Accessibility and the New RCE

laptop with Canvas logo and "Accessibility and the New RCE"

The New Rich Content Editor (RCE), which debuted in Canvas in January, changes the way accessible content is created and how users of assistive technologies navigate the toolbar.

Ensure Content is Accessible

Key among the core skills for making content accessible to everyone at the point of creation is providing meaningful alternative text, or ‘alt text’ that describes images, graphs and charts.

When you place images that are already stored in Canvas files, you will not be prompted add Alt Text. To add Alt Text, you must select the image after you add it to the RCE [1], click Image Options [2], and enter Alt Text [3] in the tray on the right. Check the box for “Decorative image” if the image is purely decorative.

How to add Alt Text to an Image

Assistive Technologies 

The New RCE is accessible but it is a different experience if you’re accustomed to navigating it with the keyboard rather than a mouse. 


If you navigate using the keyboard, each segment within a pipe [|] is its own, unique toolbar. The old RCE was a single, long toolbar where you could Tab through all the buttons. The new RCE is made up of six distinct toolbars so it requires a different combination of keystrokes to jump to the correct toolbar, then Tab to the desired button. 

Toolbar Position Not Retained

When switching from toolbar to the content window and back to the toolbar, the old RCE would remember your place and return you to the last button in focus. The New RCE returns you to the first button on the first toolbar.

‘Styles’ is now ‘Blocks’

The drop-down menu where users select ‘Header 2’, ‘Header 3’, etc is now announced as ‘Blocks,’ not ‘Styles’. This may be confusing because ‘Blocks’ is a term used in other contexts, such as Design Tools, to mean a collection of related elements, not just a single html tag. 

Links Opening in a New Window

For accessibility reasons, links by default should open in the same window. However, in the New RCE, unless a link is added by selecting Course Links from the Links button on the toolbar, it will open in a new window or tab. Keyboard users often add links using Ctrl + K (Command + K on a Mac). These links will always open in a new window or tab. 

Next Steps

University of Minnesota Academic Technology providers are urging the vendor to give content creators control over whether a link opens in the same window or a new window.