This month we conducted a workshop to help faculty tune up their OER course sites on the OpenLab. We reviewed best practices for formatting course materials and your website at large for maximum accessibility. As instructors and students continue to rely on online and hybrid courses, these principles can be very helpful in easing communication with students and providing strong access to course resources. 

Formatting and Design Considerations for Accessibility and Ease of Use with Course Materials

Use Descriptive Hyperlinks

  • Avoid using links that don’t make sense out of context. Instead embed the link in a sentence with text that could stand alone. This will help users locate resources if links no longer work and create a usable list of links with screen readers.

    DO: Please read the City Tech Library’s OER Resource Guide for our next class meeting.
    DON’T: Get the reading for our next class meeting here.

  • Avoid using images as links. Don’t include a URL address as the link text. Screen readers will have a difficult time navigating either of these.

    DON’T: Get the reading for our next class meeting:

  • Links should open in the same tab. Opening links in a new tab can be confusing for those who utilize screen readers or rely on the browser’s back button for navigation.

For more information on descriptive hyperlinks, watch:
Creating Descriptive Hyperlinks (video), by Syracuse University Accessible IT (2019).

Use Headings, Bullets, and Numbering Formatting

  • Use headings to create a logical structure that allows users to better understand where to focus their attention.  It helps people using screen readers to navigate among different sections of the site and helps sighted readers scan a page

  • Use specific Heading styles rather than bold or italics to indicate a heading on your OpenLab site. Bold and italics can be used for emphasis but not for site organization and navigation.

  • Breaking text and media in smaller sections (or “chunks”) makes scanning easier for users and can improve their ability to comprehend and remember information.

  • Keep related items close together and aligned. Use bullet points and numbered lists where appropriate for organization and ease of scanning.

Provide Alt Text for Images

  • Alt text is a short description you write for images that will be read aloud by screen readers and is required for accessibility. Alt text can also be helpful for users on mobile devices or slow internet connections, where the text can be read if images are turned off or not loading.

Create Stable Links to Digital Library Resources

  • Creating permalinks is the best option for providing stable links to students that work on and off-campus.

  • It allows City Tech affiliated users access to copyright protected materials legally, that the Library has licensed.

  • Linking to resources through the library, instead of a saved PDF through BlackBoard, helps the library with collection development and resource retention.

Accessibility tools on the OpenLab for building and maintaining your course site:

Mammoth DocX Converter (plugin)

  • Mammoth is designed to convert .docx documents, such as those created by Microsoft Word, Google Docs and LibreOffice, and convert them to HTML. Mammoth aims to produce simple and clean HTML by using semantic information in the document, retaining the formatting of the original document.

More Resources: WAVE & OpenLab Support 

Check your site’s accessibility compliance easily with the WAVE: Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool. “WAVE is a suite of evaluation tools that helps authors make their web content more accessible to individuals with disabilities. WAVE can identify many accessibility and Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG) errors, but also facilitates human evaluation of web content.”

The OpenLab Help Page is also available to help answer any questions you might have about site construction, tools, plug-ins, and more.

Additional accessibility resources at City Tech and CUNY include:

Introduction to Accessibility: Accessible Organization and Layout

  • This section of the Introduction to Accessibility module site, created by Bree Zuckerman of the OpenLab, covers the accessibility concerns for design and formatting in more detail.

The Center for Student Accessibility at City Tech

CUNY – Student Affairs Disability Services

If you have questions about the OpenLab in general, contact the OpenLab team at

If you have further questions about accessibility and OER, please reach out to the OER team at City Tech Library!

Take care,
Cailean Cooney, Assistant Professor, OER Librarian,
Joshua Peach, Adjunct Reference & OER Librarian,
Joanna Thompson, Adjunct OER Librarian,

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