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Mission: Accessible Challenge

Fostering an accessible, inclusive, and usable digital environment is every instructor, teaching assistant, and support staff content creator's responsibility. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to improve the accessibility of your Canvas course site by completing the Mission: Accessible challenge.

What is the Mission: Accessible Challenge?

When you sign up to take the challenge, you will be sent challenges via email over the next several months to apply each of the seven core skills to your Canvas site content. These challenges will help you improve your existing Canvas courses while reinforcing skills that you can apply in future designs.

The current challenge will not include adjustments to documents attached to your site (that’s coming later).

Join the Mission: Accessible Challenge

Is it for me?

Each challenge is developed for people of all levels of digital accessibility knowledge. You do not have to be a Canvas expert or know HTML to be successful. By participating in the challenge, we will help you break down the the big project of digital accessibility into smaller, doable chunks.

Why do this?

Digital accessibility is a responsibility shared broadly across our campus community. Ensuring that your Canvas content is accessible benefits all students, but especially impacts students with disabilities who rely on accessible content they can use for their learning. 

What happens when you finish?

As you complete individual challenges, be sure to log your completion. When you've completed the entire challenge, a consultant will review your courses and provide a certificate of completion. You and your course will also be displayed on the Mission: Accessible Wall of Fame, your Dean and Department Head will be notified that you successfully completed the challenge, and you will be provided with language to use in your course description to let students know that your course content has been designed with accessibility in mind.

Headings Challenge

When you have completed this challenge

You will have a Canvas course that can be easily navigated by all, including screen reader users.

Often, without realizing the inaccessible aspect of it,  people create "headings" by changing the text characteristics of the heading text. This includes increasing font size and/or bolding or underlining the text. Unfortunately, this is inaccessible. Using the formatted heading structure within Canvas is important for a couple of reasons.

  1. Headings help break up your page so that all readers can scan the page and find sections or subsections that are important to them.
  2. When formatted heading structures are used, screen reader users can listen to headings on a page and jump directly to sections that they want to read.

Please view the Canvas headings page for more on why headings are important, how to implement them and what to avoid.



For this challenge, you will look at all pages in your Canvas course(s) and add proper heading structure.

  • Step 1: Find all of the headings on each page and make sure they are properly identified as a heading within the rich content editor.
  • Step 2: The main sections of each page should be Heading 2’s with any subsection heading being properly nested, similar to an outline. Make changes as necessary to fit this convention.

Visit the Northwestern Accessibility site’s page on adding headings in Canvas for more on best practices around headings.



The Canvas Accessibility Checker will be able to tell you if your headings are out of order but will not indicate if headings are not identified on the page. You’ll need to manually check for headings.

Links Challenge

When you have completed this challenge

Your course will have meaningful hyperlinks for all linked materials helping users understand where the link will take them.

When adding links to a page, many people either post a complete URL or a hyperlink with text such as “Click here”, “Read”, “More Info”, etc. Either of these can make it difficult for any user to know where the link will take them. For screen reader users, listening to full URLs is long and cumbersome. Imagine listening to a long line of numbers and letters being read out loud! Having hyperlinks without meaningful text affects a student's ability to navigate around a page by removing their ability to listen to a list of links and choose where to go.

A more meaningful hyperlink could look like changing a hyperlink from "Read" to "Read Chapter One of Jones"


For this challenge, you will look at each page in your Canvas course and add meaningful hyperlinks to linked material.

  • Where you have full URLs, replace the full URL with meaningful text.
  • Where you have hyperlinks such as “Click here”, “More”, etc., change the hyperlink to meaningful text that helps the user know where the link will take them.
  • Where you have the same hyperlink text multiple times on the page, but the links go to different pages, keep the hyperlink text for one, but change the others to ensure unique hyperlinks throughout the page. 

Visit the Northwestern Accessibility site’s page on creating accessible links in Canvas for more on best practices around links.


Adjusting links is a manual process as the Canvas Accessibility Checker will not recognize accessibility issues with links. Running a full UDOIT scan on your course will point you to areas where there are URLs without hyperlinks and help you fix those, but determining meaningful text is a manual process.

Alternative Text Challenge

When you have completed this challenge

All images in your course will have descriptive alternative text so that all users will know what the image portrays.

A lack of alternative text on images is the most common accessibility error in Canvas materials, yet it is often one of the easiest to fix. Alternative text is a text description given to an image that shares the information that the image is portraying to someone who can’t see it. All images, unless they are purely decorative need to have this description available. Often images have either no alternative text or simply use the file name, both of which cause accessibility issues. Imagine the different experience between a student who can see a diagram you've uploaded versus someone who is given the information "diag1.jpeg."


For this challenge, you will make sure that each image in your Canvas course either has concise, descriptive alternative text or is marked as decorative. Common examples of decorative images include icons that repeat information available in text, decorative lines on a page, etc.

  • On each page where there’s an image, put the page into edit mode.
  • Use the Canvas Accessibility Checker to determine if there’s an alternative text error.
  • When an error occurs, if the image needs a description, write the description where prompted.
  • When an error occurs, if the image adds nothing to the page and is purely decorative, indicate such by checking the decorative image box.

Visit the Northwestern Accessibility site’s page on alternative text in Canvas for more on best practices around adding alternative text to images.



The Canvas Accessibility Checker will only flag alternative text issues if there is no alternative text or if the alternative text is a file name. It’s always good practice to check images that don’t get flagged to make sure that they have appropriate alternative text.

Tables Challenge

When you have completed this challenge

All tables in your course will contain a row and column header for more accessible navigation as well as a description.

There are two common issues with tables that cause accessibility issues.

  1. Some use tables within Canvas as a formatting tool. Tables should only be used to display data.
  2. When tables are used to display data, they should have identified row and column headers. This will allow screen reader users to hear the title of the row and column as well as the data in the cell so that they can effectively use the table.

Tables should also include a brief description of its contents.


For this challenge, add row and column headers to any table that you have in your course

  • On pages with tables, run the Canvas Accessibility Checker.
  • When a table without a caption is identified, add the caption as prompted.
  • Add a header row, column or both as appropriate when prompted by the accessibility checker.

Visit the Northwestern Accessibility site’s page on tables in Canvas for more on best practices around designing and using tables.



If you use a table to format the look of any of your Canvas pages, that will need to be changed in the next iteration of your course. Use one of the Mission: Accessible templates that provide accessible formatting options for your course next quarter to get rid of the inaccessible table formats.

Color Contrast Challenge

When you have completed this challenge

All text in your Canvas course will have sufficient contrast with the background so that it can be clearly viewed by all sighted users.

Inadequate color contrast between text and the background on a Canvas page and make the page difficult for many users to read. For the most part, if you are putting black text on a white background, you will not have these issues. However, any change in color of either the text or background should be checked to ensure an adequate contrast of 4.5:1. 


For this challenge, you will make sure that all text in your Canvas course has an adequate color contrast from the background.

  • On each page where you use something other than black text on a white background, run the Canvas Accessibility Checker.
  • When a contrast error is identified, choose another color as prompted. If you’d like to test the contrast ratio of two colors before use, you can use the WebAIM color contrast checker

Visit the Northwestern Accessibility site’s page on color contrast in Canvas for more on best practices use of color in your course.



You should avoid using just a change in color to signify something important in text. Even with adequate color contrast, someone who is colorblind may have difficulty recognizing the change in color. When signifying a change with a new text color, add something else such as an asterisk as well.

Lists Challenge

When you have completed this challenge

All of the lists in your course will be properly formatted to make your page easier to read in general and easier to navigate by a screen reader user.

Lists are a good way to break up walls of text on your page, group like things, or display a process. A common mistake when making lists is to type the number one and then the first item in the list, followed by the number 2 and the second item in the list, and so on. Visually, this looks correct, but this is not technically structured as a list. This is true for numbered lists, bulleted lists, and any other list type.


For this challenge, you will properly format all lists on your Canvas course. 

  • Run the Canvas Accessibility Checker on any page that contains at least one list.
  • If the test indicates that there is something that should be formatted as a list, check to make sure that you intend that to be part of a list.
  • If so, choose the “format as list” option.

Visit the Northwestern Accessibility site’s page on lists in Canvas for more on best practices around using lists.



To avoid false positives in the Canvas Accessibility Checker, you can simply highlight anything you want in a list on a page and click the list format option in the Rich Text Editor.

Video and Audio Challenge

When you have completed this challenge

All video and audio that you have recorded on in your Canvas course will have captions and/or transcriptions.

Captions on videos have benefits that extend beyond providing a means for those with hearing impairments to access information. As automatic speech recognition has improved, it has become easier to add captions to videos, which has led to many more videos online having captions than they did even a few years ago. Although automatic captions have gotten better, they are not perfect and to be accessible, you’ll need to ensure accurate captions on videos that you post.


For this challenge, you will edit the captions on at least one video and agree to edit captions before posting new videos.

  • Identify one video that you recorded and posted to your Canvas site.
  • Open that video in the tool you used for recording (Panopto or Zoom).
  • Edit the captions for accuracy.
  • Replace the video in the Canvas course with the video with updated captions.
  • Identify videos from outside sources used in your course. If they do not have captions, look for similar videos that do and replace them.

Visit the Northwestern Accessibility site’s page on videos and audio in Canvas for more on best practices around captioning and transcripts.



Editing captions for videos can be time consuming. Teaching and Learning Technologies offers support for captioning if you need help correcting your inaccurate captions.


Going forward edit the automatic captions prior to posting the recording to Canvas. Doing this immediately and one at a time makes this process less overwhelming than trying to edit captions for several videos. Also, if you have a script for your video, that can be uploaded and used as captions.