Authoring Stylish and Accessible Courses in Canvas

Handouts Media

Presented at 2:15pm in Independence on Wednesday, November 16, 2022.



  • Sonya Woods, Lead Accessibility Consultant, Penn State
  • Matt Farley, Accessibility Consultant, Penn State

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 1-hr
  • Format: Lecture
  • Expertise Level: Intermediate
  • Type of session: General Conference


Discover how a team of accessibility consultants, multimedia specialists, and instructional designers from Penn State World Campus created an interactive resource with accessible and responsive code snippets to enhance the visual design of online courses in Canvas. Participants will gain access to the resource and learn how to use it.


Penn State University transitioned to the Canvas Learning Management System in 2016. As accessibility consultants for Penn State World Campus who train and consult on how to make online courses accessible, we saw people struggling to create content that was accessible while also visually appealing. Additionally, our organization was not providing any resources, governance, or guidance on how to implement stylistic code beyond the basic options offered via the Canvas content editor, resulting in a Wild West-like environment where people were going rogue and coming up with their own solutions. This often resulted in people attempting to make their courses look nicer with little regard for how it might impact people using various types of assistive technology and devices.

In June 2020, Sonya reached out to the Accessibility Users Group (a community of practice for those developing online course content) to see if there was a need for a resource that would address visual and responsive design along with accessibility, and the answer was a resounding yes!

In this session, we tell the story of how we defined the problem, identified a solution, and worked together to create a resource within Canvas so that one year later we had developed a fully-fledged course with code libraries, guidance for using and modifying the styles, and tutorial pages for people who wanted to take a deeper dive. This resource has since been published and shared widely throughout Penn State and beyond. Our session will provide an overview of the resource and how you can use it to meet your goals of creating accessible course content for every student.


  1. Web content is more accessible when it is also visually appealing.
  2. There is great power in collaboration. [revised keypoint:] We will provide an example of a collaborative process between people in different roles and how we tested for accessibility.
  3. We created a useful resource you can use and we welcome feedback. [revised keypoint:] Attendees will leave equipped to make accessible, visually appealing digital content in Canvas and other content management systems.

Disability Areas

All Areas

Topic Areas

Accessible Course Design, Uncategorized

Speaker Bio(s)

Sonya Woods

Sonya Woods has been with Penn State since 2008, serving as an accessibility consultant and training coordinator for Penn State World Campus since 2013. Currently, she leads the accessibility team within World Campus Learning Design. Her role involves providing guidance, training, documentation, and resources to help staff and faculty create accessible course content. Sonya also conducts testing on third-party websites and technologies using assistive tools like screen readers and magnification software. As an advocate for Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and inclusive design, she actively contributes to the Accessibility Users Group, fostering a community of practice for sharing accessibility knowledge across various design units at Penn State. Sonya holds a master’s degree in Workforce Education from Penn State and is a Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC).

Matt Farley

Matt Farley has been an Accessibility Consultant for Penn State World Campus since 2016. In that role he serves on the leadership team of the Accessibility Users Group, co-authored the Canvas Styles resource, and regularly blogs and presents on a number of accessibility-related topics. He has a degree in Information Sciences and Technology (IST) from Penn State University and is Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC).


COGA Task Force Recommendations handout