Mission: Accessible – Challenging Instructors to Create Accessible Canvas Content

Handouts Media

Presented at 2:15pm in Penrose 1 on Wednesday, November 8, 2023.



  • Jim Stachowiak, Accessible Technology Strategy and Operations Lead, Northwestern University

Session Details

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


Northwestern’s efforts around digital accessibility have improved the school’s websites and purchases, but one area with little progress has been course content. This presentation will discuss a coordinated effort by NUIT, AccessibleNU, and the Office of Equity to teach instructors to apply seven core accessibility skills to their Canvas content. It will focus on the Mission: Accessible challenge, its design, implementation, roadblocks, results, and key success components and partnerships.


Recently, Northwestern has ramped up efforts around digital accessibility, resulting in a digital accessibility policy, an accessible purchasing process for software tools, and much improved university websites. Although it is one of the most critical areas to ensure accessibility, little progress has been made on improving the digital accessibility of course sites.

Recognizing this need, we embarked on the Canvas Accessibility Project, a joint effort between Northwestern IT, AccessibleNU, and the Office of Equity to educate instructors on core accessibility competencies to implement in their courses. Whenever the subject of digital accessibility has come up with faculty, we’ve inevitably heard that they agree that it’s a good idea, but that they don’t know how to do it and if they did, they don’t have enough time to do it. The Canvas Accessibility Project sought out address these two issues. To address the knowledge issue, we focused on addressing seven core accessibility competencies that are easy to learn and highly impactful when implemented. To address the time issue, the Canvas Accessibility Project developed the Mission: Accessible challenge, a guided effort that walks instructors through making adjustments to the seven core accessibility components of their course one at a time over several weeks with a focus on making an impact five minutes at a time. Participating in the challenge added a community and accountability piece to this effort as well.

In this session we will share the design of the Mission: Accessible challenge, the resources and trainings that were created, the results that we’ve seen across campus, some roadblocks encountered, and the key aspects of the project’s design (automated reminder emails, progress trackers, personalized touch points and support, campus and department-wide effort recognition, etc.) the contributed to its success. Following this session, participants be able to replicate a similar program at their institutions


  1. Instructors agree that digital accessibility is a good thing, but don't have the time to implement. it
  2. Focusing on implementing seven core accessibility skills has made the task more doable at Northwestern.
  3. The Mission: Accessible challenge has focused on incremental improvement leading to significant overall impact

Disability Areas

Cognitive/Learning, Mobility, Vision

Topic Areas

Accessible Course Design, Faculty Development & Support, Teaching about Accessibility in Curriculum, Uncategorized, Universal Design for Learning, Web/Media Access

Speaker Bio(s)

Jim Stachowiak

As Director of Assistive Technology and Assistant Director of AccessibleNU, Jim assists students with determining, using, and troubleshooting assistive technology (AT) solutions for reading, writing, computer access, note taking, organization, and other academic needs. He enjoys keeping up to date on the latest AT tools and figuring out how to best implement them in education settings. Jim has also played a key role in Northwestern's digital accessibility initiative, developing the digital accessibility liaisons program and helping develop Northwestern's digital accessibility policy. Prior to Northwestern, Jim was the Associate Director of the Iowa Center for Assistive Technology Education and Research (ICATER) at the University of Iowa where he taught classes on AT and worked to prepare teacher education students to work with AT in their classrooms.

Jim holds a Bachelor's of Science in Engineering degree in Industrial and Operations Engineering and a Master's of Science in Engineering degree in Biomedical Engineering, both from the University of Michigan. He is also a RESNA certified Assistive Technology Professional (ATP).