Skip to Main Content

Accessibility: Principles of accessible content

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

Accessible content

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.

Web accessibility

W3 Web Accessibility Initiative provides a useful checklist to determine if web content meets accessibility guidelines.

They also provide a platform for a web accessibility evaluation tools list

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'.

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.