Accessible Instructional Materials

It is important to ensure the digital components of a course are accessible to and usable by all students. This includes documents, videos, and websites. These digital resources often need to be remediated for accessibility as an accommodation to one or more students with disabilities. This presents tremendous challenges for faculty and staff, and creates a burden for students as they fall behind while waiting for accessible resources. Therefore, it is always best to proactively ensure all digital resources are accessible and usable from the onset. This enables all students, regardless of ability, to participate fully in the course.

Making Texts Accessible

Accessible Books and Textbooks

When possible, faculty should select accessible content when it also meets the goals of the course. Check the following resources to confirm that all required books are available in an accessible version:

If a book is listed there, you can be reasonably certain that the book is accessible and will need little or no conversion. If the book is not available, you should request an extra desk copy that could be used to cut and scan to an accessible format should an accommodation request be made.

Ebooks, while digital, are often not available in an accessible format, nor are they able to be converted directly. Choosing to require an ebook could mean that students needing accessible formats will have to purchase a hard copy and work with Student Academic Services to convert it to an accessible format and may be delayed in accessing required materials.

Making Word Documents Accessible

When we look at a document on our computer screen, much meaning is derived from structural cues we get from the layout and appearance of the document. This semantic information should be included in materials in ways that are accessible to users with visual disabilities. If you have an existing Word document and would like to find out how accessible it is, use Word’s built-in Accessibility Checker.


Headings within a document provide hierarchical information to the screen reader about the way the document is structured: Does the document have a title? Are there topics and subtopics?

In Word, we use the Styles feature to add headings. You can use the default styles, or you can modify them to change your design. Styles are accessed from the Home tab. When creating headings; use a logical and consistent structure, begin with Heading Level 1, and don’t skip levels.

Screenshot of text style options available in MS Word.


When creating a bulleted or numbered list, use Word’s built-in list functionality, as opposed to doing it manually using tabs, spaces, or special characters.

Screenshot of list features in MS Word.


A well-constructed table can make it easier for the user to make associations between data. Tables can cause problems for screen readers, though, so it’s important to follow some basic principles when creating them.

Use the Table Design tab and tick the Header Row box, on a PC. On a Mac, select the Insert tab use the Table dropdown feature.

Screenshot of table creation feature in MS Word.


Hypertext links are an essential part of Internet access, so inaccessible ones present a significant barrier to users with disabilities. To create a hyperlink, highlight the text that you want to link. This should be text that indicates where the link will lead, rather than the URL itself, or a generic command like Click here. Right-click on the text and choose Hyperlink from the dropdown menu. Paste the URL into the Address field.

Screenshot of hyperlink window in MS Word.

Converting a Word document into a Readable PDF

Before posting to Blackboard, ensure that your course materials are clear.

To convert a Word document into an accessible PDF (Word for Mac):

  1. With the Word document open, select File > Save As
  2. Verify that the document title and location are as desired
  3. For File Format, choose PDF
  4. Beneath the file format option, ensure that “Best use for electronic distribution and accessibility” is selected.
  5. Click Export

To convert a Word document into an accessible PDF (Word 2016, for PC):

  1. With the Word document open, select File > Save As
  2. Choose where you would like the file to be saved
  3. Verify that the document title and location are as desired
  4. For Save as type, choose PDF
  5. Beneath the file format option, ensure that “Standard (publishing online and printing)” is selected.
  6. Click Save

Reviewing Your Source Documentation

Starting with the best possible source document will positively impact the entire process of copying and scanning. Whenever possible, avoid source documents that have:

  • highlighting
  • underlining
  • margin notes
  • creases on the pages
  • shading into the text (by not holding the book firmly to the glass during the scan)

PDF iconExample of a Poor Source and Scan (PDF)
PDF iconExample of a Good Source and Scan (PDF)

If necessary, search for another clean print source.  Sometimes just getting another copy of the book or periodical will help.  The library will replace any library owned item that has been damaged and cannot be repaired. Please report any notes, highlighting or underlining of needed chapters to the circulation desk.

Or consider finding an online or digital copy of the content:

  • For more recent publications, an electronic version may already be available through one of the many journal databases available on the Skidmore Library website. Creating links to these documents within Blackboard will reduce the need for copying and scanning and will address the copyright requirements.
  • Likewise, book content old enough to be in the public domain may have already been digitized and can be found in accessible databases such as Project Gutenberg,

Converting Non-Readable PDFs Using Adobe Acrobat

Adobe Acrobat should be installed on all computers in the Skidmore College library. A PDF is not readable if you cannot highlight or select any of the text in the document.

  • Open the PDF file with Adobe Acrobat (do not use Adobe reader), select Tools, then Action Wizard. The Action Wizard toolset is displayed in the right-hand pane.
  • From the Action List, click Make Accessible. By default, the action runs on the document that’s currently open. Click Start. Follow the prompts to complete the Make Accessible action.
  • After the process is complete save your document to replace the old copy
  • If you open your new file again you can now select and copy text from the page.
  • Adobe can also help crop out notes or shading at the margins of documents. Go to View, Tools‚ Pages‚ and then Crop. Then take your cursor and click on a corner of the page then hold down the cursor and create box highlighting the text you want to keep. When you unclick the box should remain, then double click inside box, a Set Page Boxes will open up and select OK at the bottom right (you can also crop multiple pages from this screen).
  • Should you have an older document that has already been scanned with two pages on each image and you want to split the pages vertically for better accessibility, you can use the following online resource:
  • For more assistance creating text accessible document please contact Johanna Mackay (Scribner Library, ext. 5524, or or Aaron Kendall (LEDS, ext. 5933, or with regards to PDF conversions.

Making Media Accessible


Images of various kinds present a serious barrier to access by users with visual disabilities. Many blind and low-vision individuals use screen readers (NVDA, VoiceOver, Narrator) to read webpages aloud to them, and those technologies cannot interpret images. In order to provide screen reader programs with the necessary information to describe graphic images, text alternatives should be provided in the form of alternative text (or “alt text”). Screen readers will read this text aloud whenever they encounter an image the user may not be able to see clearly.

For images uploaded directly to theSpring:

  • theSpring will prompt you for Alt Text whenever you upload an image, as will most website editing tools. When you click on the Insert Image icon in the HTML edit box, you will be prompted as follows:

alt text pop-up window in theSpring

For images embedded in a Word document:

  • Right-click on the image and choose Format Picture.
  • In the sidebar that appears on the right of screen, select the Layout & Properties Icon and expand the Alt Text dropdown.
  • Type in your Title and Description for the image.

Presentation Software

All of the principles in the Word accessibility section–headings, lists, tables, and links–apply to presentation software like PowerPoint. Just as with text documents, slide decks contain hidden semantic information that is available to screen readers. In Word, we used the Styles menu to create our header structure; in PowerPoint we’ll depend on slide templates and SmartArt to do the same thing. Use the built-in Accessibility Checker to get a better idea of what changes need to be made.

The most important thing you can do to make your PowerPoint slides accessible is to stick to the built-in templates provided by the software. The master slides are designed to facilitate keyboard navigation , ensure an accurate and logical heading structure, and ensure proper reading order. Keeping the heading structure intact is especially important if you will be exporting your slide deck to pdf format, as the PowerPoint structure will create an accurate “tag tree” in your pdf document.

Slide masters can be accessed via the Layout button on the Home tab.

Screenshot of slide layouts in PowerPoint.

Additional masters can be created, or existing ones modified, from the Slide Master button on the View tab.

For built-in infographics, the SmartArt menu (on the Insert tab) provides a variety of built-in graphic structures that can have text built into them.

Screenshot of SmartArt options in PowerPoint.

The advantage of using SmartArt instead of creating infographics from scratch is that the text structure is built into them, and will become part of the semantic information in the slide. Switching to Outline View in your slide deck will show you the semantic structure.

Screenshot of Outline View in PowerPoint.


  • Providing a transcript or caption will make audio accessible to those with hearing or auditory processing impairments.
  • Audio is easiest to caption or transcribe if it is in digital form, such as an mp3 file. If you are dealing with audio on a CD or tape and have copyright clearance, please consult with LEDS ( to get the audio digitized.
  • LEDS has several licenses for Dragon Dictate, an automated transcription software. Please contact LEDS to schedule an appointment to learn how the software works and begin transcribing your audio.


Video usually has audio associated with it, so the above applies in terms of creating a transcript. A descriptive text in a screen-readable format should be provided if the captions or transcript do not adequately describe what is going on visually.

Captions can be created for videos in a number of ways:

  1. All videos uploaded to Panopto will get auto-captioned
  2. Automatic Captioning with YouTube: Once a video is uploaded to YouTube it will be captioned. Their auto-captioning alogrithm is not perfect, and will require manual editing later. See the resources below to ensure your video has been captioned and how then to edit those captions.
  3. Creating and Uploading a Transcript to YouTube
  4. If none of the above meet your needs, paid services are also available for automatic captions. Please contact LEDS if you think you may require such a service.

Using Ally in theSpring

Checking for Accessibility

Ally checks accessibility for your new and existing course content. To measure accessibility, Ally assigns your content an accessibility score. Each score is composed of both a numerical number and a colored gauge that reflects the number.

Currently, Ally checks files in these formats:

  • PDF files
  • Microsoft Word files
  • Microsoft PowerPoint files
  • OpenOffice/LibreOffice files
  • Uploaded HTML files
  • Image files (JPG, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BPM, TIFF)

Accessibility Scores

Ally measures the accessibility of each file attached to your course and shows you at-a-glance how it scores. Scores range from Low to Perfect. The higher the score the fewer the issues.

  •  Low: File is not accessible and needs immediate attention.
  •  Medium: File is somewhat accessible and could use improvement.
  •  High: File is accessible but could be improved.
  •  Perfect: File is accessible. No improvement needed.

For files with Low to High scores, Ally shows you the issues and gives a step-by-step guide on how to fix them.

View File Accessibility

Find a file and select the Accessibility score. You will find the following details in the file accessibility panel:

  1. Accessibility Score. The file’s accessibility color and numerical score based on severity of accessibility issue.
  2. Description. The description of the accessibility issue affecting the file.
  3. Additional information. Detailed information about how the issue affects accessibility and why it is important to correct.
  4. Instructions to improve. Step-by-step instructions for your preferred software that show you how to improve file accessibility.
  5. Direct file upload. A drag-and-drop area to upload original or fixed files.

Select All issues to see every issue in the file and decide what issues to fix first.

Alternative Formats

Once you have uploaded your files, Ally will automatically create alternative formats that students can choose from. For example, when you upload a Word document, Ally will create versions of the document in the following formats:

  • Tagged PDF (structured PDF for improved use with assistive technology)
  • HTML (for viewing in browser or on mobile devices)
  • ePub (for reading as an e-book on an iPad or other e-book reader)
  • Electronic braille (BRF version for consumption on electronic braille displays)
  • Audio (mp3 version for listening)

If documents lack correct heading structure, Ally will take a “best guess” approach to adding heading structure.

For more information on getting started with Ally, see Blackboard’s Ally Quick Start for Instructors page.

Remediating Accessibility Issues

After you upload files in your course, Ally produces an accessibility score for each file. In lessons with multiple files, the accessibility score is shown for each file. In areas where you access files, the accessibility icon is located to the right or left of the file.

Select the Accessibility score to open the instructor feedback.

Ally instructor feedback shows you a preview of the document content as well as detailed feedback and support to help you fix your accessibility issues.

Preview the document

The instructor feedback, in-browser, preview shows the content for PDFs, Word documents and PowerPoint documents.


The preview highlights where specific accessibility issues can be found in the document. Highlights show every occurrence of one issue type at a time. For example, if your images are missing alternative descriptions, the highlights show you every place this specific issue occurs. If your document also has poor text contrast, select that issue in the feedback panel to see the occurrences of that issue highlighted.

Highlights are provided for these issues:

  • Images without an appropriate alternative description
  • Text fragments with insufficient contrast
  • Tables without table headings

All other accessibility issues are not highlighted in the preview.

Preview tools

Use the tools above the preview to explore the issues in your document.
  • Move through the document preview page by page.
  • See how many times a specific issue appears in the document.
  • Jump between the issue highlights.
  • Hide or show the highlights.
  • Zoom the preview content in or out.
  • Download the original file.

Feedback panel

For accessible files, Ally tells you what you did correctly. For files with Low to High scores, Ally shows you the issues and gives a step-by-step guide on how to fix them.
  1. Accessibility score: See the overall score for the entire file.
  2. All issues: Select All issues to see every issue in the file. This view shows you by how much the score can improve by fixing each issue. Find the issue you want to start fixing and select Fix.
  3. Description of issue and step-by-step help: See the description for an issue with the file. Ally organizes this feedback in a decision tree, so all you need to do is read the directions and respond to the prompts. Learn what the issue is, why it matters, and how to correct it appropriately.
    • Select What this means to learn more about the issue.
    • Select How to and follow the steps to improve the file’s accessibility.

      These instructions change depending on the file and the accessibility issues found. For example, with a PDF you may see instructions on how to make the PDF tagged. Select How to Make a PDF Tagged.

  4. Upload: Upload updated files to replace the existing one.


For more information on how to utilize the built-in Ally features to fix existing course content, see Ally’s Instructor Feedback Panel web page.


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