About Accessibility

Web accessibility refers to how easily people with disabilities can navigate and interact with websites. Disabilities may be physical (such as blindness, low vision, deafness, or fine motor skills difficulty), or cognitive (such as dyslexia or attention deficit disorder). People with disabilities often use assistive technologies to help them navigate the web. An assistive technology is any device that helps a person with a disability. Common web assistive technologies include modified mice and keyboards, screen readers and screen magnifiers.

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

System Time Outs

The system may log you out if you are inactive for an extended period of time. This is currently 90 minutes in LEARN. A JavaScript warning will provide an option to remain logged in before your time expires.

Help Text

Many forms contain inline help, help iconHelp icons and links to additional help material either immediately after the page heading or section heading, or after individual fields. It is a good idea to read the entire contents of a form before filling it out, and to look for help text or a help link immediately after a field if you have difficulty understanding its purpose. Note: the Help link and the links in the widgets located on the LEARN and course homepages open in a new tab and may not be tagged properly.


Some pages contain sections that are collapsed by default. Collapsed sections contain advanced or supplemental information that is not required to complete standard tasks. To expand a collapsed section using a keyboard or screen reader, select the appropriate Expand or Show icon.


Some links open secondary pop-up windows for completing page-specific tasks. These links should indicate that they open in a new window through a title attribute. Use the Down Arrow and Tab keys to read the contents of the pop-up. The last options should be buttons to cancel or complete the task. Occasionally, these buttons are in a separate frame.

Warning: Some secondary pages use modal dialogs instead of separate windows to display information. If you primarily navigate the web using a screen reader we recommend that you select Show secondary windows as pop-ups in the dialog settings section of your Account settings.

Additional help

If you are having difficulty using Waterloo LEARN to complete your course work, please contact Susan Shifflet in the AcessAbility Office at

Screen Reader Accessibility Features

The following list outlines some of the design decisions that benefit screen reader users:

  • Standard page designs. Similar functionality is located in the same place and accessed in the same way across tools.
  • Simple heading structure. Heading 1s are used for page titles. Heading 2s are used for widgets and major page sections. Heading 3s are used to organize information within widgets and for subsections.
  • Title attributes on links that “open in a new window”. We recommend that you adjust your assistive technology’s settings to read the title attribute when different from link text if you want to be warned when a link opens in a new window.
  • Descriptive alternative text on all system images and graphics. Learning Environment also prompts course designers to include alternative text when uploading images.
  • Full keyboard accessibility. The tab order is logical and tab focus visually indicated. Drag-and-drop and other Web 2.0 designs have keyboard alternatives.
  • Support for browser and assistive technology scaling and contrast options. System content uses styles that can be overwritten by cascading style sheets (CSS), although the complexity of the system requires detailed style sheets.

Keyboard Only Navigation Tips

This topic provides some basic advice for people who navigate the Learning Environment using a keyboard or assistive technologies that emulate a keyboard.

Navigating Pages Using a Keyboard

Use the Tab key on your keyboard to navigate the options on a page. Use Shift + Tab to return to a previous option. Learning Environment highlights page elements that you can interact with (such as links, fields and buttons) as you tab through them, to make it easier for you to complete tasks and select options.

Press the Enter or Return key to select a link or button.

Use the Down Arrow and UpArrow keys to navigate drop-down menus that have an Apply or Go button beside them.

Use Alt + Down Arrow keys (Windows and Linux) or Option + Down Arrow keys (Mac) to open drop-down menus that do not have an Apply or Go button, and then use the Down Arrow, Up Arrow and Enter keys to select an item in the drop-down.

Use the Enter or Return key to open a context menu attached to a thumbnail image, and then use the Down Arrow, Up Arrow and Enter keys to select an item.

Use the Space Bar to select a radio button option.

Warning: Do not use Alt + F4 to close pop-up windows or pages. This action closes your browser window.

Screen Magnifiers, Zooming, and Colour Contrast Tips

Screen magnifiers, zooming functionality and colour contrast functionality are often used by people who have difficulties reading online. Difficulties can include low vision, colour blindness, eye strain, or dyslexia. Screen magnifiers and zooming functionality are also used by individuals who have fine motor skills difficulty as they increase the target for selectable content (such as links, icons and form fields).

Magnifying vs. Zooming

There are a couple of ways you can increase the size of content in Learning Environment to improve readability:

  • To increase the system font size, select the Account Settings option from the drop down menu by clicking on your name in the upper right hand corner of any LEARN page.  This only increases the size of system fonts, it does not increase the size of icons and other graphics or user-created content.
  • Use an assistive technology or browser that supports zooming. This increases the magnification of the entire page. This option works well in Learning Environment, except for courses that use legacy navigation bars, as images and navigation panels resize well.
  • Use a screen magnifier to magnify a portion of the page, such as the area around the cursor. Many users like screen magnifiers because they preserve the layout of the page, but allow you to focus on the content in a specific area.

University of Waterloo Resources

  • The University of Waterloo has an AccessAbility Office where all students with a disability should register. 
  • Funding for assistive technology is available for students with permanent disabilities that are OSAP eligible. The program is called the Bursary for Students with Disabilities and the Canada Student Grant for Services and Equipment for Persons with Permanent Disabilities. Another source of funding is the Assistive Devices Program.
  • We also have the two labs that are equipped with assistive software, the Adaptive Technology Centre in the Dana Porter Library and the Education & Technology Lab located in the AccessAbility Office 1132 Needles Hall.