Accessibility, Special Access and Release Conditions

Resource Overview

The FAQs and guidance below may help you make you utilize D2L Brightspace to make your course design and teaching practices more accessible. If you need direct support relating to your students (e.g. as it relates to guidance or support on captioning), contact our Access and Disability Resources (ADR) staff.

Faculty FAQS. Click on each question to view the answer.

What role do we have in addressing accessibility needs?

Pima Community College has the responsibility to:

  1. Ensure that courses, programs, services, and activities are accessible to and usable by students with disabilities.

    • "Accessible" means a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally effective and equally integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use. (Office of Civil Rights Compliance Review No. 11-11-6002)

    • For guidance on identifying and creating accessible materials contact the Office of Access and Disability Resources (ADR) at 520-206-6688.

  2. Provide or arrange reasonable accommodations, academic adjustments and/or auxiliary aids.

  3. Provide information to students with disabilities in accessible formats upon request.

  4. Maintain appropriate confidentiality of records and communication except where permitted or required by law.

What should we do if students request an accomodation related to a disability - or if they share with us that they self-identify as having a disability?

If student self identifies as having a disability or makes a request for accommodation related to a disability, refer the student to the Office of Access and Disability Resources (ADR) at or 520-206-6688.

How do we learn about formal requests for accomodations?

Additional Accommodation Implementation Support

If you have a student in your course that has been approved for accommodations, you will receive an accommodation notification letter from ADR via your Pima email address. This letter will specify the accommodations you are required to provide the student identified in the letter.

If you, as an instructor, feel that an approved accommodation is unreasonable or impacts the essential learning objectives of your course, contact the Office of Access and Disability Resources (ADR) at 520-206-668. If you feel you cannot provide approved accommodation because of technical constraints of the online environment or any other reason, please contact ADR.

What Learning Options are available to students?

Web accessibility refers to how easily people with disabilities can navigate and interact with websites. People with disabilities often use access technologies to help them navigate the Web. Students may have their own access technologies or use access technologies available at the College campuses. Common web access technologies include assorted types of mice, keyboards, screen readers, and screen magnifiers.

Web accessibility occurs when websites support web accessibility standards, are compatible with access technologies, and are easy for people to navigate and understand.

For more information about ADR, go to the ADR web page.

How Do We Utilize Account Settings in D2L Brightspace to Support Such Requests?

  1. Set Up D2L Brightspace Student Account Settings

The Account Settings tool includes a number of settings that can be adjusted to improve accessibility. These settings are controlled by individual students. Make sure students enrolled in your courses are aware of options that might benefit them.

To access Account Settings from any course, locate your name and photo/avatar in the upper right corner of the D2L navbar and click on it.

D2L Navbar showing name and photo or avatar

2. Review Options Within Account Settings

  • Increase the Font Size if you have difficulty seeing text in D2L Brightspace. You have four font sizes to choose from. See which size (small, medium, large, huge) works best for you in the preview box.

  • On the Discussions tab, uncheck Always show the Discussion List pane.

  • On the Email tab, uncheck Show the Message Preview pane and uncheck Show the Folder List pane.

Account Settings options for fonts

3. Show Discussions List Pane

  • Make sure the box next to "Always show the Discussions List pane" is unchecked if screen readers are being used.

Personal Settings - Unchecked box for discussions list pane

Other D2L Brightspace Accessibility Information

For more information on accessibility, see the Accessibility page on Pima's D2L Brightspace Student Guide site. This site can also be accessed from the Help menu on the navbar in D2L Brightspace.

This web page contains information on the following topics:

  • Screen Reader: Tips & Accessibility Features

  • Keyboard Only: Tips & Accessibility Features

  • Screen Magnifiers: Tips & Accessibility Features

Designing Accessible Courses: Guidelines

As a course designer, you hold a pivotal role in ensuring that D2L Brightspace is accessible to all students, regardless of their learning needs. It is your content that students must access, assess and respond to. We strongly encourage you to follow accessibility best practices to ensure you meet the learning needs of all your students. If you are more interested in understanding the national guidelines for this process, Pima subscribes to the Quality Matters Program which allows instructors to access the Quality Matters rubric (i.e., the matrix of review standards) which you can use as a reference for developing an online or hybrid course. If you are interested in this program please contact an Instructional Designer and you will be provided with more information and contacts.

The Accessibility and Your Course page of this site contains guidelines to create accessible web materials. The Center for Learning Technology also provides information to support your development of quality, accessible courses, please feel free to review it and contact an Instructional Designer should you have any questions or need any guidance or help.

Set Clear Course Expectations

When you set up an online course, it is important to remember that for many students it marks a big change from a traditional classroom. This can be challenging for students with physical or learning disabilities as they can feel disconnected from their instructor and other support systems.

Furthermore, D2L Brightspace provides course designers a lot of flexibility in how they set up and organize their course materials. Although there are many benefits to this flexibility, it can be daunting for students with learning disabilities and students who rely on assistive technologies to navigate pages to find all of your course materials and assignments.

There are some easy design decisions you can make that will help all students use your online course effectively:

  • Use Course Home to help familiarize your students with your course content.

  • Create an Announcements item on Course Home that introduces you (the course instructor) and any teaching assistants. Include relevant contact information and a note encouraging students to contact you if they have any questions, concerns or additional needs.

  • Include your course syllabus as a news item (or a link to your course syllabus) on Course Home. This helps all students clearly understand your course expectations up front. Make each syllabus item a Quicklink to the actual item in your course. This provides a navigation shortcut to important content and helps students with learning disabilities clearly see how course content relates to course expectations.

  • Include a news item on Course Home that highlights some of the personal tools available to students, especially the Account Settings tool and User Progress tool.

  • Build redundancy into your course by repeating course information within different tools. For example, include all course syllabus information in the course calendar and include information on how much a Quiz, Discussion topic, Assignments, etc. is worth in the description of that item. The more clearly course expectations are communicated through your course design, the more students can focus on learning content.

Making Time Limits and Deadlines Flexible

Many course designers create course materials that put students with learning and physical disabilities at a disadvantage without intending to. Usually disadvantages result from students not having enough time to complete tasks or not having appropriately designed resources.

Here are a few things to consider when organizing course materials in a time-sensitive manner:

  • Use the Discussions tool rather than instant messaging tools (such as the Chat tool) for user participation and reflection. Instant messaging tools can be difficult for students with visual, motor or learning disabilities because they require students to process and respond to information quickly using technology that does not match their needs. Discussion areas give all students time to reflect. If you use instant messaging, be aware that some students may require an alternative solution such as phone or face-to-face contact. Also consider the accessibility of the instant messaging interface, the D2L Brightspace Chat tool is specifically designed to be accessible by keyboard and screen readers.

  • Provide readings and assignments well in advance of deadlines so students can work ahead and prepare. Many students need the extra time to organize extra help and to read through content multiple times. If you use tools such as the Conditional Release tool to release course content on a module by module basis, make sure you give students plenty of time to complete each component. See the Setting Release Conditions and Special Access below (to support students with different needs) for advice on setting release conditions in a course.

  • Traditional examinations usually have a time limit in which students must prepare their responses. This can be difficult for students with learning or physical disabilities as they often need more time to articulate or record their responses. As an instructor, you should be aware of the limitations that timed examinations place on students. Consider whether strict time limits are really necessary for your course material. If these time limits are necessary, ensure students are aware that they can request extra time if needed. See the Setting Release Conditions and Special Access below to support students with different needs topic for information on setting up alternative time limits.

Providing Alternative Learning Materials

One of the most effective course design decisions you can make to improve student engagement is to offer course materials and assignments that appeal to more than one sense. For example, the same material or assignment can have an audio, video and text component. This type of redundancy helps engage students with different learning types, reinforces important concepts, and helps ensure that students with physical disabilities can access content in a suitable format.

  • Use the Content tool for readings and course material. HTML code is easier for assistive technologies to interpret than application based files such as MS Word. Follow Web standards, such as those described in the Meeting Web Content Accessibility Standards topic below, when creating your content.

  • If your readings and lecture materials use many graphics, tables, videos or audio recordings, provide a text-only alternative. Text-only material should supplement, not replace, other delivery methods. Videos, graphics and audio files are a great way to generate interest in a topic, present material from different perspectives, and help students with learning disabilities through redundancy. Make the text-only alternatives easy to compile for print so that all students can use them as study aids at their leisure.

  • Allow students to demonstrate learning through different assignments associated with the same grade item or competency activity (for example, a written reflection, a recorded interview or a slide show presentation).

  • Set up Discussion areas that encourage peer-to-peer support. Regularly review information in the forums and adjust your content appropriately.

  • Use MathJax to create accessible math equations that look just like a textbook. For ordinary users as well as those with print and learning disabilities, MathJax makes math easier to see and read. As an alternative, use the D2L Brightspace Equation Editor in combination with written descriptions of the formulas.

  • Use a vertical layout for Quizzes so that only one answer/concept appears per line. Screen readers will interpret the order of the material easier, it will minimize formatting problems when text sizes are adjusted, and most students will interpret their options quicker.

  • Do not convert PowerPoint presentations to images in LiveRoom if you have visually impaired students because screen readers won't be able to read the content and participants won't be able to resize the text or graphics. PowerPoint slides are converted by default; you will need to clear Convert Word documents to HTML and PowerPoint slides to images on the Create File Resource pop-up page. Alternatively, make it easy for students to request the originals so they can adjust and print them as desired.

Designing Accessible Courses: D2L Brightspace Features

Setting Release Conditions and Special Access (to support students with different needs)

Special Access and Release Conditions are used to set criteria around the availability of content, which can be useful for accommodating students with different needs.

The following examples show when you might use release conditions or special access to improve accessibility:

  • Recommended: Create groups for students with disabilities and use release conditions to provide them with material, tasks, work areas, etc. that are not available to other students. This is a great option if you do not want other students to see or have access to the additional items.

  • If you are teaching a large course, you might not know the individual needs of all of the students enrolled. Set up a checklist that students can use to request extra resources, help or material in a different format. For example, for each week or major assignment create checklist items for text-only versions of material, an extra help Discussions forum, additional reading materials, and alternative formats for multimedia. Set release conditions for the checklist items so the requested content is automatically released. This option ensures that the majority of students access material as you intended, yet students with other learning needs are supported.

  • Set up a Survey that students with learning disabilities can take to help you assess their learning needs. Use the Survey to determine what special access rights and extra resources to give the students.

  • Set up Quizzes, Surveys or Assignments folders with time restrictions (availability), but give special access to students who need more time because of physical or cognitive disabilities. Alternatively, many people creating Quizzes prefer not to set time restrictions because they can impact the quality of answers.

  • Set up Quizzes with a set number of allowed attempts, but allow individual students extra Quiz attempts.

Setting Up Special Access Conditions

Special access allows you to provide alternative content, time limits or extra Quiz attempts to individual students or groups of students to accommodate special needs. For example, you can use special access to set up a restricted Assignments folder for individuals who under-performed on or missed an assignment. You can use special access to accommodate individuals who need additional time writing a Quiz because of a physical or learning disability. You can also allow extra Quiz attempts on an as-needed basis.

The following tools allow time restrictions to be set on content and, therefore, use special access to allow alternative time limits:

  • Quizzes

  • Surveys

  • Assignments

There are three types of special access:

  • Restrict access to a Quiz, Survey or Assignments folder to specific students

  • Assign alternative time restrictions on a Quiz, Survey or Assignments folder for specific students

  • Allow individual students extra Quiz attempts.

Edit Quiz - Course Requirements example for setting special access options

Allowing Extra Quiz Attempts

Option 1: Use Special Access

If the due date of your Quiz has passed and you wish to allow some students more attempts – do the following:

  • Select Quizzes from the Assessments dropdown menu on the navbar, and select the name of the Quiz you wish to edit.

  • Select the Restrictions tab and under Special Access choose the Add Users to Special Access button to add the students who need more attempts and assign them a new deadline that is past the end date of the Quiz.

  • Select the Assessment tab and under Attempts Allowed, select more attempts from the dropdown menu.

  • Save.

Option 2: Delete Previous Attempts

If the due date of your Quiz has not passed and you wish to allow some students more attempts – do the following:

  • Select Quizzes from the Assessments dropdown menu on the navbar, and select the Grade icon from the dropdown menu to the right of the name of the appropriate Quiz.

  • Select the checkboxes next to the student's attempts that you would like to delete, then select the Delete icon to delete them (it will ask you if you are sure you want to reset them, choose Yes).

Using Release Conditions

Release conditions allow you to create a custom learning path through the materials in your course. When you attach a release condition to an item, students cannot see that item until they meet the associated condition. For example, you could attach a release condition to the second topic in your course's content area that would hide that topic until students viewed the topic before it. Or you could create a condition that required students to view a content topic before gaining access to a Quiz, or one that required them to post a message to a Discussion topic before they could see a content module.

If you attach multiple conditions to an item, students must meet all conditions before they can access the item. For example, you could require students to visit first three content topics in a unit before gaining access to an associated Quiz.

Tools that support release conditions:

  • Checklists

  • Content modules and topics

  • Custom widgets

  • Discussion forums and topics

  • Assignments folders

  • Grade items and categories

  • LiveRoom rooms

  • Announcements items

  • Quizzes

  • Surveys.

Note: Once a student meets a release condition, the condition is cleared for that student and cannot be reset. For example, if you attach a release condition to a Discussion topic requiring students to achieve more than 60% on a Quiz before they can access that topic, and one of your participants receives 72% on the Quiz but you adjust their grade to 55%, they will be able to access the topic because they did meet the requirement at some point.

Creating Release Conditions: Best Practices

Set Up Conditions Before Students Access the Course

If you add new release conditions after students have accessed the course, students might be confused by resources disappearing. Since conditions cannot be reset, you also risk having students meet conditions before your resources are ready (e.g., accessing a content topic before it is finished).

Avoid Unnecessary Conditions

Each condition you associate with a tool takes additional time for D2L Brightspace to process. Using as few conditions as possible to set up a learning path minimizes the amount of time that students spend waiting for pages to load.

Example: You want to require students to read the topic before taking the Quiz, and you want them to read the topic and attempt the Quiz before submitting the week's assignment to the Assignments folder. On the Assignments folder, you only need to attach the condition that students attempt the Quiz; you know they must read the content topic before they can take the Quiz.

Avoid Circular References

A circular reference makes it impossible for students to satisfy a set of conditions. For example, if you set the condition that students must view a content topic before they can access an Assignments folder, and then set a condition that they must submit a file to the Assignments folder before they can access the content topic, you have a circular reference. Students can't satisfy either condition without satisfying the other one first.

Avoid Impossible Conditions

Ensure that your conditions are not impossible for students to satisfy. For example, a condition that students must achieve greater than 100% on a grade item would be impossible (unless bonus marks are available for the item). If students are unable to satisfy a condition, they are unable to access the content or tools to which the condition is attached.

Avoid Contradictory Conditions

Contradictory conditions occur when two or more conditions that cancel each other out are associated with an item. For example, the conditions "User must achieve greater than 49.9% on Grade Item 1" and "User must achieve less than 50% on Grade Item 1" are contradictory. Students could not satisfy both conditions at the same time; they would not be able to see the item associated with these conditions.

Setting Up & Attaching Release Conditions

  1. Setting Up a Release Condition

You set up a release condition from the edit page of the item you want to restrict. For example, if you want to attach a condition to a content topic, you would go to the edit page for that content topic and create your condition from there.

After you've selected "Create and Attach" for setting up "Release Conditions," a window will appear to help you set the condition details.

Pane showing "Create New Release Condition"

2. Attaching a Release Condition

  1. Go to the edit page for the item you want to attach the condition to and locate the release conditions area on the Restrictions tab. (See the user guide for the appropriate tool for help editing items in that tool.)

  2. Select Create and Attach.

  3. Select the Condition Type and complete the Condition Details.

  4. Select Create.

  5. Choose whether access to the item is dependent on meeting all or any of your conditions.

  6. Select Save if applicable.

3. Reusing Release Conditions

If you've already created a condition and want to apply the same condition to another item, you can quickly select the condition from a list of existing conditions in your course using the Browse button. This saves you from entering the criteria a second time.

Note: When you attach an existing condition from another item to a second item, the two conditions are not associated in any way. If you change the condition on either item or remove the condition from either item it has no affect on the other.

4. Removing Release Conditions

  1. Go to the edit page for the item you want to remove the condition from and locate the release conditions area.

  2. Select the "x" icon to the right of the condition you want to remove. To remove all the conditions from an item, choose the Remove All Conditions icon at the top of the list of conditions.

  3. Select Save if applicable.

Meeting Web Content Accessibility Standards

D2L Brightspace recommends creating HTML topics for your course content when possible. HTML code is easier for assistive technologies to interpret than application based files such as MS Word. It also allows you to link content topics together and link content to different tools in D2L Brightspace. Most of the tips provided are web content standards set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Simplify Your Layout.

Use a simple layout that does not organize content in tables or columns. Simply organized material is easier for students to read and understand, is easier for assistive technology to interpret and present, and is easier for mobile and hand-held devices to resize.

Use Unique Headings

  • Use headings to communicate the relationships between sections. Use Heading 1 for the title, Heading 2 for major sections, Heading 3 for subsections, etc. If headings are used correctly, screen reader students can quickly search a page by heading and participants with cognitive disabilities can understand how sections and content relate easier.

  • Make sure each heading is unique. Do not use the same text for a Heading 3 (subsection) that you used for your Heading 1 at the start of the document. The same principle applies to file/item names. Make sure each file or item you create has a unique name.

Add a Table of Contents

  • Include a table of contents that links to each section and "Back to top" links at the end of each section for longer documents.

Use Descriptive ALT Text to Improve Accessibility with Images and Links

  • Include alternative text descriptions (alt text) for all graphics. The HTML Editor in D2L Brightspace automatically prompts you to include alt text when you insert an image.

  • Use double quotes (null) "" as the alt text if the object is a decorative element that does not add meaning.

  • If the graphic is a link, begin the alt text "Link to…".

  • For links, use the same text on-screen and in the alt text. Make sure the text describes the action that will occur. Never use text such as "Click Here" as the link. Screen reader students often use a list of links to quickly navigate actions on a page, this is not possible if links are not descriptive.

  • To learn more, visit our Image Attributes page.

Caption Your Tables and Graphs

  • Include detailed captions below tables and graphs. These captions should explain what the objects convey, including important trends and statistics. This will help all students interpret the objects. For tables, include a summary element in the table tag that explains how the table is organized and make sure tables make sense when read from left to right. Screen readers have difficulty conveying information that reads from top to bottom.

Include Text Alternatives

  • Include text alternatives of multimedia content, such as audio or video files. If you do not have the time to create a complete text alternative, include a descriptive label that summarizes the content.

Use Non-Blinking Multimedia

  • Do not use blinking or flashing multimedia as it can cause seizures in individuals with photosensitivity. Use animation when it helps convey a concept and not to draw attention to an unchanging object. Use a combination of size, color and prominence to draw attention to objects.

Use Color Carefully To Ensure Accessibility

  • Never use color alone to convey meaning. If you want to show how concepts and objects relate to each other use a combination of size, color and text labels.

  • Ensure there is a strong contrast between the text and background colors used in your course materials. (See more information on editing course properties for setting course colors.)

Use Relative Font Sizes

  • Use relative font sizes and make sure the text and page layout adjusts when font sizes are changed. Students should not have to scroll horizontally.

Use HTML When Possible and PDFS Only if Fully Accessible

  • Present material in HTML where possible. If you need to use other file formats (such as video files), choose formats that are recognized by most browsers and/or offer the material in multiple formats.

  • If you use PDF files, make sure they were scanned with optical character recognition (OCR) so the text can be read by screen readers. Scan pages with multiple columns one column at a time so that OCR works correctly. Add bookmarks for major sections to make the content easier to navigate.

  • If you create PDF documents from Microsoft Word or another word processor, make sure you format titles and sections using headings so they are tagged correctly in the PDF.