Create Accessible Content

Key Concepts

Accessibility needs relevant to content creators cluster around the need for clear and concise writing, using the formatting toolbar, and providing text alternatives:

  • Like it or not, the majority of users skim pages by headings and link titles. This ability to navigate and understand pages based on their structure becomes critically important for users with visual, reading or attention disabilities.
  • Formatting really matters. Screen readers navigate and describe content based on how the text is structured, not how it looks: marking content as headers and lists provides real, navigable structure; simply making text bold or putting bullet icons at the start of sentences does not.
  • Text alternatives are critical: users who are blind rely on alt text for images and icons. Users who are deaf, hard of hearing, new to a language, or in any place a device should be muted rely on captioning or transcripts for videos and audio.

11 Key Accessibility Factors: A Checklist for Content Creators.

  1. Alternative text describes each image's meaning in context.
  2. Headings are formatted as H1/H2/H3 elements, not just big bold text.
  3. Lists are formatted as lists, not just symbols and numbers.
  4. Tables have real header cells, not just background colors.
  5. Color contrast is strong enough for users with low vision or colorblindness.
  6. Meaningful links are self-explanatory even out of context (unlike "click here").
  7. Identify languages for screen readers: "Español" without a language tag is "A Spaniel."
  8. Avoid using images of text.
  9. Avoid using layout tables as fake columns.
  10. Avoid using sensory characteristics that disappear with layout or color perception changes ("the red items in the right-hand column").
  11. Avoid using color alone to provide meaning.

PDF iconDownload this checklist as a printable reference card.

Accessible Audio and Video

  1. Videos need captions. See the Video Accessibility Guidelines for details and vendor recommendations.
  2. Audio content (podcasts, embedded audio clips) need to provide a transcripts; these can be provided by the same vendors.

Note that automatically generated captions are not yet accurate enough to meet our standards, and need to be proofread/corrected before use.

Accessible PDF Documents

The first thing to ask is: "must this content be in the PDF format?"

Desktop users who are not blind and do not have low vision are often fond of PDFs because they provide a fixed layout and are slightly more difficult to modify than other formats...but they usually provide a poor experience for all other users:

  • Mobile and screen magnifier users must zoom in and then repeatedly scroll horizontally/diagonally in a Z pattern to read long lines or follow columns.
  • Screen reader users often hear gibberish, as fragments of sentences get mashed together when visual layouts are not tagged for reading order.
  • Keyboard users and screen reader users often find PDF forms difficult or impossible to complete, as the visually intuitive layout of the form is often dramatically different from the reading order and tab order.

Remediating PDFs to be compatible with assistive devices is difficult, time-consuming and often expensive.

There are three ways to avoid this expense, in descending order of preference:

  1. Convert the content into Web pages.
  2. Convert the content into Web pages, and also provide the PDF as the "print-friendly" alternative.
  3. Provide the PDF, and also create a Web page as an "accessible" alternative. Note that the content of accessible version must be truly equivalent to satisfy ADA requirements, including reproductions or text equivalents for images, charts and graphs. For complex documents, this may not cost less than remediating the PDF.

If you must provide the content exclusively as a PDF:

  1. Follow the 11 Key Accessibility factors when creating the content.
  2. Send the document to an external vendor to be tagged for screen readers, in the same way videos are sent out for closed captioning. Search the Active Supplier Contracts list for "accessibility for print materials" or reach out to our contacts to find vendors with existing University relationships.