Building Accessible Sites and Groups

The Commons, and the underlying WordPress framework that runs the platform, adheres to  W3C accessibility standards. The Commons team completes regular audits to ensure that  the platform is in line with the best practices laid out in W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. This means that all Commons’ pages, groups, and directories comply with these standards.

However, administrators of sites and groups are responsible for the accessibility of their sites and groups. Since the administrator of a site can choose a specific theme, add content, and edit the site design, layout, and colors, site administrators need to make sure they are creating sites that are accessible to all users. Group admins need to make sure that content uploaded to the group forum and library are accessible.

How you design your site, the type of content you add, the menu styles you design, and materials you upload will determine how accessible your site or group is for visitors. Sites created with the Teaching Template come with the WP Accessibility checker installed so common issues may be flagged if they occur. However, WP accessibility can not check or catch all errors so it is ideal to follow Universal Design Practices to make sure you build a course that all students can participate in from the start. See here for more information about Universal Design for Learning.

*There is always more to know about making learning accessible to all students and we welcome your feedback on this page. If you notice any errors or would like to suggest additional information to be added, please reach out to us at*

The list below provides a few tips to make your course accessible. This list is not comprehensive. You should consider using the WAVE tool  to assess your site’s accessibility before teaching. See here for more information on using the WAVE Tool on the Commons.

Content Accessibility

The Commons host many sites and cannot possibly screen them all for accessible content. So, as the site creator, you are responsible for making sure the content you add to your sites and groups is accessible.

Course Materials

  • Make sure PDFs have been scanned for Optical Character Recognition (OCR). This means that the text in the PDF is searchable and  legible to screen readers and other vision assistance devices. PDFs not scanned this way are typically Jpeg images, or just a picture of the text, which cannot be search or read by a computer. Scanners often have the option to scan with OCR and tehre are online resource to turn non-OCR PDFs into OCRed PDFs. (Adobe offers this option in the “Tools” section).
  • If you are assigning audio or video course materials, check to make sure that videos have closed captioning and audio assignments come with a transcript.


  • Images that are explanatory or that add information to a text should have “alt tags”. Alt tags are short pieces of information that describe what the image depicts. You can add alt tags to images you upload to your site by viewing and editing the image in the site’s media library. If the image is purely decorative, it should have still have a an alt tag, but that tag should be empty – alt=””.


  • Link text should contain not ambiguous words such as “click here” or “more” because these words do not describe the linked information. Link text should be descriptive and provide information about where the link goes. For example, see here for more information about Universal Design for Learning. Screen readers and text to voice devices can choose to navigate more quickly through pages by only reading links. If the link text is unclear, readers will be unable to determine what information is contained in the link.
  • Best practices indicate that you should set up links to open in the same window. Indicating that a link should open in a new tab can create problems for students using a device to navigate through the site. Phones may block or hide the new tab and visually impaired students may not be able to tell that a new tab has been opened.
    • Sites that use the Teaching Template and/or install the WP Accessibility plugin will not open links in a new tab (even if specified to do so). To turn this off, in the Dashboard of the site under Settings>WP Accessibility, you can de-select “Remove target attribute from link”.

Site Text

  • If you are creating a page with multiple sections, be sure to use the correct sizing on headers. Headers should always start with Heading 1 and proceed in order (H2, H3) throughout the sub-sections of the page. On this page, there is regular paragraph content and then the first section uses H1 font.
  • Color coding should not be used to convey information. For example, do not indicate that “red assignments are due on Tuesday and green assignments are due on Thursday”.

Site Infrastructure Accessibility

Beyond content, site creators and administrators can make decisions while setting up the site can to ensure their site is navigable for everyone.

Drop Down Menus

Site Design for Smart Devices

  • Many students will be accessing Commons sites from their smartphone or another device. It is important to choose a theme and design your site in a way that is legible and accessible on a smartphone. Most  themes on the Commons are “responsive”, meaning the theme will adjust to the size of the device screen. However, you also want to make sure that you do not have too many menu items or drop down menus, since these can cause issues when viewed from a smartphone. It is always best to test your site from a smartphone to determine what many students will see.

Information Architecture

  • Students will navigate through your site in various ways. Create multiple pathways through your site. Along with creating a clear main menu, inter-link pages on your site ( for example, linking the syllabus page to the course schedule page), will give students multiple pathways for finding information on your site. Do not create dead ends or use blank pages in your menu as a place holder for drop down pages that link to actual site information. If you decide to use drop down menus, creating multiple pathways to interior pages allows students who cannot use a drop down menu to reach the drop down page content.


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