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UDL On Campus · Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education

Creating Accessible Open Educational Resources


What is this resource about? Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.1

There is no single checklist to guide the creation of Open Education Resources (OERs) designed with learner variability in mind; but Section 508 , WCAG 2.1 AA, EPUB3, and the Accessible Publishing Best Practice Guidelines for Publishers are good baselines to ensure accessibility. This page provides information about Best Practices and Resources for creating accessible OERs.


Why is this important for higher education? By adhering to accessibility guidelines, designers can be assured that their OER content can be rendered in the appropriate formats individual users require, and retain compatibility with a variety of assistive technologies employed by individuals with physical, sensory, or learning disabilities.

UDL Connection

Just as cutting-edge architectural and engineering developments take baseline standards to a higher level and foster progress, the creators of ambitious open educational resources have the potential to generate innovative approaches to universally designing OERs that will support learning for all.

Accessible OER Creation Requires Collaboration and Innovation

With the goal of designing accessible OERs, programmers and designers are often in search of a checklist that can easily guide the creation of such materials. Unfortunately, a checklist is a one-size-fits-all approach, and may be too simplistic for the creation of resources that are designed with learner variability in mind.

Rather than aiming to meet basic Section 508 guidelines, collaborative efforts should be fostered as much as possible between instructional designers and programmers to ensure that pedagogically rich content development is bolstered by decisions made at the programming level, and vice versa. For example, Section 508 not only requires that videos be captioned but that any additional visual information essential to the understanding of the content be auditorily described.2 Further, both of these alternate formats must be synchronized with video. Although content creation often ends where programming begins, there is an opportunity to bring program developers into the fold when creating OERs to design content in ways that take advantage of the unique affordances associated with various media types. The creation of alternate-format versions of materials, while generally viewed as an accessibility task, is, in fact, equally an editorial one since content needs to be effectively conveyed and contextualized across all media used. While the goals of jointly created open resources are clear, the mechanisms that can foster purposeful and productive collaboration need to be more fully explored as OERs begin to take a more prominent role in higher education.

Essential and Optimal Best Practices

As more and more postsecondary institutions incorporate OERs into courses and programs, identifying and following some key guiding principles can help assure—to the greatest extent possible—that a degree of due diligence regarding accessibility is routinely addressed. One way of approaching this process is to identify a list of best practice performance measures that can be used by those creating and by those reviewing OERs. The DIAGRAM Center at Benetech has created a list of performance measures for creating accessible EPUB (digital book) documents and the majority of those indicators, along with edits to make references generic and applicable, can be applied to the creation and review of OERs.

The Media and Materials section of this website provides additional guidance for the use of various accessible media within OERs.

Essential Best Practices

Present all text in a logical order

Use structural mark-up to define the natural reading order of the primary narrative and to distinguish secondary material such as footnotes, references, figures, and other auxiliary content.

Separate content from presentation

Visual reading is only one way of accessing content. Visual-only cues such as colored text, font size, or positioning should not be used as the only clue to the meaning or importance of a word or section. The meaning of the content should be the same both with and without any styles or formatting applied, whether presented visually, auditorily, or tactilely.

Provide complete navigation

A complete table of contents should be provided in a book’s front matter and smaller tables of contents at the start of each section, if applicable.

Create a meaningful structure

Document headings (title, subtitle, section heading, etc.) should be structured in a logical sequence. Specify content components, e.g., the preface of a book, index, glossary, etc.

Use images for visual components, not for tables or text

Tabular data should be presented with markup rather than using images, with headers and scope attributes included to improve navigation for screen reader users.

Include image descriptions

Alt text should be present on every image ("null" if the image is solely decorative) and a longer, full description should be considered for more complex images or images with text embedded in them. See the DIAGRAM Center’s Accessible Image Sample Book for best practices.

Include page numbers

Page numbers are the primary means of navigation within a book. For any book with a print equivalent, page numbers should be designated even if they are not displayed.

Provide alternative access to media content

Native controls for video and audio content should be enabled by default. Provide fallback options such as captions/subtitles or descriptions for video and transcripts for audio.

Ensure accessible interactive content

Interactive content (JavaScript, SVG) should be operable via keyboard, mouse, or gesture and assistive technologies to be accessible.

Optimal Best Practices

Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) should be used for images

Accessible SVG graphics allow text in images to be rendered in an accessible way. SVGs also make it possible to deliver tactile images electronically to blind users with appropriate devices and help to automate the creation of tactile images that can be provided to readers with minimal human intervention.

MathML should be used for mathematical content

MathML makes mathematical expressions such as equations accessible to everyone by eliminating potential ambiguities in verbal descriptions and providing a wider variety of use of mathematical content. For a more detailed information of MathML, visit the CAST AEM Center’s Accessible Math page.

Accessibility metadata should be used

As part of general good practices of documenting content accessibility, accessibility metadata should be provided so end users know what features are present and search engines can discover the accessible materials.

OER Creation Resources

In March 2013, a publication of the Open Education Database listed 80 OER resource tools for publishing and development initiatives. The resources listed below are a sampling of those available.

Handbooks & Guides

The FLOE (Flexible Learning for Open Education) Project at OCAD University in Toronto has made available a free resource for OER creators, the Inclusive Learning Design Handbook. This resource is designed to guide the accessible creation of OERs across a wide variety of media: text, audio, images, and video.

BC Campus Open Ed, an initiative of the British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education, has created a collection of OER-related tools for searching, adopting and modifying OERs with an emphasis on inclusive, accessible content.

IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum) offers the EPUB 3 Accessibility Guidelines in a well-structured website, as well.

Development Tools

CAST Figuration is a front-end framework for developing responsive, mobile-first and accessible web content. It includes a selection of reusable components, interactive widgets, and customization options that can speed up development time.

Associated with the FLOE Project is the FLUID Project and their open-source OER creation tool, Infusion, designed for creating accessible web-based resources suitable for instruction.

The UK-based Higher Education Academy/JISC Open Educational Resources Programme offers XERTE Online Toolkit (XOT)—an open-source tool for OER creation with explicit emphasis on attending to accessibility features.

Learn More

Learn more about creating accessible OERs.

The CAST AEM Center’s Designing for Accessibility with POUR provides practical tips for implementing the four principles of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) in the creation of accessible OERs.

The Teach Access initiative has launched a tutorial that provides basic training for developers and designers interested in building inclusive experiences.


1William and Flora Hewlett Foundation Website. Open Educational Resources. Retrieved on April 12 2019 from

2W3C Website. Time-based Media: Understanding Guideline 1.2. Retrieved on January 11, 2021 from


Open educational resources (OERs) are any type of educational materials that are openly and freely available for use.

Section 508

Section 508 is a part of the Rehabilitation Act that requires all federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to individuals with disabilities.


Video is the recording, reproducing, or broadcasting of moving visual images.

alt text

Alt text (alternative text) is a brief description of a single image designed to be read by a screenreader as an alternative to that image.


Audio, in this context, is a digital form or representation of sound. It is a format that stores, copies, and produces sound according to the data in its file(s).


Captions are words that are displayed on a screen to describe audio content.


A transcript provides a written version of content that has been presented in an audio, visual, or audiovisual format.

scalable vector graphics

SVG is a language for describing two-dimensional graphics and graphical applications in XML, as developed under the W3C process.


MathML (Mathematical Mark-Up Language) is an XML-based language used to display mathematical content.


The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), formerly known as OeBps, is a trade and standards organization dedicated to the development and promotion of electronic publishing.


The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international consortium that produces specifications and reference software for free use around the world. The W3C established the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), which has working groups developing guidelines for content accessibility, browser accessibility, and authoring tool accessibility.