Accessible Digital Materials

girl reading ebook while relaxing on a couch

If you are presenting documents in an online class session, make the documents available ahead of time for students who may have trouble accessing them during class.

Checking Document Accessibility

Microsoft office products have accessibility checkers built in. Look under the Review tab.

Before you convert a Word document into a PDF, consider if that is necessary.

  • PDFs are good for printing. Will someone print it? More and more it's not likely.
  • It's harder to make a PDF accessible than it is to make a Word document accessible.
  • If the PDF has to be edited, the original Word document has to be located and edited first.
  • An online Word document is as secure as an online PDF. A different version of a Word document has been tampered with. The online version is still the original version.

To create a PDF from a Word document

  1. Choose Save As under File
  2. Choose PDF for File Format
    • On a Mac, choose "Best for electronic distribution and accessibility"
    • On a PC, choose "Document structure tags for accessibility" under Options

To check the accessibility of a PDF in Adobe Acrobat,

  1. In Tools, choose Accessibility
  2. Click Full Check, then Enter
  3. Accessibility issues display in the left pane
  4. Recommended: Click Autotag Document to ensure a screen reader reads the document in logical order

If a PDF is a scan of a document, what looks like words is actually an image. Screen readers can't read images of text.

Use Find in the Edit menu to search for a word you know is in the document. If the word isn't found, the PDF is a scan. Search for a digital version by typing a phrase from it into a search engine.

Scans of simple clear text documents may be made accessible through scanning using optical character recognition. The Disability Resource Center can do this. Also provide the PDF scans of the original document if there is a benefit to students who do read print text.

Whenever possible, choose textbooks that have an accessible digital version. Even a digital version that is not accessible is easier to remediate than a print version. Find thousands of digital textbooks through the NIU Library's guide to open education resources.

If necessary, the Disability Resource Center will make an accessible digital version of a textbook. Creating an accessible version of a textbook can take two to three weeks.

Digital textbooks are accessible if:

  • Content is not presented only by an image because screen readers can't read images
    • Images have alternative text that explains the information in the image.
  • A table of contents links to the corresponding place in the text to make it easy to navigate through the book
  • Tables have headers so screen reader users can find their place easily
    • Captions are provided that summarize the table
  • Page numbers are included that match the print version of the book
  • Math is written in MathML format so screen readers can read it
  • Video is captioned and audio has transcripts
  • Interactive content is accessible to screen reader users and keyboard only users

Studies have shown that students comprehend more and retain more information when a video has captions than students who view the same video without captions. Select videos that have closed captions whenever possible.

Search for a captioned version of the video


  1. Google Advanced Video Search
  2. Scroll down to subtitles
  3. Choose any, which will search for subtitled and captioned versions


  1. Search YouTube for the video
  2. Choose FILTER
  3. Under FEATURES, choose subtitles/CC

Know how to turn on captions in your smart classroom.

If a student who is deaf or hard of hearing registers for your class, the Disability Resource Center will caption the videos. If the DRC has time, it will caption videos in-house. If there isn't time, the video is sent to a captioning service, which is much more expensive. 

All course materials must be available and accessible in digital format, even handouts, including the syllabus. Follow the best practices under Microsoft Office and PDFs on this page.

Teaching Technology

Purchased and free applications are covered by the Accessible Electronic and Information Technology Policy

Before you require students to purchase or download an application: Quick accessibility checks you can do yourself.

Virtual Working and Learning

Read the text and describe images as if you have a visually impaired student. Even if you don't, your students may be in situations where they don't have consistent visual focus.

  • Limit whiteboard board use by students if you have keyboard only users or screen reader users.
  • When sharing a PowerPoint, describe what is on the slide and the slide number.
  • Share documents to be used during the class or meeting in advance.

Use good color contrast for people who are colorblind, have visual disabilities or are in difficult lighting, are using small devices or who are using a print version.

Accessibility with Respondus LockDown browser

Create accessible assignments and assessments

  • If a mouse is required to navigate content or take a test, students with a visual or motor disability won't be able to access it.
  • Students who are deaf or hard of hearing need videos to be captioned. Know how to turn on captions in the smart classrooms you use.
  • Don't use color alone to convey information. If you do, students who use a screen reader or who are colorblind won't get that information.
  • A scan is an image, even a scan of text. Screen readers can't read images.


Campus Resources