Designing & Developing for Accessibility in Captivate

You’ve been tasked with a new project that will be created in Captivate and one of the requirements is that it be accessible. Where do you start?

While there are many great resources online for the technical requirements of accessibility development in Captivate, you really need to start thinking about accessibility before you open any software. It is just as important to design with accessibility in mind as it is to develop with accessibility in mind.

Both designing and developing for accessibility are not black and white and a lot of it will depend on the specific project you are creating. So, in this article, I will share some of my favorite tips for creating accessible Captivate projects, starting with designing for accessibility.

Designing for Accessibility

Know Your Audience

As with any learning project, you want to make sure you start off with a good idea of who your audience is and their specific needs. If you’re told during a needs assessment that one of the project requirements is accessibility, then ask for more information about this. Are they concerned primarily with meeting Section 508 standards, or are there audience members that have specific disabilities that they are asking you to accommodate?

While Section 508 is good for general accessibility best practice, your design should differ if, for example, you know there are visual impairments in your audience as opposed to hearing impairments. And again, this is going beyond the technical requirements and focusing on the design. If you know your audience consists of members with hearing impairments, you would design a project with much more emphasis on the visual aspects, whereas if you are designing for an audience with visual impairments you may place more emphasis on the audio aspects of your project and limit the amount of options on the screen that a screen reader would have to tab through.

Also, I would highly recommend experiencing a Captivate project without sound and again with the screen reader software your learners are using. This experience will go a long way in helping you understand exactly how your learners are experiencing the material and uncover things you didn’t even know you were doing wrong.

Know Captivate

As you design your project, it’s also important to take into account the capabilities and limitations of Captivate in regards to accessibility. The last thing you want to do is incorporate elements into your design that are not compatible with Captivate. So, become familiar with some of Captivate’s accessibility features and the implications they have for your project, such as the one’s listed below:

Screen Reader Timing

If you know your audience will be using screen readers, make sure you’re aware of how a screen reader will read your Captivate project. In the development section of this article, I will go into more detail about features such as how alternate text (alt text), descriptions, and tab order can be used to help those using a screen reader, but one feature that you can’t adjust is the screen reader timing. A screen reader will only read objects while they appear on the slide and slide objects cannot be played independently from the audio. So, if you’re designing for screen readers, make sure all objects on the screen are staying on screen for the entirety of the slide. This will give your users a chance to tab through all objects so they aren’t missing anything. Also, keep in mind that if your audio is auto-playing, the screen reader will try to read items to the user while the audio is playing for them. If you don’t allow slides to pause after the audio, your learners may never get the chance to understand any of the visuals on the screen.

Question Types

If you are including any sort of assessment or interaction in your project, make sure you are aware of how this will appear to your audience. Fully accessible question types in Captivate are:

  • Multiple Choice
  • True/False
  • Rating Scale

While the following are inaccessible:

  • Fill in the blank
  • Matching
  • Hot spot
  • Short answer
  • Sequence

If you think about it, this makes sense. Without the ability to see where objects are located on the screen, anyone with a visual impairment will have difficulties with dragging a line between matching objects, selecting an area on the screen that has a hot spot, or ordering objects in a sequence. Keep this in mind while you are designing activities that are not necessarily question types too. For example, drag and drop activities will not work for someone using a screen reader and neither will asking them to pick out an object in a picture.

Audio Alternatives

Likewise, if you are incorporating audio clips into your activities, make sure that you are able to provide an alternative for these clips. For example, provide a static textbox with a transcript of the text or add closed captioning to the project. If the clip contains sounds rather than speech, you may want to reconsider that activity if learners in your audience have a hearing impairment. It is also important to keep in mind that if you put audio on an object, rather than a slide, you will not be able to use Captivate’s closed captioning functionality to provide a text alternative.

Developing for Accessibility

Once you have designed with accessibility in mind, you can start developing these accessible components in Captivate. In this section I’ll point out some of the functions you can use to help make your project more accessible, but I strongly recommend you then test them out for yourself as your audience would experience it to ensure that everything moves smoothly.


There are several features that you can set right from the get-go to improve accessibility in your project.

Publish Settings

  1. In the Publish Settings area of Preferences, make sure that Enable Accessibility is checked. This is not optional if you wish for your project to be accessible.
  2. If you want to Restrict keyboard tabbing to the slide items only, you can select that in Publish Settings. This will be very dependent on your project. If you believe that the Player or the Menu of your project will be more cumbersome to someone with a screen reader than helpful, you may want to consider this option.
  3. If Hide the Selection Rectangle for Slides in HTML5 is unchecked, then users will see a rectangle around items in the project that are selected. If someone is viewing your project without the use of a mouse, this can be an extremely helpful visual way of showing them which item is currently selected.

Captivate Preferences

Project Information

Under Information in Preferences, include a meaningful description of your project for those using a screen reader. This description should provide context as well as an overview of the content included in your Captivate project.


Start and End

If you’re designing for screen reader use, make sure you turn off Auto Play. Remember, the screen reader will read simultaneously with any audio playing in your project. So, make sure you allow for those using a screen reader to become familiar with the player and layout before they start the project.

Auto Play

Closed Captioning

If you have audio or a voice over in your Captivate project, make sure you provide an alternative for those with hearing impairments. One of the easiest ways of doing this is by utilizing Captivate’s Closed Captioning function. Once audio has been added to the slide, navigate to Audio > Edit and select the closed captioning tab. From here you can add the transcript to your video as it corresponds to the audio. You can also edit the text size, font, and colors for how your closed captioning will appear under CC Project Settings…. I would recommend adding captions about a sentence at a time and previewing them before you publish to make sure that all of the text fits on the screen.

Closed Captioning

If you are including Closed Captioning in your project, don’t forget to include the CC toggle button on your player so your learners will have the option to toggle CC on and off. To edit this select Project > Skin Editor and check Closed Captioning.

Skin Editor


Remember, if you are adding audio to an object rather than a slide, you will not be able to use Captivate’s closed caption function. Instead, I recommend providing a text box with a transcript for that audio.

Slide Properties

Under Slide Properties, there are several accessibility options to help those who are using a screen reader.

Slide Description

If there is an important visual concept displayed on the slide, add a description to the slide. You can add a description on a slide under Slide Properties, and then use the menu next to the slide title and select accessibility.

Slide Accessibility

From here you can add a description of the important visual concepts on the slide. Remember, if you do add a description to the slide, you will want to pause the audio for the slide, otherwise the description will be skipped.

Slide Notes


Tab Order

You can also change the tab order from slide properties. By default, a screen reader will read a Captivate slide from top to bottom and left to right. But, if you want to change the order that objects are read in, you can adjust the tab order from the menu next to the slide title.

Tab Order


Alternate Text

For any non-text objects in your project, such as image, make sure you include Alternate Text (Alt Text) for a screen reader. To add alt text, select the object and in the Properties tab, go to the menu next to the object name and select Accessibility.

Object Accessibility

From here you can add a name that can be used as alt text or a longer description for the object.

add alt text

If you are using alt text on an object such as a click area, really use this description to provide direction for your users. Rather than just telling them this is a click box for an image of the cat, let them know how this click box functions. For example, “select this option to learn more about the cat.”

ShortCut Keys

To make things easier for keyboard users, you can also add shortcut keys to actionable objects in your project. This is especially helpful if you have repeating actions on a slide. For example, if you have a pause audio button on all slides, you can assign a shortcut key to this object so at any point someone can use that shortcut key, rather than tabbing to the object. To do this, select the actionable object. Under Properties, select Actions, and add your key to shortcut. Please take care to ensure that you are assigning a shortcut key to only one object per slide. I also recommend researching common shortcut keys and functionality to make these as easy to use as possible.


Shortcut keys



What are some of your suggestions for designing or developing accessible Captivate projects? Let us know in the comments below!

Alex is a dual-hatted (or should I say hooded) academic with Master’s degrees in both Anthropology and Educational Technology. Alex specializes in understanding the interactions between learners and technology, the socio-cultural learning environment, Web 2.0 learning strategies, and creating interactive, technology-enhanced learning experiences.

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