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Accessibility: Making material accessible

This guide aims to assist Library staff in providing material for students with additional needs

Checking Web accessibility

  • Wave  - WAVE is developed and made available as a free community service by WebAIM. Originally launched in 2001, WAVE has been used to evaluate the accessibility of millions of web pages.


Making documents accessible

Basic principles of accessible digital content

The following simple steps will help to maximise your impact by maximising your audience. The basic principles are the same for the main content creation platforms.

Graphs and spreadsheets

  • The same rules apply as with adding images - add meaningful alt text and use captions to summarise the main points.
  • A navigation sheet can make it easier to find your way round complex data.
  • Use colour or shading to highlight key areas and add relevant images. Add pop up comments where appropriate to give explanations or instructions.
  • You can use data validation to reduce the likelihood of learners accidentally adding the wrong values and conditional formatting can help to highlight key values.
  • When presenting learners with large spreadsheets make them aware of pivot tables and how they can help to easily navigate complex data sets. 
  • When users are dealing with a large spreadsheet they can work more productively and efficiently if they know how to freeze panes, filter and sort columns. Although these are not specific accessibility features they reduce barriers for people who lack confidence or are easily overwhelmed by numbers.
  • If learners collect results and add them to the spreadsheet, set up a graph to plot the values from the results table. As the data is entered learners will see the developing trends on the graph. This helps them move beyond numbers to what the numbers actually mean.
  • By using slider bars you allow learners to experiment with different values on a graph or in a formula. The use of 'IF statements' can allow you to create self marking exercises and multiple choice exercises.
  • Spreadsheets don't suit all learners and they can cause problems for blind users so it is important to understand the primary teaching objectives of an exercise before adapting the resource. An interactive economics graph showing demand varying with price adds great value for a dyslexic learner but could be far more effectively explained to a blind person using pipe cleaners or Wikki Stix.
  • Creating accessible spreadsheets.
  • Using accessible features in Excel

STEM resources

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) resources

What is an accessible STEM document?

  • Customisable and can be read with text to speech (TTS) including all images, tables and equations.
  • Accessibility barriers to maths notation.
  • Mathematical mark-up MathML designed for accessibility but limited support in browsers and applications.
  • LaTeX a common markup.
  • MathJax used to render MathML or LaTeX on the web.
  • PDF created from LaTeX are not usually accessible.
  • LaTeX can be converted to MathML
  • PowerPoint:Create maths notation using MathType or built-in equation editor. Provide original file PPTX if possible.
  • MS Word equation editor sufficient for most maths and can be read-aloud using built-in text to speech.
  • Institute of Physics publication “Supporting Students in STEM with Colour Vision Deficiency”.


  • Read aloud maths in accurately but without overloading user.
  • Highlight the equation as it is read.
  • Provide users with different options for speaking equations.
  • Based on MathJax conversion of MathML & LaTeX.

Word processing of maths notation


  • Keep the structure simple, and bear in mind that screen readers will read the content from left to right when deciding on a structure.
  • Specify the header rows and make sure they are repeated if your table crosses multiple pages. Add alt text to explain your table to visually impaired readers and make sure it is meaningful - an informative caption can also be helpful. 
  • Creating accessible tables.

Communicating accessibly

Meaningful titles

  • Include a clear and searchable title for all communications and documents e.g. not just ‘Timetable’ but ‘Timetable for SO737 Literature and Society’.

Accessible Language

  • Use plain English, explain any acronyms used and provide clear points of reference for finding out more - such as clear signposting to useful links and contacts. It would be helpful for staff to check the reading level and/or accessibility of documents with a simple inbuilt check in Word.


  • Provide all communication and documentation as far in advance as possible. Developing a service level agreement stating that standard module notification and documentation will be prepared x weeks/days in advance (as appropriate) would be great. Early delivery will also enable students to make more informed module choices, undertake preparatory reading and organise their lives around tutorial timings as well as enabling students who need it the opportunity to access materials in alternative ways.


  • Use a consistent style in key documents e.g. structure, styling, templates, so that people can become familiar with the layout and signposts to further information. Consistency in the methods use to communicate will also help. If you communicate using the same method people will be able to check back at a single central site and browse - particularly helpful if your email organisation is poor or you’re mainly working from a phone using text-to-speech.

Heading based navigation

  • Headings ensure that documents can be easily navigated, so that someone who cannot browse visually can quickly jump through headings to navigate longer documents more efficiently.

Electronic first

  • Making material available online is one of the best things you can do to make learning and teaching experiences more accessible to all. Electronic documents can be far more easily made to suit individual requirements using assistive technologies (e.g. the Sensus Access file conversion tool). The fact that electronic materials can be accessed remotely and at any time also mean that they are very helpful to part-time, distance and commuting students too. Electronic submission of assignments should be supported too.

Descriptive hyperlinks

  • Ensure that hyperlinks make sense when read out of context e.g. when using a screen reader if visually impaired. 'Click here to try the quiz' is less accessible (because it is less meaningful out of context) than 'Click here to try the quiz'.


Accessible word documents

Basic principles for documents (PDF) created by University of Kent.

More help




Large print

  • It is  good practice to try and send any materials electronically in advance, wherever possible, in order that people can come prepared with notes already on their laptops/mobile devices in a display that works best for them. Large quantities of A3 paper can be difficult to handle.
  • Electronic documents can be converted to a more accessible format (e.g. create editable text versions of images or convert documents so that you can listen to them) by using the Sensus Access file conversion tool.
  • There is a useful video guide to SensusAccess

Accessible powerpoint presentations


Accessible resources

An accessible format is one which can be read by 'assistive' or 'enabling' technologies (screen reader programs, screen magnification programs and voice input programs). An accessible document is one where information is accessible (i.e. searchable, selectable and screen readable). It is worth noting that most students with most impairments will need no extra provision if departments routinely provide information in a timely and accessible electronic format.

Accessible Pdfs

Assuming that a Word document has been created in an accessible way the accessibility should be retained when converting to PDF.

How to convert a Word document to PDF

  • Select Save As on the Word File tab.
  • Ensure the file name is correct. From the Save as type drop down list select PDF.
  • Click on Options and ensure Create bookmarks using: is checked and Headings selected.
  • Ensure Document structure tags for accessibility is checked.
  • Click on OK and Save.
  • Remember you can use Sensus Access Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software on PDFs that have been scanned from hard copies to ensure text is fully accessible to screen readers.
  • To ensure that a PDF is accessible it should be checked by opening it in Adobe Reader and listening to it being read by selecting View then Read out loud.  (You will have to Activate Read Out Loud first if you have not already done so, and then can select Read this page only or Read to end of document).
  • Text to speech in PDFs
  • Creating accessible PDFs: how to make PDFs that everyone can use.


Accessible email

The principles for email are the same as other document types:

  • Use heading styles to create clear document structure.
  • Ensure text can be selected (highlighted and added to clipboard) for use with text to speech tools.
  • Use plain English.
  • Keep the layout simple and clear – minimum font size 12, left-aligned, pages numbered.
  • Use non-serif fonts (e.g. Helvetica, Arial).
  • Use recognised rather than ‘unofficial’ formatting when making lists (e.g. standard formatting bullet points and numbered lists rather than spaces, dashes).
  • Ensure tables are accessible.
  • Make sure key images, charts, and diagrams have alternative text descriptions where appropriate.
  • Use meaningful hyperlinks.
  • If attaching documents, ensure that they meet the same standards of accessibility.


  • You can use these to send readers directly to information within the same document, to a different document or to a web page. Best practice with hyperlinks includes using screen tips to provide further information about where the link takes the reader.
  • Give hyperlinks unique and descriptive names; try and avoid “click here.” Instead, use a more recognisable link: “To learn more about our service, read our About Us pages.”
  • Creating accessible hyperlinks.


Images and diagrams

Captions, transcripts and audio descriptions for multimedia

  • You can add lots of different types of media to a presentation. With multimedia it is likely that the audio and visual content are both key to the meaning and delivery of the message so adding captions, subtitles and audio descriptions will make material accessible to hearing and visually impaired users.
  • Captions, transcripts and audio descriptions.

Posters and noticeboards

A great deal of information is displayed on posters and notice boards, and given out in handouts and booklets.

Students with print disabilities can miss out on a lot of this information.

It is therefore important that information should be provided electronically wherever possible to ensure they have the same access to opportunities as everyone else.

Where you cannot access a digital original of the information you wish to share, try following the guidance for scanning a document so that you can hear it being read aloud.