• The following guidelines apply to all types of documents: Word, PDF, Powerpoint, email messages, course readings, syllabi, assignments, etc!
  • Our goal is to make documents accessible to users of assistive technology, but following these guidelines will make your documents more user-friendly for all.

Accessible Document Checklist

Document is Digital, Legible, and Available

  • A physical piece of paper presents a barrier to people with print or vision disabilities.
  • Tip: See if you can locate the original electronic file, or scan in the paper copy.
  • Scans should be made from clean documents or books, free of notes or scribbles.
  • Share materials with the people who need them as far ahead of time as you can.

Text is Searchable/Selectable

  • Can you select the text with your mouse, or copy and paste it? If not, it’s saved as an image, which is not accessible.
  • Several tools are available to recognize text in an image-only PDF:

Headings and Document Structure 

Colors and Visibility

Images have Descriptions, aka "Alt Text" or "Alt Tags"

Provide Descriptions or Alternatives for Visual Graphs or Charts

  • For simpler graphs or charts, a description that includes the relevant information or main “take away” from the chart is sufficient. 
  • For more complex data, add a properly formatted data table as a replacement or supplement.

Links are Descriptive and Helpful

  • Screen-reader users often use a keyboard shortcut to list all the links on a page. In such a list, the links have no surrounding text.
  • Make your link names descriptive.
  • Instead of “Click here to see our President’s Welcome,” say “See our President’s Welcome.”
  • Descriptive link names also make pages more scannable for sighted users.

Run an Accessibility Checker

Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat both contain “Accessibility Checker" tools which scan your document for potential issues. These tools will catch some (but not all!) accessibility issues and offer tips on how to fix them.


How to Export from Word to PDF

If you properly export a word document to PDF, it will retain your headings, alt-text, links, lists, etc. 

  • If you have Acrobat Pro installed on your computer, use the Acrobat tab in Word to create a PDF.  
  • If you don't have Acrobat Pro, choose Save as (Mac) or Export (PC) and select PDF.
  • Don’t Print to PDF, as this will not retain your structure, links, etc. 

Need Help?

IT Accessibility-related questions and requests can be entered into the AskIT ticketing system, selecting the category “Accessibility”, or email askit@amherst.edu.


Additional Resources

Microsoft Office Accessibility Center: contains a wealth of resources on creating accessible documents in various formats, as well as accessible templates. 

University of Washington's Creating Accessible Documents

Accessible Documents (Word, Powerpoint, Excel, etc) Cheat Sheets (Courtesy NCDAE)

CAST Center - Universal Design for Learning: Text

edX's Accessibility Best Practices for Developing Course Content.