Creating Accessible Content

Creating Accessible Content

When considering digital materials, be mindful that the person consuming the information will be interacting with the content using at least one of three primary methods:

  • By sight (i.e. no modification, magnification, contrast changes, captions)
  • By touch (i.e. braille, refreshable braille devices)
  • By hearing (i.e. text to speech, screen reader tools)

Remember – you are not creating these materials for yourself. You are creating these for members of a broad audience which possess an array of characteristics and bring a variety of experiences to a group. Following accessibility guidelines when building content makes the material easier to interact with, understand, and consume for everyone in this diverse audience.

Along with other strategies, creating digital materials to engage as many as possible in your audience involves providing clear content; using tools built into applications such as heading styles and logical structure; and providing alternative text for images, charts, and graphs. The information below provides general information regarding document accessibility; specific guidance for common applications, tools, and formats in use at UVA; a variety of checklists; best practices from peer institutions and subject matter experts, and other guidance to help in the creation of content which will reach as many in your audience as possible. This is not an exhaustive list of information and guidance. An Internet search on “accessible documents” or other related criteria will provide additional resources.

Why is this important

Checklists and General Guidance Documents

Microsoft Office

When creating content, there are a few basic steps that should be followed to increase the accessibility of your content.

The core steps needed for accessibility are the same regardless of whether your document is in HTML, Microsoft Word, PDF, or another document format:

  • Use headings
  • Use lists
  • Add alternate text to images
  • Identify document language
  • Use tables correctly
  • Understand how to export from one format to another

For more detailed instructions for particular document formats, see links to additional resources below.




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More information and resources can be found on the In The Classroom/Fixing PDFs web page in this site.

We all have MANY .pdf documents that we share and receive. Thinking about the accessibility of these documents can be overwhelming! Start with the next document that will be distributed to a class or shared among colleagues.

First ask yourself if the document must be in the .pdf file format. Created to be inflexible, this format was first designed to lock-in fonts, colors, spacing – to basically disallow any modification to the document - so it could look the same as it is shared across applications and operating systems. Creating an accessible (flexible) .pdf document is possible, however, attention needs to be paid to the initial document creation process.

Providing flexible content where the style can be modified is helpful. For instance, it allows a person with Dyslexia to change the font to one that works better for them, a person with low vision can change the color and size of the font and document background, and text-to-speech technology can more easily read the content. Instead of .pdf, you can create content which can be placed within the web pages of your LMS (i.e. UVACollab, Canvas, Blackboard) or provide a protected Word document.

If the .pdf format is required and you are using an application such as Word or InDesign to create your document, and then convert to .pdf, make your source document accessible before converting. Doing so will save considerable time and effort should the document need to be remediated to allow for greater accessibility. When the source document is accessible, the correct document structure will already be in place.

Another method of creating .pdf documents is scanning. This converts paper based materials to digital content. Scanning of documents and books can easily be done by using many of the multi-function copiers across the University. However, these scanned images tend to be a "picture" of the document which cannot be interpreted by assistive technologies or manipulated by end users. When possible, employ optical character recognition (OCR) scanning - especially for text heavy documents. Images, such as scanned pages or books, are more difficult to make accessible than documents that are electronic natively or scanned using OCR.

If a scan is necessary, make the scan as clear as possible. Avoiding writing important information in the margin of the scan. Use your scanner’s optical character recognition (OCR) settings to facilitate making the scan readable to assistive technologies. The UVA Library provides an Instructional Scanning Service and OCR scanning can be requested. This is particularly important if you have received notification from the Student Disability Access Center (SDAC) that student accommodations are needed, or the information you are scanning will be made available to a broad audience.

Can your document be HTML or read-only Word (.doc/.docx) which can be more easily made accessible? If not, resources below provide guidance to help create accessible .pdf documents.

It is also helpful to place a disclaimer on your documents similar to "If you need this document in a different format, contact xxxxx". This provides a path for someone to seek assistance when the .pdf document cannot be interpreted by assistive technology or they are encountering other difficulties.

Vendors Who Provide Document Remediation

Companies to contact for document remediation services:

STEM Considerations

Accessible Images, Charts, and Graphs

Images can be effective way to convey meaning, such as to provide additional information to text content, to assign labels to buttons, convey complex information in a graphic format, or to present research or survey results. Text alternatives are vital for people who can’t see the images. In addition, alternative text also provides an option for individuals who have a slow internet connection. Images can be turned off, allowing the pages to load faster without losing the information the images convey.

Creating alternative text for an image is the responsibility of the content creator. The goal is not to make the image, map, graphic "accessible", it is to make sure the appropriate information is relayed to everyone. Use a "drill-down" method to determine the alternative text: Why is the image there in the first place? What is the intent of the image? What information is being relayed to the individual accessing the web page? The context and intent of a picture of the Rotunda on an architectural history web page may be very different than the same picture located on a web page used for general promotion of the University.

Not all images need alternative text. Differentiation between decorative and informational images is up to the creator of the content. A common rule of thumb - if the image is removed, is information missing from what the page is intending to convey? If so, then alternative text is necessary.

It is important to provide alternative text when data in a chart, graph, or infographic is crucial to the content of the web page. Also, differences in line styles, textures, or text in graphs will improve accessibility for individuals who are color blind.

The following resources will assist in the creation of alternative text and provide guidance in the determination of when alternative text is important/necessary.