General Alternative Text Guidelines

Students who have an accommodation for alternative text are eligible to receive copies of their textbooks in an accessible format, such as PDF, MS Word, DAISY, or Braille. This often does not impact faculty in any way, except for three corollaries:

  1. Textbooks or other required readings that are available or exist solely online;
  2. Class materials such as handouts, slide presentations, and other media (videos, recordings, etc.).
  3. Tests/exams

Faculty should always endeavor to insure that all materials used for the class are accessible. That can mean anything from properly scanning a paper into a text-recognized PDF to captioning videos used in class.

Online Readings

  1. If the primary text for the course is online or has elements that are online (such as interactive tutorials or videos), it is incumbent on faculty to first make sure that the material is universally accessible, including through the use of screen readers, captions for videos, transcripts of audio recordings, etc. If you are uncertain how to check, please contact the OAS at
  2. Journal articles: Many full–text journal articles available via library databases are either showing in proprietary format, or as embedded PDFs. They are not always equally accessible, and it might be necessary for the article to be available in another format (for example, printed or downloaded as a PDF). Please check before assigning the reading.

Class Materials

  1. Printed handouts: Try to make printed handouts available in alternative formats (.docx or PDF) prior to class by posting them on Canvas. If you do not wish to have them available before class, post them right before class so that students who have accommodations can download accessible versions during class to their laptops or tablets, in order to have the information available at the same time as the class. Sending copies after class does not meet “equal access” guidelines.
  2. Slide Presentations: Slide presentations created in PowerPoint or OpenOffice can be very difficult for students to access. A fully accessible version contains only necessary images, and all images have “alt–tag” descriptions that can be read by screen readers. Words do not “fade in” to overlap, and any embedded media (videos, music) is also accessible. Often, students will convert a PowerPoint presentation into a PDF in order to use it with a screen reader; if the file cannot be converted and still be fully informative, it is not accessible. Note: Prezi presentations/files are not considered accessible and use of the service is not recommended.
  3. Video: Any video screened in class must be captioned. A transcription is not considered equitable. There are many ways to caption videos, including free services (such as YouTube’s), but in general it is very expensive to hire captionists to caption a video, even a short one. It is better to source material that has already been professionally captioned. The OAS can assist your department in finding and hiring a company to caption your videos, but we offer not do the service in–house.
  4. Audio: Audio files must be transcribed, unless they are music. Again, the OAS can assist your department in finding and hiring a company to do transcription, but we do not offer the service in–house.

Basics on making class materials accessible

Visit the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services for their  “Compliance Checklists”:

Word Documents

There are a lot of aspects that can contribute to whether a document is accessible or not, but in general it is easy to do and does not take much time. Here is a short list of things to be aware of:

  • Navigation:
    • Use “heading styles” in long documents (creates imbedded navigation/structure that can be used with screen/text readers)
    • Use short titles in headings
    • Ensure all heading styles are in the correct order
  • Use hyperlink text that is meaningful (in addition to the URL, give the link a title or description)
  • Avoid using repeated blank characters (spaces, tabs, “enter” key) as formatting tools
  • Do not use color alone to convey information, or as a navigation aid.
  • Images:
    • Add alternative text to images and objects (this can be read by screen readers)
    • Avoid using floating objects (place “in line” with text)
    • Avoid image watermarks
    • Only add images that are necessary, not decorative
  • Tables:
    • Use simple table structure
    • Specify column header rows in tables (allows for context and easy navigation)
    • Avoid using blank cells for formatting tables
    • Structure layout tables for easy navigation
  • Embedded media:
    • Include closed captions for any audio
    • Include descriptions/transcriptions of any video

Once your document is complete and has been saved in the “.docx” format, use the built–in accessibility checker in Word to verify that the document is accessible. It is found by going to File > Info > Inspect Document > Check for Issues (MS Word 365/2016) or File > Info > Prepare for Sharing > Check Accessibility (MS Word 2010/2013). This will give you a complete list of items that are not accessible or problematic.


Microsoft Support page for making Word documents accessible:

PDF Files

PDF files are by their nature more difficult to make 100% accessible than other file formats. PDF files were originally intended to simply be “portable” versions of a document, much like making a photocopy of a piece of paper. Unlike Word or other word processing programs, PDF files were never meant to be very interactive and so were simply inaccessible for many years. Adobe has, over time, addressed a lot of these issues and a PDF can be made accessible fairly easily, as long as you know what to look for.

For the purposes of this explanation, it is assumed that the user will be making changes in a PDF file using Adobe Acrobat Pro, and already has some familiarity with the program:

  • IF SCANNED: send directly to PDF if possible, and make sure the resulting scan is clean and level
  • Apply “Text Recognition” so text is rendered as readable (under ‘Tools > Text Recognition’).
  • Add alt–tag descriptions to all images
  • Check reading order (are paragraphs in correct order?). (under ‘Tools > Accessibility’)
  • Create internal navigation markers using “bookmark” tool
  • Verify that file metadata is present and correct


Adobe support page for making PDF files accessible:


Pictures and images include not just photographs but any image that conveys information visually, such as two–dimensional art (drawings, paintings), graphs, charts, maps, and memes. Depending on the file format and the type of document it is used in (Word, PowerPoint, or as an independent image) it is fairly easy to add an “alt–tag” to any image, which is a short description (125 words or less) of what is being shown.

Alternatively, the description can be included in the document as a caption.

A good goal for describing an image is to think about what information you would convey if you were describing it over the phone. Sometimes, it’s not necessary to include every bit of information (such as a stock photo image of business people) and sometimes it is (charts of demographic information). Decide what information is being conveyed by the image versus what is necessary for the student to know. For instance, in a pie chart, it is far more important for the student to know the percentages involved than that it is a picture of big circle.

Information to include in the description of an image:

  • Type (art, graph, map, photograph, etc.)
  • Subject (people, mathematical equation, country/geographical location, etc.)
  • Description (necessary data the student needs to know)

If it is impossible to adequately describe an image, the OAS is able to make tactile images for students who are blind. These are often fairly simplistic due to the limitations of the technology involved, but can surmount many difficulties. If you feel that a tactile image may be best for your student, please contact the OAS at oas@fsu.eduwith your request.


Audio and video files are, by their nature, inaccessible to people with hearing loss. Best practices is that all such files be captioned and transcribed. Both processes are also time intensive and expensive to outsource, and neither is a service offered by the OAS. Your department is responsible for the costs associated with captioning and transcribing. For this reason, it is recommended that files used in the classroom be vetted prior to use for accessibility, and that any which are not accessible be replaced.


All tests, quizzes, and exams need to be fully accessible. That includes being available in an alternative format (if online then available in a printed version; if a printed test, then available in digital format).

  1. All images need to be described or, if a description would give away the answer, converted into a tactile image. (The OAS is able to do most conversions if necessary, but it is critical for the test/exam to be delivered to the alt–text team at least 48 hours before testing in order to properly convert the materials.)
  2. Non–music audio portions of tests either need to be transcribed or taken separately with the instructor (such as language verbal portions).
  3. Video must be captioned.
  4. Be aware of answers that need to be handwritten or require fine motor control, as some students have mobility impairments that prevent them from writing/drawing accurately or at all. There are several ways to address this type of situation, so please contact the OAS testing center at so we can help you find the right solution.

Formatting tests: The majority of tests administered at Florida State are either online or printed out. The originals often start as Word documents. If you are creating a test in Microsoft Word or any other word processing software, please follow these basic rules:

  1. Single column only!
  2. Full test, date, class (including section), instructor and form at the start of the test.
  3. Be consistent with formatting tools such as numbered lists, that is, make sure all the questions are in a cohesive format (lists don’t stop and restart, for instance).
  4. No extraneous formatting or decorations (page frames, clip art, etc.)
  5. No section breaks. Page breaks are acceptable but section breaks can cause problems with screen readers and other technology.
  6. Try to avoid word-matching style question sections if possible. They are very difficult for blind students to navigate, as well as students with cognitive/spatial impairments.

Students using readers/scribes for tests are often at a disadvantage when the reader/scribe is unfamiliar with the subject. In these situations, try to arrange TA/GA from your department to act as the reader/scribe, if at all possible. This is easily arranged by contacting the Testing Center Supervisor at