improve the accessibility of the content and documents posted in your course.

Each course has a "course accessibility report" that you can find in the instructor view in the lefthand column. This report will give you a high-level understanding of how accessible your course is, and what your best starting points are to improve the site. From there, each document has it's own accessibility gauge, as well as tips and actions you can take to improve the document's accessibility "score." 

Although students have the option to download alternative formats of files, the best strategy is to first improve the accessibility of your documents by using the Ally help support for instructors.

What do I do if Ally in Blackboard doesn't offer any alternative formats for a document?

If you are a student experiencing difficulty with alternate formats in Ally, contact your professor. They may not realize there is an issue, and should be able to assist you in correcting it or getting you the material you need.

If you are faculty: Although students have the option to download alternative formats of files, the best strategy is to improve the accessibility of your original documents by using the Ally help support for instructors. Be sure to check documents and content you authored to ensure the source file is accessible. 

If the document in question was created by a third party (someone other than yourself), there are numerous ways to check for different versions:

  • For a scanned book chapter, article, etc., check with a librarian to see if they have access to alternative formats through library subscriptions or databases.
  • Textbook publishers such as McGraw Hill, Cengage, and Pearson should be contacted directly to inquire if course materials are available in an accessible electronic format. It is the responsibility of the faculty to ensure you have the most recent edition of third-party content.
  • If the author is a member of a SUNY school or other university, contact them to inquire about getting a more accessible version of the content.
How do I write useful text equivalents for complex images, such as charts and graphs?

Text equivalents, also called alternative (or alt) text, should be provided for all non-text elements. This includes photos, charts, graphs, shapes, animated gifs, comics, and other figures.

Alt text is a brief description of the image that conveys the meaning of it. So, someone who cannot see the image can still understand what it represents. 

Every non-text element should have an easily-described purpose of some kind. If more than a sentence or two is needed to accurately describe the figure, the body of the document should have prose related to and discussing that element. If the figure provides no additional meaning, consider removing it.

More information can be found in the Deque course Web Accessibility, Part 2: Images, SVG, and Canvas and the WebAIM Alt Text article.

How do I make equations and mathematical notation accessible?

One method for providing accessible mathematical notation is to generate MathML code to use directly or as alt text for images of equations. MathML allows simple and complex equations to be displayed in browsers and read by most screen readers.

  • Simple equation:
  • Complex equation:
<math xmlns=""><mstyle mathsize="26px"><mfenced close=">" open="<"><mrow><mi>ψ</mi><mfenced close="|" open="|"><mover><mi>H</mi><mo>^</mo></mover></mfenced><mi>ψ</mi></mrow></mfenced><mo>=</mo><mo>∫</mo><mi>ψ</mi><mo>*</mo><mfenced><mi>r</mi></mfenced><mfenced close="]" open="["><mrow><mo>-</mo><mfrac><msup><mi>ℏ</mi><mn>2</mn></msup><mrow><mn>2</mn><mi>m</mi></mrow></mfrac><msup><mo>∇</mo><mn>2</mn></msup><mi>ψ</mi><mfenced><mi>r</mi></mfenced><mo>+</mo><mi>V</mi><mf


There are several ways to create the MathML code and more details can be found in Accessible Mathematical Equations.

What is the best font to use for accessibility?

When choosing a font, look for font families that have multiple style options (such as bold and italic). Letter shapes should be well-defined, open, and consistent in shape and size. Avoid decorative, ornate, or elaborate fonts. 

Web fonts were designed to be viewed on a screen, and therefore make excellent choices for digital accessibility. These include:

  • Verdana
  • Georgia

Fonts that are well-known and easily recognizable tend to be easily read because of their familiarity. Some examples are:

  • Arial
  • Calibri
  • Cambria

The fonts noted above are generally default fonts on both Macs and PCs. 

When creating digital content, be sure the font size is appropriate for the medium.

  • For documents read on a small screen (such as homework assignments, lecture notes shared with the class, etc.), the font size should be between 12 and 16 points (or at least 16 pixels).
  • For presentations that are shown on a large screen (such as during a face to face class), body text should be 24 points, with headings at a larger size.
How do I best use color and still maintain accessibility?

Limit the color palette. Color can be a great way to engage an audience, but having too many colors or having colors that don’t match the tone and message of the content can be counterproductive. In general, we recommend establishing a consistent palette to use throughout a document or presentation that includes one light, one medium and one dark value. The light and dark tones should be used for text and the background color behind the text in order to meet contrast standards. The medium tone should be used for decorative purposes. The light, medium and dark do not need to be the same hue (what we often think as color like blue, red, green) but can be.

You can use a tool like the Accessible Color Palette Builder to help you find combinations that meet your needs while also meeting color contrast requirements. A good rule of thumb is that the text should be easy to read if it was converted to grayscale (which you can often check in a print preview with the grayscale setting turned on). 

How do I caption a video or recorded lecture?

There are two kinds of captions available: open captions and closed captions. Open captions are a part of the actual image of the video created and cannot be turned off. Closed captions are text files that can be toggled on and off when viewing the recording. 

If you need to caption a recording, you can use one of three methods depending on the tools you are already using to record:

  • Zoom (automatic if recording to cloud): When recording to the cloud zoom automatically generates captions. You will receive an email when your captions are available. Once you get this email you should review the transcript for accuracy and edit as needed. See Captioning Zoom Recordings for step-by-step instructions.
  • Panopto (automatic): Any content recorded using the Panopto Recorder or uploaded to your Panopto account will be automatically captioned. Use the built-in video editor to check transcript accuracy and edit as needed. See Captioning Videos in Panopto for step-by-step instructions.
  • YouTube (automatic): Any content uploaded to YouTube (whether public, private or unlisted) will automatically be captioned. You can use YouTube studio to review and edit the captions for accuracy. See YouTube Captioning for step-by-step instructions.

All of the methods above create closed captions that can be toggled on and off. It is important to remember to always double-check the accuracy of automated captions—look carefully at specialized terms and vocabulary. Using a good microphone without a lot of background noise will yield better captions.

Providing captions live during a lecture/meeting is different from providing them in a video recording afterwards. For live events there are two options available in automated captions or captions created by a captionist in real time (these are referred to as CART or Communication Access Realtime Translation). Automated captions is a feature built into Google Meet that can be toggled on and off (these are open captions). We do not currently have automated captions available for Zoom, however you can use one of two workarounds:

  • Use Google Slides in present mode and share your screen. You can toggle on captions in this view in Google Slides (note that these are open captions).
  • Use PowerPoint in present mode and turn on subtitles (note that these are also open captions).

If you are having a ticketed special event with an audience of 25 or more, you should plan for CART and make a request in advance through the CTS help desk. Budget $125 per hour. There are some small inclusivity grant funds available through the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (inquire through the help desk).