Canvas working towards full accessibility for students

Laura Studley

Colorado State University students are all too familiar with Canvas, the learning management system faculty and staff use for courses and grading. But how accessible is it?

Canvas has many options for students. Users have the option to color code their courses for organization or aesthetic, click and drag to rearrange their classes, download the app to check grades, read through assignments or receive messages from teachers and professors.  

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Some instructors opt to use different learning management systems like Writing Studio. Others choose to avoid Canvas completely. The system is not used universally throughout CSU, but it provides a foundation for most faculty.

“Access to educational materials is important,” Patrick Burns, dean of libraries and vice president of IT, said. “More and more students and faculty expect all those things to be online. We went to Canvas several years ago… and that’s something that has been incredibly beneficial to the institution.”

Burns added that both faculty and students prefer Canvas to other programs such as Blackboard.

Allison Kidd, assistant technology IT coordinator and accessibility specialist, said that Blackboard wasn’t accessible for students, so the University began to look for alternate options.

“We took a look at (Canvas) when they were considering (switching from Blackboard) and decided that it was actually going to be a better deal,” Kidd said.

Canvas has the ability to make accommodations for students with disabilities. Kidd said that this learning management system does a decent job of making sure students with disabilities can still participate in classes independently.

For students who have extreme vision impairments, a lack of motor function or a learning disability, Canvas puts specific settings in place in order to help individuals succeed.

Students have an option to use a keyboard instead of a mouse which helps navigate through course content, a feature that reads aloud course content as well as a speech to text function. This setting allows for the user to speak directly and have their words translated into the textbox within Canvas.

However, while Canvas has a variety of functions to help those with disabilities, the learning management system has room for improvement, Kidd said.

Canvas gears toward helping people with visual impairments, but doesn’t take into account others with different needs.

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“(Canvas is) like ‘okay we’re good it works for blind students,’” Kidd said. “(But) we’re like ‘yeah but there are all these other students that have dyslexia or learning disability or don’t have the ability to type, what about those types of technology?’ Those are usually less focused on.”

In an email to The Collegian, Amy Martonis, MSW Program Director and Director of the Center for Lifelong Learning and Outreach Education (CLOE) within the School of Social Work, said that because Canvas is available on both browser and mobile platforms, access becomes easier for both students and faculty.  

“(Canvas) is an intuitively structured learning management system that supports thoughtful course design and clear navigation,” Martonis wrote. “In terms of hosting content that supports the use of assistive technologies, the UDOIT tool is a helpful feature that scans course content, identifies accessibility issues and also identifies possible solutions.”

In a Twitter Poll, 88 percent said Canvas was accessible, leaving 12 percent to argue the opposite.

“It is not a perfect system,” Martonis said, “but Instructure seems responsive to continually enhancing this learning management system over time.”

Laura Studley can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @laurastudley_.