Check a Document for Accessibility
Last modified: December 1, 2023
Before you post a document to your course, check to make sure it won't create barriers for your students.
Most common word processing software has the ability to do basic accessibility checking. This page will show you how to use those checkers. Keep in mind, however, that these software programs can only check for the most basic errors, so a clean check is not a guarantee of accessibility, but it is a step in the right direction and a good habit to form as part of your workflow. Even those who are experienced with accessibility overlook or forget items and need to make a quick check before publishing documents.
For a more rigorous accessibility check, contact an instructional designer or disability services.
For a walkthrough of using the tools below, watch this CELT video: Checking Documents for Accessibility (12:52)
Check Accessibility in Microsoft Products
If you frequently use Word to create notes, instructions, memos, or other documents for your students, it's easy to perform a quick check to rule out basic accessibility issues. Word will even give you suggestions to help you fix any issues that might be flagged.
Go to the "Review" tab and choose "Check Accessibility".
The same steps are used in Power Point.
Once you click on "Check Accessibility", a dialog pane will open on the right side of the screen showing any items that have been flagged. If you click on those items, Word will suggest ways to fix them. For example, if you have an image that is missing alternative text, clicking on the warning will give you the option to add alternative text.
Check Accessibility in Google Products
If you use Google Docs and/or Slides to produce content and resources for your students, there is a tool that can quickly run a basic accessibility check on Google products. It's an add-on called Grackle that you have to download from the Google Workspace Marketplace. There's one for each Google product: Docs, Slides, Sheets. Once you download the add-on for the product you're using, you'll find it by clicking on "Extensions" at the top of the document. Hover over "Grackle Docs" and choose "Launch" to initiate a check. A pane opens on the right side of your screen with a report. You can then go through the report and fix items that were flagged.
Accessibility in PDFs
Important rules of using PDFs in your course:
- Make your document accessible BEFORE exporting it as a PDF. It is almost impossible to remediate an inaccessible PDF to be accessible without many hours of extensive work, so best practice is to create your document in Word, make sure it's accessible as a Word document, THEN export it as a PDF
- Do not use a PDF that is only an image. If you scan a document to create a PDF image, it is not accessible. It cannot be read by a screen reader. Test your PDFs by seeing if you can select individual words with your mouse. If you can, your document is at least readable, though that does not guarantee other accessibility concerns such as a logical reading order or alt text.
Given the difficulty of creating accessible PDFs, be very judicious in your use of PDFs. If you have large segments of textbooks uploaded as PDFs, try the following options:
- check with the library to see if they have a more accessible version of your text
- check with the instructional designers to see if your document can be remediated
- check with Disability Services
The bottom line is that, thanks to better screening and reduced cultural taboos regarding ability, more and more students are able to advocate for their needs, and we need to be ready to serve those needs. That includes adjusting course content to be more inclusive and accessible.