Information Services

Creating Accessible Courses in VLEs

General guidance on things to consider when creating your courses in a VLE to make sure they are as accessible as possible for disabled users.

Creating Accessible Courses in Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs)

For some disabled users, purely online distance education may be a positive choice, for example it allows students to study at the time of day most suitable to them or reduces the additional stress of getting to and from a campus. Over the last few years the University has greatly expanded and developed its range of online distance learning courses and due to COVID some courses have become a hybrid mix of online and on campus.  Just as physical premises must be accessible so digital enviroments must be accessible. Just because something is online does not mean it is accessible. All those involved with online distance learning courses have an ethical and legal obligation to ensure their courses are accessible. This guidance will help you to meet those obligations. Accessible content is also likely to be more useable and therefore benefit all users.

Even before Covid campus-based courses usually have significant online components, both content and activities. For blended courses it is equally important that the online elements are as accessible as possible. Making online courses accessible should not be costly, time-consuming or nerve wracking, and the best way to ensure accessibility is making sure your documents and content are accessible before you put them online. For advice on how to make Word documents, PowerPoints and other documents more accessible please follow the links on the left hand side navigation bar on this webpage. Wherever possible we would encourage you to involve disabled people in the creation of your online course to provide feedback and advice.


The way the course is structured, formatted and provides navigation links plays a huge role in the accessibility and usability. A well organised course benefits all users. Some points to bear in mind are:

  • Be consistent and clear.
  • Make sure menu options are consistent and meaningful e.g. “readings” – are these all the readings or readings for week 1 etc?
  • Explain all the links and what all folders contain.
  • Make sure any shortcuts make sense.
  • If links open a new window make sure this is clearly stated.

Alternative formats

It may not be possible to make everything completely accessible to everyone. So you should advertise that content can be provided in alternative formats upon request by adding the follwing statement in bold Arial font size 12 or ideally 14 to all content areas.

“If you require this information in an alternative format please contact"

 In practice this may mean providing a Word version or large print versions.

The alternative format tagline also appears in the VLE's accessibility statement. 

For more information on providing information in alternative formats please visit:


  • Make sure all images have a written meaningful description.
  • Where there are audio clips, these should be accompanied by a text transcription.
  • Where there are videos these should be captioned and the cost of this built into the cost of producing the course. (Transcripts are not considered a sufficent alternative as they do not provide the same level of experience).

Actual online site

  • Use a sans serif font, and don't use italics, underlining or continuous capitals 
  • Use a 12 point font at least (24 for PowerPoints)
  • Use styles and headings within documents such as Word to format the document 
  • Do not use colour or sound as the only way of conveying information, e.g. priority items in red.
  • Avoid moving, flashing or scrolling text.
  • Avoid the use of PDF's
  • Use 1.5 or double line spacing
  • Use left align not centre or right align 
  • Make sure any links you link to  or files you use are also accessible
  • Ensure  high contrast levels between text colour and background colour
  • Ensure all non text items have alt text added (text descriptions)
  • Ensure you use text and not images of text
  • Wherever possible ensure no items are time limited i.e. the user is logged out after a certain time period.
  • Ensure links give a clear indication of where they go to and what they link to e.g. "University of Edinburgh Homepage" rather than the URl. Avoid the use of "click here". Alert users if links open new browser windows or pop ups.
  • Familiarise yourself with the accessibility statement for the VLE you are using so you know what accessibility issues may occur


If you have any further queries or would like an accessibility audit report on your course please contact Viki Galt, Head of Disability Information, details provided below.

Further Training

The Disability Information Team can offer bespoke training to any areas of the University on this area. In addition, the Learning Teaching and Web division host an online course which covers some of the above 

LTW Introduction to Accessible Documents

Alternative Formats

If you require this document in an alternative format please contact Viki Galt, Head of Disability Information.

Viki Galt

Head of Disability Information

  • Information Services

Contact details



Argyle House
Floor F West
3 Lady Lawson Street

Post Code

BSL users can contact me via Contact Scotland BSL, the on-line British Sign Language interpreting service. Find out more on the Contact Scotland BSL website.