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Community Champion

Independent use of Canvas

These are questions from an Instructional Designer at an institution researching various LMS's to replace their proprietary system:

  1. Can blind students independently use the LMS used at your institution?
  2. Does your LMS work with speech?

Since these are not yes/no questions, it would be great to hear about everyone's experiences! Their students are blind or are family, friends, or in professional/support roles for them.

8 Replies
Community Champion

Those are definitely not yes/no questions, but we definitely have a number of blind students using Canvas independently. In general, Canvas provides an accessible user interface. Most of the accessibility issues we come across come are from content that instructors have uploaded into Canvas that is not accessible. 

For your second question are you asking if it can work with text to speech technologies such as a screen reader? Canvas describes with screen readers they support on this page where you can also provide additional accessible information: 

Thank you for describing your experiences! Although Canvas is very accessible based on their Voluntary Product Accessibility Template | Canvas Learning Management System, I notice the same thing: overall accessibility depends on the learning content and how it is placed into Canvas.

I probably should ask her to clarify the second question. I wondered if there were voice-control technologies (like Amazon Alexa and Google Home for an LMS) in addition to screen readers!

Community Member

We have received mixed reviews about how independently blind students can use Canvas. 

We have some blind students who have shared that Canvas is not accessible with screen reading software.  Excluding the comments about instructor created content not being accessible, students have found the Canvas user interface difficult to navigate.  Part of the comments are about the labeling of buttons as links and vice versa.  When blind students get direction from a sighted user, it is confusing when an object like View Course Stream looks like a button but is a link.  We have also received several negative comments about the Canvas guides from blind students.  However, we also have some blind students who are experienced technology users and are able to use Canvas independently. 

Blind instructors have more accessibility challenges using Canvas.  The Gradebook is not very accessible, for example.  Depending on the browser, the Rich Content Editor can be difficult to use with screen reading software. Some of the accessibility issues have been recently improved. For example, the "Settings" link is no longer labeled "Course settings". 

Thank you for your detailed response,  @ncrisosto ‌! It sounds like it would be worthwhile for Canvas to form a focus group containing blind students to help them improve the interface for all.

Yesterday, there was this article in Inside Higher Ed about a new book titled Academic Ableism: Author discusses his new book on disability and higher education. My interpretation of the book interview is that we shouldn't build ramps when we can build community and innovation, improving teaching and learning for all. That fits with everything I've heard and read about Instructure's mission and vision for Canvas.

Community Team
Community Team

Greetings Denise

Thank you for starting this discussion in the Community. I know you're seeking first hand experience from other schools (and you're in the right place), but I also wanted to make sure to provide you some resources and insights from us!

We're passionate about accessibility and its core to Instructure’s mission, which is to make teaching and learning easier - for everyone. Accessibility is front and center in every thing we do and decision we make. It is one of the primary reasons for our open, inclusive company culture. And with our open culture, we'll be first to admit that we have not reached a point where we can declare, “mission accomplished!”. There’s always more to do (things that can be done better, partners we can influence to join us, etc).

Our design approach for our software is equally inclusive and not just accepts, but seeks out diversity of input. Including accessibility as a key component of design from the beginning is distinctly different than bolting it on after it’s built, which is how most of the software industry approaches accessibility.

From the beginning of a priority, and along the way, we reach out to diverse groups that can help us advance our mission further. Here's just a few examples:

  • We reach out to Canvas schools that specialize in education for hearing or visually impaired users (e.g. see Languages of Learning video). We work with them as leaders in their industry to understand how technology can make education more inclusive.
  • We have an accessibility product team that provides direction and quality assurance testing on everything we build
  • We meet regularly with accessibility focused organizations like Access Technology Higher Education Network and WebAIM to discuss challenges they are seeing and review product designs and key decisions ahead of implementing them.
  • We post designs of new features in our Canvas Studio for people to review and provide feedback before we build.

I hope these additional insight and resources were helpful! You're asking your questions in the right space. The community, and more specifically, the accessibility group is where you'll find other Canvas users with similar questions and interests. You can also ask your CSM (Customer Success Manager) for references for schools that specialize in this area. They can share first hand experience from staff and students.

Thank you for detailing how Canvas approaches accessibility. I’m sure that everyone in this group has experienced how accessible courses benefit all students. So, it’s great to hear that Instructure is on top of it! It’s also great to hear from professionals at other institutions, since there is always room for improvement in online courses. I appreciate that Canvas listens to users and provides a community for them!

Community Champion

I have a blind parent who has mentioned that she is having trouble determining what is graded and what is turned in when she looks at her student's grades. I'm not sure how much of that is using a screen reader and how much of that is that she has not taken the time to read my grading polices (which are on a Page in Canvas and should thus be pretty accessible using a screen reader). It might be worth having some other screen-reader-users try to parse complicated grades pages (I have several weighted grade categories) and make sure that it is clear how weighted grades are calculated when viewing the page that way.

(I think she found it confusing that each category talked about her student having x out y of points, but the "points" aren't actually the same size between categories because of grading weights, which is actually confusing to everyone so it's more of a general "Canvas shows people confusing things rather than helpful ones" issue rather than a screenreader issue.)

Part of the issue may be that the grade categories are not labeled as such by Canvas.  The table that displays the grades for an individual student uses color (bold is a use of color) to identify that information.  As users become familiar with the structure of the table, and that the items in the bottom rows are the weighted grade categories, it might make more sense.

Perhaps Canvas could add the "Assignment Group" to the row labels to make it clearer to users of screen reading software?