Course Accessability

PDF Accessibility

Most PDF files are created from within other applications such as Word or PowerPoint to name just a few. As such, it is very important to ensure the original files are designed with accessibility in mind. If the original document is not accessible, the PDF file will not be accessible either.

The following content contains some tips for properly creating PDF files from Word and PowerPoint as well as how to check PDF accessibility within Adobe Acrobat.

PDF from Word

Assuming your Word document has been designed to be accessible, saving the document as a PDF should also result in an accessible PDF. You should still run the accessibility checker within Adobe Acrobat to make sure.

To save the Word document as a PDF:

  1. Select File > Save As.
  2. In the Save As field, enter the file name.
  3. In the Where field, select the location to which the file should be saved.
  4. In the Format field, select PDF.
    Note: Some versions of Word have a Save As PDF option that replaces 2 – 4.
  5. Click Save.

PDF from PowerPoint

Assuming your PowerPoint has been designed to be accessible, saving the document as a PDF should also result in an accessible PDF. The process is the same as that outlined in PDF from Word; however, saving the Notes or Outline as a PDF can only be accomplished from the File > Print option.

To print PowerPoint Notes or Outlines to a PDF:

  1. Select File > Print.
  2. In the Print What field, select Notes or Outline.
  3. At the bottom of the screen, select PDF.
  4. Click Save.
This does not guarantee the PDF will be accessible as the Alt Tags on images may not transfer to the PDF.

Adobe Acrobat Accessibility Check

Even if your Word or PowerPoint files are designed as accessible, they may not necessarily create a fully accessible PDF.  The following instructions outline how to run Accessibility Checker on a PDF using Adobe Acrobat Professional.

To run Accessibility Checker on a PDF:

  1. Open the PDF file in Adobe Acrobat Professional.
  2. From the Tools menu, select Accessibility.
  3. From Accessibility, select Full Check.
  4. Accept the default selections in the Accessibility Checker Options prompt.
  5. Click Start Checking.

Fixing Accessibility Errors in a PDF

It is possible that not all image Alt Tags will be transferred to the PDF. Adobe PDF also requires the PDF to be properly tagged, titled, and have a set read order none of which can be set or predicted within the original. These are the most likely issues that will result in the Accessibility Check. The following is a quick overview of how to address the issues.

To resolve failed items:

  1. Right click the item marked as failed.
  2. From the resulting menu, select Fix.
  3. Depending on the item to be fixed a different prompt will appear. See examples below.


Course Accessability

Accessibility of PowerPoints

There are a few things that document creators can do within PowerPoint to help ensure accessibility. Keep in mind that the content covered in the previous tabs in this Guide should be considered when designing a PowerPoint presentation. This page outlines a few basic tools in PowerPoint that will allow users to create accessible presentations.

Presentation Design Themes

Microsoft provides users with a variety of presentation Themes. These Themes are designed to allow users to create attractive presentations without having to spend hours choosing slide backgrounds, font colors, etc.

For the most part, these Themes also take accessibility into consideration. It is highly recommended that users select one of the preset themes for their presentation and not try to create your own. Additional Themes can be downloaded from Microsoft’s website.

Slide Layouts

For each Theme, Microsoft also provides a set of slide layouts. When building a presentation and adding new slides, it is recommended users select from the preset layouts. These layouts are designed to ensure that the content on the slides can be identified by a screenreader. It is suggested that users avoid the Title Only and the Blank slide options. It is too tempting to want to add additional text boxes on these slides and doing so would negate the accessibility of those slides.

Note: Unfortunately, data tables added to PowerPoint slides are not accessible.

Outline and Notes

Outline Panel

Clicking on the Outline tab in the Slide panel will reveal a text outline of the slides. If the preset slide layouts are used, any text within the slides will appear within the outline. Images and SmartArt will not appear in the outline but can be made accessible by adding Alt descriptions.

Notes Panel

PowerPoint provides a Notes panel allowing users to enter presentation notes designed to guide the presenter. These notes are not typically read by screenreaders, so adding important content for student use is not recommended. It is possible, however, to save the slide notes out in PDF format to distribute to students. A screenreader should be able to read the text from the PDF.


  • PowerPoint Accessibility This webpage outlines the tools available within Microsoft PowerPoint that when used ensure the document is accessible.
Course Accessability

Accessibility in Word Documents

There are a few things that document creators can do within Word to help ensure accessibility. Keep in mind that the content covered in the previous tabs in this Guide should be considered when designing a Word document. This page outlines a few basic Word tools that will allow users to identify images, format text, and format tables.

Image Identification

Microsoft Word allows you to add alt text to tables, diagrams, images, and other visual objects. The following illustrates how to accomplish this task.

To add Alt Text to an image:

  1. Add the image to the document.
  2. Select the image.
  3. From the Word menu, select Format > Picture.
  4. From the resulting prompt, click on Alt Text..
  5. Enter the Alt Text into the Description field.
    Note: Do not enter the Alt Text into the Title field.
  6. Click [OK].

Formatting Text

Microsoft Word contains a number of tools that can help users make text accessible. The following instructions outline how to create headers and lists.

Text Headings

To properly format text headings:

  1. Select the text that should be a header.
  2. From the Styles pane on the Home tab, select the appropriate Heading format.


To properly format numbered or bulleted lists:

  1. Select the text that should be made into a list.
  2. From the Paragraph pane on the Home tab, select either the Numbered or Bulleted list icon.
  3. To indent list items, select the Indent icon.

Formatting Tables

Microsoft Word allows you to add alt text to describe the table and to indicate whether the first row is a header. The following instructions illustrate how to accomplish these tasks.

Table Headers

To identify the first row of a table as a header row:

  1. Select the table.
  2. From the Table menu item, select Heading Rows Repeat.

Table Alt Text

To add Alt Text to a table:

  1. Select the table.
  2. Click on Table in the top menu.
  3. From the Table menu, select Table Properties.
  4. If not already selected, click the Alt Text tab.
  5. Enter the alternative text for the table into the Description field.
    Note: Do not add the alt text to the Title field.
  6. Click [OK].


Course Accessability

Color Contrast

There are three(3) guidelines for the use of color in digital materials:

  • Do not rely on color alone to convey page information
  • Provide good color contrast between text and backgrounds
  • Coloring font for emphasis is unnecessary


An individual affected by colorblindness will have difficulty distinguishing colors in images and text; exactly which color depends upon the type of colorblindness the individual has. Below are some images from the WebAIM website that illustrate the experience of an individual with various types of colorblindness.

Protanopia (Red deficiency)

Image as seen by individual with normal vision
Note the green, red, and orange colors in the image.
Image as seen by individual with Protanopia
Note the lack of green, red, and orange in the image.

Deuteranopia (Green deficiency)

Image as seen by individual with normal vision
Note the green, red, and orange colors in the image.
Image as seen by individual with Deuteranopia
Note the lack of green, red, and orange in the image.

Tritanopia (Blue deficiency)

Image as seen by individual with normal vision
Note the blue, green and yellow colors in the image.
Image as seen by individual with Tritanopia
Note the absence of blue, green, and yellow in the image.

Text and Backgrounds

The article, Color Blindness and Web Design, indicates that

“Contrasting colors or colors on the opposite ends of the color spectrum work best for color blind users (e.g., white and black is the best example). A good practice may be to create the site in grey scale colors because elements should never rely solely on color.”

The idea of a website or PowerPoint that is solely designed in grey scale can seem “un-creative”, but remember the goal of the end product. In the case of the Canvas site and even a PowerPoint the goal is to communicate and deliver content. This is not to say that color cannot be employed just that it should be done thoughtfully so as not to impede the students ability to engage with the content.

Text and Background Contrast

The following are some examples of text and background color contrast. When in doubt, use the Color Contrast Checker and ask others for assistance.

Black on Light Grey

This color combination passes all levels of accessibility and can help reduce screen glare.

Light Grey on Black

Similar to the above, the color combination of light grey text on a black background passes all levels of accessibility.

Dartmouth Green on White

Surprisingly, this color combination does not pass all levels of accessibility.

White on Dartmouth Green

As in the image above, the color combination of white text on Dartmouth green does not pass all levels of accessibility.


  • Visual Disabilities This webpage outlines visual disabilities including blindness, low vision, and color blindness.
  • Color Contrast Checker This webpage allows users to test combinations of text color and background color to determine if they are accessible.
  • Colorblindness and Webdesign This website outlines some of the webdesign practices that work well for individuals with colorblindness.
  • Color Visual Examples This webpage presents visual examples of how individuals with various types of colorblindness see the world.
  • Color Contrast for Better Readability This webpage outlines ways to use color contrast to improve the readability of digital content.
Course Accessability

Formatting Text

There are four(4) guidelines around text formatting for digital content:

  • Apply appropriate document structure.
    • use headings (Do not simply use larger font sizes and bolding).
    • use numbered and bulleted lists (Do not use tabs and dashes to create lists).
  • Use Adequate Font Size (10pt minimum)
  • Avoid the use of all CAPS for emphasis. (Can be difficult to read and read incorrectly by screen readers).
  • Use true text. (Do not substitute images of text for actual text).

Font color is discussed in the Color Contrast section.

Document Structure

Headings and lists give structure to the content presented digitally. Screen readers rely on headings and lists to communicate the structure of the content to the user.


Like reading a book or an article, headings let you know what that section of narrative is about and where the focus of the narrative may change within the text.


Lists let the reader

  • identify important points or items (like ingredients in a recipe)
  • outline a particular order of operations (like instructions for baking a cake)

Using the built in formatting tools in Canvas, Word, PowerPoint, and other programs ensures that the headers and lists can be properly identified by screen readers and anyone reading the documents.

Canvas Tools for Document Structure

The images below illustrate the Canvas tools in the Rich Text Editor for creating headers and lists.

Headings in Canvas

Lists in Canvas

Bullet List

Numbered List

Text Format

Properly formatting font is extremely important, particularly for individuals with varying degrees of visual acuity.

Properly formatted text will resize on a screen making it easy for everyone to read it on any device sizes such as iPads, cell phones, and laptop screens.

 Common tips for font formatting include:

  • Select readable font types
    • straight fonts (san-serif) read well online (Arial, Helvetica, Tahoma, Trebuchet, Verdana)
    • curved fonts (serif) fonts do not read well online (Book Antiqua, Georgia, Times, Times New Roman)
  • Select appropriate text sizes (minimal acceptable font size is 10 pt)

Canvas Tools for Text Formatting

Font Type

The Canvas default font is Open Sans. It is not possible within the Rich Text Editor to change the default Canvas font.

Font Size

The default font size is 14pt. The image below illustrates the font size options within the Canvas Rich Text Editor.

Font Emphasis

Bold and Italic can be used to place emphasis on text when necessary.

  • Bold should not be used to create headers or emphasize large amounts of text.
  • Underlining should not be used unless required for proper reference styles as underlined text denotes a hyperlink.

True Text

True text simply refers to the composition of words and sentences using appropriate characters (text, punctuation, characters, symbols).

Occasionally, particularly in PDF documents, the “text” that appears on the page is actually a scanned image of text. This is problematic because images of text cannot be

  • read by screen readers and other assistive technologies
  • searched, so a student trying to find specific content within the document will not be able to do so via a text search.

True Text vs Images

True Text

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

Note that you can select a specific word or multiple words in the sentence above.

Text as Image

text as image

Note that you cannot select words in the sentence above.


  • Semantic Structure This webpage outlines the appropriate use of headings and lists in designing document structure.