MSU Denver

Why Make Documents Accessible?

Documents remain one of the primary methods for communicating information. Unfortunately, many text resources can be inaccessible.

Physical documents, like the 10,906 printed resources provided by the Auraria Library, are inherently inaccessible for people who are blind or have limited vision. Additionally, scans of printed material can be equally, if not more, inaccessible than their physical counterparts. With over one-hundred million digital resources provided by the Auraria Library, it is essential to assess and remediate documents for accessibility before distribution.

The resources on this page provide an overview of document accessibility and guidance on how to use Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat Pro to create more accessible documents.

Adobe Acrobat Pro should be only used to remediate existing PDFs. While it is possible to create documents in Adobe Acrobat Pro, Microsoft Word should be the go-to application for MSU Denver employees seeking to create accessible Digital Documents. Not only can Word documents be distributed as accessible resources, they can also be saved as numerous file types while still being able to edit the original document.

For opportunities to learn more about creating accessible content, consider attending a Proactive Accessibility Certification workshop.


For additional assistance, contact the Instructional Accessibility Group

Email the Instructional Accessibility Group

What Doesn't Work to Make Accessible Documents

The following list consists of the most common issues that make documents inaccessible and quick steps on how to avoid them:

  • Using color or underline as the only means of conveying meaning or importance; visual indicators are inaccessible to many readers
    • Instead: use programmatically determinable styles to support visual indicators.
    • Note: in Microsoft Word, bold and italics are visual modifiers that cannot be detected by screen readers
  • Inserting equations or formulas in a PDF document; equations and formulas in PDFs cannot be rendered to an accessible format.
    • Instead: present the equations in Microsoft Word or Canvas
  • Creating negative space with repeated blank characters; screen readers will read every blank character created with the space, tab, or enter keys.
    • Instead: use built in tools (i.e. page and section breaks, margins, etc.) to create negative space that screen readers will skip
  • Inserting pictures of charts or tables; charts and tables that are inserted as images provide almost no information to screen readers.
    • Instead: use the Insert Tool to insert charts and tables.
    • Documents created outside of the institution may have images of charts and tables.
      • Tables can be recreated or retagged to be programmatically determinable
      • Charts need to be recreated or presented with alternative text and long description (reference Make Images Accessible)
  • Using idioms, colloquialisms, or jargon outside of topic specific terminology; language that is unclear, vague, or irrelevant can create a barrier for many readers.
    • Instead: use clear and precise language appropriate for the anticipated knowledge level of the reader.
    • Idioms and colloquialisms for stylistic purposes should be defined for clarity.
  • Using Microsoft SmartArt; SmartArt is inaccessible as it cannot be detected by screen readers.
    • Instead: text based lists are a good alternative for any flowchart process
  • Inserting images and other visuals with text wrapping; using any of the text wrapping options makes it more difficult to navigate the text for many readers.
    • Instead: insert all visuals “In line with text”
  • Displaying links as full URLs, ambiguous words, or repetitive phrases; using language such as “click here” makes links difficult to identify for all readers, and full URLs are difficult to for almost everyone to read.
    • Instead: use short phrases that indicate the purpose or destination of the link
    • Exception: Physical documents need full URLs; the purpose of the URL should be indicated within the context, and some URLs may need to be shortened for full accessibility.

Dig Deeper with these Additional Resources (external links)