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Canvas@Illinois , DocViewer Issues and Workaround

This page contains help information for students and instructors using the DocViewer tool in Canvas.

DocViewer Issues and Workaround

There is conflicting information from other sources regarding the DocViewer and SpeedGrader in Canvas; the claim does not prove that the platform is accessible for users. Please see the references at the end of this document to learn more about the conflicting sources. The evaluation of the DocViewer and Download PDF was completed, and the results show the platform is still not accessible.

(DocViewer and SpeedGrader are similar functions, except that there are SpeedGrader features for the instructors to use to grade students.)

DocViewer and Annotations

The accessibility issues with the DocViewer prevent keyboard-only and screen reader users with assistive technologies from accessing the information. Keyboard-only users are trapped at the X close button; they can’t get into the document viewer. Users using screen readers face the same issue, but they can get in by using the arrow key. Also, screen readers fail to recognize the relationship between the annotations and comments.


Download annotated PDF button via DocViewer

Downloading the document from the DocViewer and accessing the document in the browser hosts different issues for screen readers. Screen readers do not render the annotated text or the built-in comments.


The download file is also saved to the computer’s Downloads folder. Users using screen readers can access the document in Abode Acrobat Reader, but the document is missing tags. Screen readers render the instructor’s comments on the right side of the PDF that is separated from the PDF document. The arrow key reads the annotation labels and comments, however, there is still no relationship between the annotated texts and comments.

If keyboard-only users receive the PDF file (without tags) from the instructor directly, they cannot make or post comments on the PDF document. However, they can read the instructor’s comments using the arrow key to move down the list in the right comment sidebar.

Best Workaround

The best workaround for these issues is using Microsoft Word as an alternative approach for screen readers and keyboard-only users. It allows them to add feedback or comments to a document in Word. For instructors: Do not use annotations and comments in the SpeedGrader.




Students can now access annotations and comments with a screen reader, including information about the annotation type, author name, comment, and any reply comments at the end of the document.

University of Colorado Boulder
DocViewer issues

  • Screen readers do not announce the occurrence of an annotation when reading through the document. Annotations are read at the end of the document, and it is not possible to determine non-visually which part of the text they are linked to.
  • If the annotated document is downloaded for review, it is recommended to use Adobe Acrobat for viewing the PDF, since the annotation comments may not be consistently displayed in generic PDF viewers.

Accessibility Best Practices for the Canvas Platform

Avoid using comments and annotations in the SpeedGrader document viewer to provide assignment feedback to students who use screen readers. Consider using Microsoft Word as an accessible alternative to add comments to a document.

Keywordsdocumentviewer, document, accessibility, fix, help   Doc ID119948
OwnerCanvas C.GroupUniversity of Illinois Technology Services
Created2022-07-27 10:40:42Updated2023-08-16 11:10:21
SitesUniversity of Illinois Technology Services
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