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​Accessibility Tips

Universal design boosts inclusivity by reducing barriers to access. In addition to being the law, it benefits all students to have clear, easy-to-use material online. Here are some simple things you can do to make your course accessible. Please note that the list of tips below does not guarantee compliance.

If you are interested in learning more, check the Professional Development Calendar for upcoming accessibility trainings. You may send a sample document to aei@saintpaul.edu and arrange a meeting for feedback.

Accessibility Tips

Built-in Accessibility Checkers

The same basic universal design principles apply to materials in various formats, and many programs have built-in accessibility checkers that will find errors and suggest fixes for you. Here are instructions on how to find and use them:


Use headers to give your document or page structure. Screen readers allow users to quickly navigate through content with the Tab key.

  • Use Headers in descending levels (Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3)
  • Don’t skip any levels
  • Do it in MS Word first then use that document to create a PDF
Alt Tags

Images can also be seen by screen reader users with alt-tags, where text describing the purpose of the image is read aloud. Write as if you are describing it to a person on the phone – typically no more than a few words or a couple of sentences.

  • If you have a picture with a lot of text in it, consider using a table instead
  • Be accurate and equivalent in presenting the content and function of the image
  • Don’t use alt-tags for decorative images like borders or dividers
  • In MS Word alt-tags can be added in the “Format Photo” menu
Color Contrast

Color contrast is the ratio of the text color to the background color. A poor ratio can make it difficult for regular users, or those with colorblindness, to read the text. Using size 14, sans serif font, such as Calibri, will also boost readability.


Hyperlinks also need to be formatted to ensure accessibility. To ensure proper screen reader performance:

  • Don’t need to say “link to” or “click here”
  • Don’t paste long hyperlinks, ex. https://www...; use regular text with the link embedded
  • Include alt-tags in any image links
  • Alert the user if there is a download or non-webpage destination (PDF, Doc, etc.)
  • When creating a PowerPoint presentation, use predefined slide layouts (templates) and fill in the information.
  • Use titles and enter text into textboxes.
  • Using layouts ensures that the text can be read by a screen reader and that the exported files will transfer properly.
  • If you do not use slides, you may need to manually adjust the reading order and input alternative text for text boxes.
  • Include image descriptions (another term for alt-text)
    • What are image descriptions?
      Image descriptions are brief statements that verbally convey relevant information from an image. The most successful Image descriptions are ones that are objective and not subjective. Ask yourself: Would someone else agree with this description?
      Yellow cheese in a triangular shape with holes.
      Good image description: Yellow cheese in a triangular shape with holes.
      Bad image description: Yucky yellow cheese with tiny holes.
  • If you are speaking with slides, be mindful that some of your students may not be able to see the slides. It can be helpful to read the slide content aloud during your recordings.
    • Recording in PowerPoint and exporting to MediaSpace.
    • Another method to describe images would be to create alt-text for each image (see tip #4).
    • What is alt-text?
      Alt-text is a description for images. When an image is assigned alt-text, a screen reader will pick up on the provided information and read it aloud. Without alt-text, a screen reader will skim over the image as if nothing was there.
  • For more information, please consult these additional resources on accessible presentations and alt-text.
  • For more information on recording a PowerPoint and exporting to MediaSpace for captioning, please consult this resource.
Creating “readable” PDFs

  • A quick way to check if a PDF is readable is to try and select a sentence. If you can select individual letters, the file is likely readable. If you can only select a page at a time, the file is not readable.
  • If the document is not readable, you can use Adobe Acrobat Pro’s ‘Make Accessible’ feature under ‘Tools’ -> ‘Action Wizard’ menu-> ‘Make accessible.’ From there, select the files that you want accessible and click ‘Start.’
  • Screen readers are used by visually impaired students to read text on a document or web page aloud. If text is not formatted correctly, it cannot be read by the student.
    • For scanned PDFs, make sure the text is readable and not an image
    • A quick way to test this is to CTRL+F and search for a word on the first page - if the word is found, it’s readable.

Additional Resources:

Uploading a PowerPoint as a readable document

Screen readers are used by visually impaired students to read text on a document or web page aloud. If text is not formatted correctly, it cannot be read by the student. You can turn a PowerPoint presentation into a PDF or Word document more accessible to screen readers.

  • To create PDF documents from PowerPoint:
    1. Go to File, click ‘Export’ and select ‘Create PDF/XPS Document’
    2. Check that the PDF matches the slides
  • To create Word documents from PowerPoint:
    1. Go to File, click ‘Export’ and select ‘Create Handouts’
    2. Select ‘Outline Only’
    3. Click OK
    4. Check if Word document matches PowerPoint
    5. Check that the formatting is correct (headings and subheadings are properly assigned)
Tables in Word
  • Use descriptive links
  • Use alt-text (see tip #4 and “cheese” example in tip #7)
  • Use headings and subheadings (see tip #3)

Additional resource: Microsoft Word

Video Captions

  • All videos need captions regardless of who’s viewing the videos.
  • The best platform to create, upload, and share videos in MediaSpace.
  • If you need assistance with captioning a video, please submit a caption request form located under Service Requests.
  • If you have any questions about captioning, uploading a video from YouTube, or uploading pre-recorded videos, please reach out to Amelia Carlson, Accessibility Specialist: amelia.carlson@saintpaul.edu
  • For step-by-step instructions on navigating MediaSpace, see this instruction sheet.
  • For inquiries about recording a video, inserting a quiz into a video, or embedding a video to D2L, please reach out to James Smrikarov, Instructional Designer: james.smrikarov@saintpaul.edu
Audio Transcriptions

In a similar manner as a video requires captions, audio files require a written-out dialogue of all words spoken.

  • What’s an audio transcription?
  • Audio transcriptions can be written out in a Word document and uploaded onto a D2L page next to the audio recording or handed out in class.
  • In layman’s terms, audio transcriptions are a document that reads what’s heard aloud, including all nonverbal sounds.
  • Include time stamps in your audio transcriptions! This will help synchronize the transcript with the audio.
Additional resources focused on accessible online learning:
  1. “ZOOM How-To" on online teaching
  2. "Where to Start” guide offered by MinnState
  3. 20 tips on accessible teaching
  4. 30 web accessibility tips
  5. Accessible online course design
  6. Creating Good Alt-text

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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