When making course resources available to students, instructors need to ensure their class materials are accessible to all. Making course resources accessible will allow students who rely on assistive technologies or who access course materials in different formats to be able to participate normally in your class. Most modern files are already accessible; however, older documents, scanned documents, or documents that are otherwise inaccessible need to be converted into a new format that can provide an equitable learning experience to all students. In order to improve the accessibility of PDF files, you must use Adobe Acrobat Pro, which is available to all students and faculty for free from The Office of Software Licensing.
The most common accessible format is PDF, which most screen readers can easily use to provide an audio version to users. Most newer PDFs downloaded from the internet are in an editable format that Adobe Acrobat can convert into an accessible file; however, you must ensure that they meet accessibility standards. If you are using Word documents, convert your Word documents into PDF files for greater accessibility or follow the help article to make Word files accessible. To ensure your PDF meet accessibility standards, follow the guide below:
Beginning the Accessibility Check
- First, check if your document is either scanned or an editable PDF that can be made accessible for students. You can usually visually determine if a document is either scanned or editable by enlarging the PDF and looking closely at the text. Scanned documents will have a poorer resolution while editable documents will scale text to match the document zoom level. If your document is scanned, you won’t be able to convert it using the methods below. Follow the PDF to Canvas page help article to transform older or scanned documents into a Canvas page. Remember – scanned documents are not accessible at all to students; you must provide an alternative version.
- If your PDF is editable, open your PDF in Adobe Acrobat and allow Acrobat to prepare the document for reading; this is done automatically when you open your document. This process may take time if your document has a significant amount of text.
- Search for Accessibility in the right-hand tool menu search bar and click on Accessibility Check
Note – If you do not see the Accessibility Toolkit, click the More Tools icon at the very bottom of the list and drag the accessibility icon into the toolbar.
- A new dialog box will appear. Keep all default options and click the Start Checking button at the bottom of the dialog box.
- A report will appear to the left of the document viewer. You can click through each section of the report and view the results of the accessibility check. This will inform you of what needs to be fixed. You can right-click on any of the individual checks to either fix the issue, explain the issue (which will open the corresponding help article in Adobe’s help center in your default browser,) or disregard it.
- Now, you must correctly tag sections of the text so that a screen reader is able to “read” through the document correctly. To do this, click the Reading Order button in the accessibility menu available in the right-hand toolbar.
- In the new dialog box, you can see various options for tags, such as the title, multiple levels of headings, and other types of texts and objects. Go through the entire document and select parts of text by dragging over them in the document viewer. Once your text has been selected, click the correct tag in the dialog box. Complete this process for the entire document. Once you are complete, click the close button at the bottom of the Reading Order box and save your document.
Note – Adobe Acrobat is fairly accurate at identifying and tagging text. So, sometimes, only minor errors need to be corrected. If necessary, you can clear all the tags on the current page by right-clicking on the page in the document viewer and clicking Clear Page Structure.
- Next, you’ll need to add alternative text to any images in the document. To start this process, click the Set Alternate Text button in the left-hand accessibility toolbox. Click through each image and write an alternative text description that accurately reflects what a sighted user would see. You should write this in the context of the instruction or lesson being given. For more information on how to write high-quality alternative text for images, visit the alt-text support article.
Note – If an image is decorative or not needed to understand the course content, you may mark it as decorative. Acrobat may also inaccurately mark certain artifacts as images, in which case you should designate them as decorative, as well.
PDF Accessibility and Ally
- After tagging the text and images in your PDF correctly, upload the file into your Canvas Course Files section, which can be accessed via the left-hand course menu.
- Click on the Ally Accessibility score icon on the right side of the file information after uploading your file and ensure you have a green accessibility score. Ally will provide recommendations and assistance if your accessibility score is low. You may also have the option of adding a reference, which should include a link to the resource in an stable, accessible format (i.e., a permalink from the Marriott Library.)
That’s it! You’ve successfully made your PDF file more accessible for students. Making course resources accessible ensures that all students have equitable access to a quality education.