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You can contribute directly to accessibility efforts by learning several easy core skills that will generally improve the experience of people using assistive technology, people with invisible disabilities, AND the general population—in essence, improving both accessibility and usability.

When Do I Need to Remediate Documents?

  • When you have a student with a requested accommodation through the Miller Center for Student Disability Services (MCSDS), provide ADA accommodations as directed in the letter from MCSDS and work with the Accommodations Coordinators. For assistance, contact
  • When you build a new course or add new materials to an existing course, ensure that the content is accessible from the start.
  • If you intend to share PDFs on Miami's website or other digital university spaces, they must be tagged properly to ensure access for all.

It is also important to consider accessibility when designing web pages, documents and selecting multimedia. Accessibility should also be considered when adopting new classroom technologies. Each individual is unique and incorporating accessible design increases the likelihood that your content will be accessible to all people, including those with disabilities.

Build in Accessibility From the Start

Follow these basic principles of accessibility to create accessible documents, web pages, and applications.

  • Provide alternative text (ALT text) for images and charts
  • Use descriptive web links - avoid using the entire URL or “click here”
  • Provide a caption tag and appropriate headers for tables
  • Use document styles (paragraph, heading 2, heading 3, heading 4) when creating subsections on a page
  • Use formatted lists (bulleted or numbered)
  • Avoid communicating information with color alone

Best Practices for Document Formats

Document formats may cause problems for students using mobile devices and assistive technology. Please review the following accessibility best practices for Microsoft Word, Google Docs, PowerPoint, Google Slides, and PDFs.

Microsoft Word and Google Docs

PowerPoint and Google Slides


When creating content, there are a few basic steps that should be followed in order to assure your content is accessible. The core steps needed for accessibility are the same regardless of whether your document is in HTML, Microsoft Word, Adobe PDF, or another document format:

  • Use headings
  • Use lists
  • Add alternate text to images
  • Identify document language
  • Use tables wisely and simply
  • Understand how to export from one format to another
  • If you have created the documents in Microsoft Word, consider whether PDFs are necessary. If a PDF is necessary, create the document using accessible practices in Microsoft Word then save it as a PDF. If you aren't sure, keep reading below.
  • If you are using PDFs of articles or book chapters, use online PDFs from Miami University Library holdings, databases or journals.
  • Creating Accessible PDF Documents In Adobe Acrobat XI

Is PDF your best delivery format?

PDF files are not typically created in Acrobat. They are usually created in another program and then converted to PDF. For example, many documents are created in a word processing application, such as Microsoft Word, and then exported as PDF documents.

Before delving further into the topic of PDF accessibility, however, it's best to consider why you are using a PDF to distribute your information. Is it meant to take the place of information on a web page? Is it made available so users can print the information? PDF is great for distributing documents that need to be printed. But no matter how tempting it might be, you should never use PDF for content that you expect users to read online.

Ask yourself the following questions when considering PDF:

  • Is the information meant to be read online? If so, rendering that information as a web page is always preferable. Consider the following advantages of HTML:
    • Customized to device
    • Contains navigation and easy access to other site content
    • Standard interface
    • Easy to search
    • Easy to share by link
    • Linked to data repositories
  • Is the PDF a form that can be created online? Ask us about Google Forms! This form tool is easy to use and 100% accessible!
  • Can the information be printed just as easily from a web page? Even when considering the print factor, you should keep in mind that web pages can also be printed, especially when using a good print style sheet.
  • Will the document need to be remediated on a regular basis? If so, this could be time-consuming and costly.

Creating “Friendly” Documents for PDF

Optimally, document accessibility begins in the native document format. Dozens or probably hundreds of programs can create PDF files, but very few of them produce "tagged" PDF files.


Tagging is just one of the many things that must be done in native document applications to support accessibility. Tags express the structure of the document, including the logical text-flow or reading order, and the presence of significant elements such as figures, lists, tables, and so on. Even seemingly small errors in document structure can easily render a file completely incomprehensible by readers with disabilities. In fact, you might consider using your computer with the screen turned off to get some idea of how important logical text-flow is to anyone who needs a screen-reader!

Other characteristics of a fully accessible PDF include alternate descriptions for all images, valid Unicode assignments for all characters, and management of all interactive features to ensure their maximum usability.

Make It Simple

When the PDF represents a document that is also used in hardcopy form (e.g., a printed brochure), you may want to consider creating a separate, simpler version for downloading and reading offline. This can make your job of remediation easier and less costly.

For this simpler version, think about ways you can eliminate elements that create accessibility barriers. Does the document contain a front cover, title page, or other pages with lots of decorative text and/or images? Does it contain color and outlined and/or shaded boxes? Make sure that the elements you choose are done so purposefully. Can the reader understand the information without the use of those elements? If the answer is "yes," then you are probably better off not using them.

Contact AccessMU Center

316 Shriver Center
701 E. Spring St.
Oxford, OH 45056