Creating Accessible Content


Accessible Syllabus

In March of 2018, Humboldt passed Syllabi Policy P18-01 which requires all courses with a C-classification to have an accessible syllabus posted in Canvas.

Microsoft Word


Sighted viewers can scan a page and use visual cues like large or bold text to find the section of a document that they want to read. However, for someone using a screen reader, these visual markups are useless - leaving them to navigate word by word from the start of the document or webpage until they find the section they want. Using headings will allow a screen reader to navigate from section to section, making for a more convenient experience for the user. 

To add Headings to a document:

  1. Highlight document title and select "Heading 1" in the "Styles" menu. 
  2. Highlight section titles and select "Heading 2."
  3. Highlight subsection titles and select "Heading 3." 

Some things to keep in mind while using styles:

  • DO NOT skip heading levels. For example, do not use heading 1 and then use heading 3. 
  • DO NOT use headings for every block of text. Keep it simple. Use headings only on section titles so that screen readers can easily jump from one section to the next.

Alt-Text for Images

Images require alt-text so that screen readers have an idea of what the image entails.

To add alt-text:

  1. Right-click on the image.
  2. Select "Format Picture"
  3. Select "Layout and Properties" (3rd icon from the left).
  4. In the "Description" field, enter a description of the image.
  5. If the image is purely decorative and you want a screen reader to skip over it, make sure to go in and check to make sure the file name is not listed as default alt-text. Instead, press the spacebar, then enter to create null alt text.


By default, assistive technology will read a table from left to right starting at the top. The relationship between the cells is not defined if it is not formatted correctly. Use MS Word's Table Tools editor to identify the different types of rows and columns.

To create an accessible table:

  1. Highlight the entire table.
  2. Right-click and select "Table Properties."
  3. In the "Table Properties" window, navigate to the "Row" tab. 
  4. Click "Next Row" until the header row (the row that describes what is in each column) is highlighted in grey.
  5. Select the box next to "Repeat as header row at the top of each page."
  6. Navigate to the "Alt Text" tab.
  7. In the "Description" field, enter a description of the information in the table. 
  8. When you are finished, select "OK."

Some things to keep in mind when using tables:

  • Tables should not be used to format spacing in a document. They should be used only to organize tabular information. 

Formatted Lists

Use bulleted or numbered lists by using Word's formatting tools, not by typing the numbers or dashes yourself. Using the list formatting tool allows assistive technology to determine the length of the list and the reader can understand how the content is organized and how many items are on the list.

  • Numbered lists should be used in situations where an ordered process is being described.
  • Bulleted lists should be used in situations where the information being described is unordered.


Many people will use the tab key, space bar, and blank lines or text boxes to move text around and have it display just as they'd like. However, using these tools to format a document may cause accessibility problems. If you want to make columns, format them as columns. Do not put text on one line and use the tab key to move it over (a screen reader will read it one line at a time, not as columns). 

To add a column:

  1. Highlight the text that you want to make into a column.
  2. In the "Layout" tab of the toolbar, select "Columns."
  3. Select the option for how many columns you would like. 

Accessibility Checker

This is a great tool to check your document for accessibility issues. Do not rely on this as a crutch - it will not catch everything. Also, this checker only works on docs saved as .docx. 

  1. Navigate to "File" and click on "Check for Issues."
  2. Select "Check for Accessibility."
  3. Any errors or warnings will appear in a panel to the right of the document. 
  4. Click on the error or warning. The "Additional Information" box will explain why this is a problem and how to fix the problem.

Convert to PDF

Many people like to convert their Word documents to PDF so that they can share the document easily with others who may not have access to MS Word. There are a few actions you can take in order to preserve the accessible qualities of the Word document during the conversion to PDF. 

  1. Go to "File" and select "Save As."
  2. Choose the folder where you wish to save the document. 
  3. In the "Save As" window, click the dropdown box next to "Save as type" and select "PDF."
  4. There should be a box labeled "Options." Click on it.
  5. Check the box next to "Document structure tags for accessibility" and select "OK."
  6. Select "Save" and wait for your PDF to generate. 


Scanned PDFs

PDFs that are made by scanning a document with an office copier are not accessible unless you take a few extra steps beyond scanning. A scanned PDF is a picture of text. As such, a screen reader is not going to be able to read the text and the text in the image is much too long to enter as alt text. 

OCR - Optical Character Recognition

In order to make a scanned PDF accessible, the first step is to use OCR to convert the image into text.

To see if a PDF has already been converted and is readable by a screen reader, try to use your mouse to highlight the text. If you can highlight pieces of text, OCR has been used. If you cannot highlight lines of text, then you are looking at an image. 

To test the accuracy of the OCR conversion, copy and paste the highlighted text into a document and check to see if the text/characters were accurately converted. 

There are a variety of apps and software that you can use to convert a scanned PDF to text, but the accuracy of said programs can vary. At Humboldt, we recommend contacting the Accessibility Resource Center for assistance with OCR. 


Slide Layouts

The most important thing that you need to remember when using PPT, is to use the layout templates provided in PowerPoint. That means avoid adding any text boxes or adding items on top of the content boxes already provided in the layout templates. The reason behind this is because screen readers may ignore items, like text boxes, that are added to the pages and exist outside of the content boxes provided. 

To apply a layout to a slide:

  1. Navigate to "Layout" and choose a layout that suits your needs.

Slide Titles

The title of each slide should be unique. This allows someone to know what info is on each slide. If the title is the same between slides, then it is unclear how/why the content of the slides has been broken into multiple slides. If the info does span multiple slides, try adding "continued" or "1/3" in the title to indicate that the info is spilling over from the previous slide. If you use slide layouts, there will always be a designated text box for a slide title.  

Reading order

To check the reading order of a slide, you can use the Selection Pane option under the Format ribbon. The order in which items are read will be listed from bottom to top- the first item read will be at the bottom. You can use this tool to reorder the read order by pressing the up or down triangles in the upper right corner of the Selection Pane. Remember, the title should always be read first.