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File Format Accessibility Resources

Choosing the most appropriate file format for Canvas course content will enable your students to access materials regardless of their digital platform or location, or if they have any type of disability. Below is a list of best practices for various file formats.

Primary Office Suite and Universal File Formats

Microsoft Office: Word (.DOC, .DOCX), Excel (.XLS, .XLSX) and PowerPoint (.PPT, .PPTX)

FSU has standardized the Microsoft Office suite as the primary means of document creation, granting all students, staff, and faculty application licenses. Office file formats are good defaults for course content. However, these formats are not easily compatible with mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets. A mobile device is often a student’s primary means to access course material in Canvas, and Canvas provides mobile capabilities for Android and iOS devices. It is a good practice to convert Office files into a universal format such as a PDF and/or a Canvas web page. 

PowerPoint presentations, particularly those using audio and video items should be given in alternative formats. It is beneficial to convert presentations with multimedia into video formats in order to reduce the file size and improve accessibility. Use Kaltura to maximize accessibility for all video and audio content.

For videos and text-based tutorials to assist you in ensuring your Microsoft Office files are accessible, see:

Portable Document Format (.PDF)

The portable document format (.PDF) is a universal file format supported on most platforms and devices, which makes it ideal for the distribution of static and graphic-intensive course materials. PDFs should be created from web pages or text sources, not scanned. Scanned documents render poorly and prevent assistive technology from accessing the course material. Viewing PDF content on small mobile devices can be challenging so it is best to provide an alternative, such as the original Office file or a Canvas web page.

For videos and text-based tutorials to assist you in making sure your PDFs are accessible, see Adobe Acrobat PDF Accessibility Resources.

Canvas Content Pages

Canvas allows users to present content as web pages within a course. These pages can be formatted like a Word document and can include images and multimedia, as well as links to content in the course site or on the internet. Web pages adapt their format and presentation to the platform on which they are displayed. No proprietary software is required; any web browser can access Canvas and display pages. Because students must have an internet connection to view the web page, it is best to have the content in an alternative format such as Office files or PDFs, which can be downloaded and viewed offline.

For more information on ensuring that your Canvas Content Pages are accessible, see the Course Multimedia and General Text Recommendations sections of our Accessibility & Usability Overview.

Additional Office Suites and File Formats

Google Docs / Sheets / Slides / Forms

The Google suite of office applications is an alternative to Microsoft Office. Documents can be shared easily between users and can be accessed anywhere through a web browser. Students must create a personal Google account and sign in to edit a document. By creating an account outside the Canvas environment and external to FSU, the security of information cannot be ensured. The best practice for faculty using Google documents is to export the final version as an Office file and/or PDF and post within Canvas.

For more information and to ensure that your Google suite items are accessible, see GoogleDocs, Sheets, and Slides accessibility resources.

Apple iWork: Pages, Numbers, Keynote

Apple iWork is an office suite of applications including documents, spreadsheets, and presentations for use with Macintosh and iPad devices. These files work within Apple programs only and are not compatible with other platforms or software suites, so students might be unable to access course materials. Because Canvas cannot process files from these applications, SpeedGrader file displays and Canvas web page previews will not work. Faculty should export files to one of the primary file formats listed above before adding them to a Canvas course site.

Further resources:

Apache OpenOffice: Write, Calc, Impress, and more

Apache OpenOffice is a free, open-source application suite that works on Windows, Macintosh, and Linux platforms. One benefit of the suite is its expanded capabilities, which include programs for graphics, math equations, and databases. Its file formats, however, are not widely used and could keep students from accessing course materials. It is best to export OpenOffice files to one of the primary file formats listed above.

Further resources:

Text Files: Rich Text Files (.RTF) and Text Files (.TXT)

Microsoft stopped development of the rich text file (.RTF) format in 2008 and uses it today in limited cases, such as help files. While a student does not need Office to access RTF, there is no guarantee the student will have a program that can open the file. Text (.TXT) files lack formatting capability and can be used when formatting is not important. Because of line break issues, text files created on Macintosh or Linux platforms may not display properly on Windows. It is best to use a Canvas web page or one of the primary file formats listed above to create a document.

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