AI can improve course accessibility

Instructors working to improve the learning experience for all of their students have another tool. They can use artificial intelligence (AI) as a jumping-off point to design a course to be accessible.

Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching instructional designer Jamie Niman said AI can be a brainstorming buddy on how to start alternative text -- those informative image descriptions or context -- and revise it. Students who use screen readers to listen to text read aloud on a webpage or in Canvas benefit from image descriptions that can be strengthened by AI.

Niman will demonstrate Microsoft Copilot during a virtual presentation, "Leveraging Generative AI for Accessible Education," on Feb. 20 (11 a.m.-noon, register online). ISU's license to use Copilot includes commercial data protection that complies with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and others. The tool does not save any information input by the user and doesn't use the information to train its models.

Niman said instructors using Copilot can establish a baseline for making coursework accessible and remove or enhance the information they want for their course. Some of the topics to be discussed are:

  • Improving alt text
  • Ensuring greater accuracy with closed captioning
  • Creating consistent icons for online navigation

Niman said a benefit of designing courses for accessibility is that activities that benefit students with accommodations often enhance learning for all students.

"Instructors can modify coursework to meet the appropriate level of education, and they can go back to Copilot and work to condense or expand it as they need," Niman said. "It is a proactive approach for instructors."

Attendees will go through several accessibility exercises in breakout rooms and return to the larger group to discuss applications and help troubleshoot.

AI also can help instructors meet the university's digital accessibility policy implementation timeline. By July 1, 2026, all new digital content produced or purchased must comply with the policy.