Tag: Accessibility

The Ally Course Accessibility Report

Ally Course Accessibility Dashboard

Ally is a course accessibility tool that works within Canvas. It automatically scans Canvas course content and provides accessibility scores and feedback to instructors about specific accessibility problems, why they are important, and how to remove them. One valuable component of Ally is the course accessibility report. Let’s review this feature.


You access the Ally course accessibility report from the Canvas course navigation item on the left. The report has two main areas: an overview and a content detail page. The overview provides a comprehensive tally of all course content types including images, content pages, announcements, assignments, discussions, documents, etc. It also sorts course content into a group of easiest to fix issues, and a group with the lowest accessibility scores. These sorted groups help instructors prioritize items that can have the most impact for their students.


The content view lists every item Ally has identified in your course and assigns it an accessibility score. These scores are reported as a percentage with an associated color-coded gauge.

Ally scoring gauges
  • Low (0-33%)- severe accessibility issues exist
  • Medium (34-66%)- somewhat accessible but needs improvement
  • High (67-99%)- file is accessible, but improvements are possible
  • Perfect- no accessibility issues identified by Ally, but further improvement may be possible.

When you click on a gauge Ally opens a preview of the content item (when available) and provides a prioritized listing of all accessibility issues. Ally also provides guidance about what the issues mean and why they are important. In some cases corrections can be made directly within the Ally interface (such as adding alternative text descriptions for images), while in other cases you would need to correct problems in the source document directly. As you make improvements to your content Ally updates the accessibility score immediately.

It’s A Process

Improving access to your instructional materials takes time. Ally can help you prioritize your limited time to make the most impact on your course. While it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the volume of problems Ally identifies, and you may not know where to begin, it’s important to just get started and make improvements. Over time this can have a big impact on your Ally course accessibility score, and, more importantly, remove digital barriers within your instructional materials so more students can use them effectively.

Check back for future posts about other valuable features of Ally in your Canvas courses.


Need Help?

Contact the elearning support team in the Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning if you have questions about Canvas, Huskycast, Zoom or other educational technology tools.

elearning@mtu.edu | 487-3000

Immersive Reader: Support tools for learners in Canvas

Microsoft Immersive Reader interfaace

Canvas recently added support for Microsoft’s Immersive Reader tool-set within content pages. It provides features similar to other literacy software like Read & Write from Texthelp (also available to all MTU students, staff, and faculty). When viewing a Canvas content page learners can click the Immersive Reader button in the upper right corner of the page to access the tools.

Immersive Reader button in Canvas content page

Text to Speech

Immersive Reader features a read out loud feature that allows learners to listen to the text read back to them while the words on the screen are highlighted. Options to select a female or male voice and adjust reading speed are available. Text to speech assistive technology supports improved reading comprehension. When combined with the text translation feature learners can also listen to page content read to them in a different language.

Customized text display

Learners have access to many tools in Immersive Reader to customize the display of text on the Canvas content page, including:

  • Text size
  • Text spacing
  • Display font
  • Color theme
  • Text formatting

These text features support learners with dyslexia or other conditions that make reading comprehension more difficult. For example, increasing the text spacing can reduce visual crowding on a content page which can help increase reading speed with fewer reading errors. Increasing the text size also reduces line length which can also help improve reading speed. Adjusting the color theme of the page can help some readers who experience visual discomfort or symptoms of eye fatigue while reading the default text display on a page. There is a choice of display fonts including a standard sans serif option (Calibri) or a screen-optimized serif font called Sitka that can improve legibility and readability. A final font choice, Comic Sans, is targeted at early readers who are still developing their skills with letter recognition. The informal character of the font mimics the handwritten text that young learners practice often during primary school.

Grammar Options

Grammar Options panel in Immersive Reader

The grammar tools in Immersive Reader allow learners to see a visual indicator of the syllabic components of words and identify the parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs) via color coding and/or labels. These features support reading comprehension in both child and adult readers as well as non-native English learners.

Sample text in Immersive Reader showing syllable indicators and parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs).

Reading Preferences

The line focus tool in Immersive reader can help learners with attention deficit disabilities by focusing on one, three or five line segments of text. They can manually scroll through the page content or listen via the text to speech feature while viewing in line focus mode. Finally, a picture dictionary option is available for some words. When learners click on supported words a representative image is displayed next to the selected word.

Improved access

Tools like Immersive Reader support the Universal Design for Learning framework which encourages multiple ways for learners to engage with instruction materials (multiple means of representation). Students may also feel more empowered to engage with their instructional materials through additional modalities that can support comprehension and build confidence.


Need Help?

Contact the elearning support team in the Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning if you have questions about Canvas, Huskycast, Zoom or other educational technology tools.

elearning@mtu.edu | 487-3000

Using Math in your Canvas Course Content

Do you use math content in your Canvas course pages, assignments, quizzes, etc.? Do you struggle with how to insert math expressions properly? Do you insert images of math expressions (inherently inaccessible)?

Using math in your Canvas instructional materials can be challenging. Making sure that content is digitally accessible to all learners is more important now that ever with the dramatic shift to remote instruction during the pandemic. Let’s review some options and best practices for creating accessible math expressions in your Canvas instructional content.

Insert Options in Canvas

The Canvas Rich Content Editor (RCE), available throughout Canvas (content pages, discussions, assignments and quizzes) offers some powerful tools for inserting math.

Equation Editor

Canvas equation Editor
Canvas equation editor (basic view)

The Canvas equation editor allows you to build math expressions from scratch using the available toolbars in the basic view. This option is similar to equation editors you may have used in Word, for example. When you click on the advanced view option you can enter LaTeX code. LaTeX is a markup language commonly used for typesetting technical content (like math expressions) in documents. If you are fluent with LaTeX, the advanced equation editor can be an efficient method of placing math in your course content.


Recently, Canvas announced a plan for extended support and enhanced digital accessibility of LaTex-based math expressions. Once implemented by Canvas, properly formatted LaTeX will be able to be added directly in any text field in Canvas, including in page and assignment titles and calendar entries. By including the required formatting that specifies inline or block formatting of the math, Canvas will work with the browser to display the math properly using a JavaScript display technology called MathJax. You won’t need to worry about the MathJax magic though, you just need to enter accurate LaTeX code and format it for the desired display type and it should just work. The great advantage here is that math expressions entered this way are accessible to people using an assistive technology called a screen reader. This feature was originally released on February 20, but there have been a few glitches and Canvas has pulled it back for now. Hopefully it will be available again soon.

2021-02-23_14-58-34 (1).gif
Inserting math expressions with LaTeX in Canvas rich content editor


Another powerful tool for creating digital math is EquatIO, available from the apps menu in the Canvas RCE. When not in Canvas you can also download EquatIO for Mac or Windows and run it on your computer, or as an extension in the Chrome browser (register it with your MTU email address to get access to premium features).

EquatIO App in the Canvas RCE toolbar
EquatIO App in the Canvas RCE toolbar

EquatIO offers several inputs methods for inserting math in Canvas, including the type-as-you-go equation editor, LaTeX, and handwritten or spoken math expressions.

EquatIO insert menu in Canvas
EquatIO editor (showing LaTeX input method) in Canvas RCE

The equation editor features prediction to help speed up the input workflow. So when you type “sq” for example, EquatIO offers options like “squared” or “square root”. You can also enter LaTeX math and EquatIO will insert the expression as an image file that includes accurate alternative text to support screen reader users. If you have a touch-based device you can write out math by hand and EquatIO will similarly convert it to an image of the expression. You can also speak math using your microphone and EquatIO will convert to digital math. Both the handwritten and spoken input options can work quite well as long as you can write reasonably well or speak clearly without too much background noise.

EquatIO Works Great for Students Too

Students can also use EquatIO to input math expressions anywhere in Canvas that they have access to the RCE, such as in a discussion post, or a text-based response in a quiz. EquatIO also supports students who may struggle with interpreting math expressions, a disorder called dyscalculia. The standalone EquatIO application (available to all MTU students, staff, faculty) includes an additional tool called the screenshot reader. This powerful feature allows students (or anyone else) to select a math expression on their computer screen. EquatIO then applies optical character recognition (OCR) and provides options to listen to the expression read back to them, or to read a text-based version of the expression to help with comprehension. Next time you need to add math to your Canvas content consider using one of these approaches to make your math digital and more accessible.

EquatIO screenshot demo


Need Help?

Contact the elearning support team in the Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning if you have questions about Canvas, Huskycast, Zoom or other educational technology tools.

elearning@mtu.edu | 487-3000

Canvas content pages or PDF’s: Is there a better approach?

You probably have lots of instructional materials loaded into your Canvas courses. You can present information from custom web pages, called content pages. You can also upload files into Canvas (documents, presentations, etc.). Is one approach better than another? While there is no single correct answer for all situations, considering your students needs when determining how to provide course materials can be a good approach.

Content Pages

A content page in Canvas is actually an HTML web page created with the tools available in the Rich Content Editor (RCE). Although you can enter HTML code to create this page, most folks use the visual RCE tools for this process. Providing instruction from a content page has some advantages for your students:

  • Can be accessed from a desktop/laptop computer, or mobile device (via Canvas student app) without the need to download or open other software.
  • Page content is responsive (adapts to reader preferences and display/device limitations).
  • Well-designed content pages work seamlessly with assistive technology

The Canvas RCE has tools for inserting and styling text, adding images and videos, and linking to other course resources or external sites. You can insert tables and math expressions (manually created or via LaTeX). You can also build math expressions using a variety of input methods from the powerful EquatIO tool available from the Apps tool (plug icon) in the RCE. A built in accessibility checker is also available to check for some common errors, such as missing alternative text descriptions for images, missing table headers, and proper heading and list structure.

In many instances a well-structured Canvas content page can offer the best experience for your students, providing them the flexibility to access the content from various devices and without need for additional software.


Documents can be shared in many formats, but the most common (by far) is PDF. Documents usually originate in Word or Google format, or PowerPoint presentation files. Uploading these files to your Canvas course to share with students requires them to have the necessary software to open these formats. Students must also download the files and then open locally on their computer and may need access to a printer if they require a hard copy.

Providing documents in PDF format can eliminate some of the software restrictions. Students can download the free Adobe Reader (or use another PDF viewer available with their operating system) to access the PDF course materials. In most cases, the document will look exactly the same as when you designed it (assuming you have exported it properly). For the syllabus or other important course documents a printable PDF can be an valuable resource.

Document Structure

It’s very important that you use the correct workflow for exporting your documents. This usually means using the “export to PDF” or “save as PDF” options in your text editor to create your document. Never use the “Print to PDF” option! The resulting PDF will be an image based file that will have none of the underlying structural elements that are very important to students who use assistive technology, or for anyone who needs to modify the document for optimal viewing.

This underlying structure is equally important when sharing PDF’s from online journals or scanned from physical textbooks. Unfortunately many journals are still not providing fully accessible documents. Scanned documents are often inherently inaccessible (image-based) and very difficult to use by all learners. In both cases students can face serious digital barriers to access if they are using assistive technology. The Ally accessibility checker included in Canvas will scan all documents in your course and provide an accessibility score and guidance for how to make improvements, if needed.

A Van Pelt and Opie librarian can help you locate accessible course resources from journals and publications and the Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning is available to consult about best options for creating and sharing course materials with your students in Canvas.


Creating Accessible Documents
Creating Accessible Presentations

Need Help?

Contact the elearning support team in the Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning if you have questions about Canvas, Huskycast, Zoom or other educational technology tools.

elearning@mtu.edu | 487-3000

Zoom Features to Support Student Access

If you have been teaching in the past year you have likely spent time (too much maybe?) using Zoom. Two important new features have been released for all Michigan Tech Zoom accounts over the last few months that help support access to your Zoom recordings for all your students. Most recently, live transcription was enabled just in time for Spring semester courses. Previously, an audio transcription feature was added that generates transcripts from completed Zoom recordings. Read on for more details.

Zoom toolbar with live transcript feature highlighted
Zoom live transcript button

Zoom Live Transcription

When conducting a Zoom meeting you now have the option to click the “Live Transcript” button in the Zoom toolbar to enable live auto-transcription in your meeting. Once complete all attendees will see the live auto-generated transcript appear at the bottom of the Zoom screen with options to adjust the size of the transcript text or turn the feature off. If enabled by the meeting host, the live transcript file can also be downloaded by attendees.

Zoom enable auto-transcription button for the live transcript feature
enable the live transcript feature

Zoom Audio Transcripts

In addition to the new live transcription feature, meeting hosts can also have Zoom auto-transcribe completed cloud recordings to obtain audio transcripts. This feature has been available for the past year. It’s great if you use Zoom to pre-record presentations, or when you don’t want to use the live transcript feature. Once you end your cloud recording meeting, Zoom begins the auto-transcribe process and adds the audio transcript file to the cloud recording list in your Zoom account. One added benefit of this feature is that the audio transcript will automatically transfer with the Zoom recording into a designated Huskycast course folder and be available to students from the closed caption (cc) button in the player. This transfer to Huskycast only works if you have requested the Panopto-Huskycast/Zoom integration and are using recurring cloud recordings.

Who Benefits from Transcripts and Captions?

Many people can benefit from having a transcript of class sessions available including the following scenarios:

  • Deaf or hard of hearing viewers
  • Viewers who know English as a second language
  • When content includes new and unfamiliar jargon
  • Consuming content in loud or very quiet environments where regular audio playback is not feasible
  • Can help with concentration for viewers with certain learning disabilities or attention deficits

Remember that automated transcription tools like those available in Zoom are not fully accurate and should not be considered fully compliant solutions for students with formal accommodations for closed captions or transcripts to support their learning needs.


Zoom Live Transcription Feature
Using Audio Transcription with Zoom Cloud Recordings
Using the Panopto-Huksycast/Zoom Integration

Need Help?

Contact the elearning support team in the Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning if you have questions about Canvas, Huskycast, Zoom or other educational technology tools.

elearning@mtu.edu | 487-3000