Creating Accessible Classroom Resources

Creating Accessible Classroom Resources 

Below are some tips to help you ensure that you are creating classroom resources that are accessible. Information is shared about accessibility for Microsoft word documents, PDFs, and PowerPoints.  

This information addresses one of the five barriers to accessibility as identified by the Council of Ontario Universities (2018), “information or communications.” Individuals encounter information or communications barriers when “sensory disabilities, such as hearing, seeing or learning disabilities, have not been considered. These barriers relate to both the sending and receiving of information” (Council of Ontario Universities, 2018, section 2). 

Some examples of information or communication barriers identified by the Council of Ontario Universities (2018, section 2) include: 

  • Uncaptioned videos and/or videos without transcription; 
  • Unclear language (in both speech and via documents); 
  • Font and print that is too small and/or difficult to read; 
  • Lectures that are organized in a way that makes them difficult to follow; and  
  • Electronic documents (Microsoft word, PowerPoint, PDFs, etc.) that are formatted in a way that cannot be read by a screen reader. 

Microsoft Word Documents 

An accessible word document is one that can be read and followed by all readers. Accessible word documents can be read by screen readers, have effective alt-text describing images, and include descriptive and functional hyperlinks 

Formatting your documents 

All students benefit from a clearly laid out document that communicates information in a logical manner. When formatting your Microsoft Word document include headings and sub-headings to communicate to your readers the logical flow of information within the document. 

In order to allow for headings, sub-headings, emphasis and quotes to be interpreted by screen readers use the Microsoft “Styles” tool to organize your document. Doing so will allow all readers to navigate the document properly.  

Using images 

When including images in your document make sure to provide document users with meaningful alternative text (alt-text) for the image. Alt-text is used to describe an image, conveying the information that is being provided in the image. Alt-text must be provided for all images within a document including photos, icons, graphs, charts, ClipArt, SmartArt, and textboxes. Using alt-text ensures that no information is lost for user’s utilizing a screen reader or assistive device.  Writing effective alternative text 

In order to aid in making a document accessible for all user alt-text must meaningfully describe the image it refers to. Below are some tips on writing effective alt-text based on the Council of Ontario Universities (2018) Educator’s Accessibility Toolkit. 

Effective alt-text: 

  • Describes and communicates the purpose of the image with high accuracy; 
  • The description of the image is succinct; 
  • Provides a short description of the ways the image is significant to the user’s understanding of the information in the document; 
  • Provides a longer description for complex images and/or diagrams; 
  • Indicates if the image is a photo or a screen shot; 
  • Indicates if the image is purely decorative by providing a two quotation marks separated by a space as the alternative text (i.e. “ “) or check the box “Mark as decorative”; and  
  • Uses punctuation for full sentences. 

Ineffective alt-text: 

  • Repeats in the alt-text an adjacent caption 
  • Does not accurately or meaningfully describe the image; and  
  • Does not use proper grammar and punctuation. 

Adding alternative text  

In order to add alt-text for an image/photo, Smart Art, Icon, or chart in a Microsoft Word document complete the following steps: 

  1. “Right” click on the image (control +click for Mac users) 
  2. Click “Edit Alt Text” 
  3. Input the alternative text for the item 

In order to add alt-text for a table in a Microsoft Word document complete the following steps: 

  1. “Right” click on the chart 
  2. Click “Table Properties” 
  3. Select the “Alt Text” tab 
  4. Input the alt-text title and description for the table 

Including tables and columns 

Avoid using nested tables or split or merged cells within tablesRelatedlyensure that the tab order of the table is logical by using the “tab” button to progress through the table. Screen readers will follow the tab order. 

Always use the Microsoft layout feature to create columns. 

General accessibility “dos” 

  1. Use simple and sans serif font (e.g. Arial, Tahoma, etc.) which is at least 12-point size. 
  2. Using the Microsoft Styles feature create emphasis through bold font 
  3. Use descriptive hyperlinks within the document (versus including long web addresses).. 
  4. Screen readers can not identify text boxes, avoid using them. 
  5. Consistently maintain high contrast within the document (e.g. black text on white background). 
  6. When using colour in the document ensure that it is not the only way to convey information. 
  7. Maintain high contrast within the document when using colour. 


Accessible PDFs are made by first ensuring that the word document used to create the pdf is accessible. When converting a word document to a PDF accessibility is maintained by ensuring that the PDF file is properly tagged with information that will allow assistive devices to navigate the document in the appropriate order and to access all the information within the document.  

When using Microsoft Word you can automatically have this information tagged when converting your document to a PDF by making sure that the “Document structure tags for accessibility” box is checked. In order to do this select the “Options” box when you are saving the document as a PDF, then make sure “Document structure tags for accessibility” is checked. 

PowerPoint Presentations 

Like Word documents and PDFS, accessible PowerPoints can be followed by all readers. Accessible PowerPoints can be easily followed by screen readers and accessed with assistive devices.  Additionally, accessible PowerPoints have effective alt-text for images, charts, graphs, and tables as well as descriptive and functional hyperlinks. Importantly, accessible PowerPoints have captions or transcriptions available for any embedded video or audio.  

General formatting tips 

When designing PowerPoint presentations keeps the following tips in mind: 

  • Maintain high contrast between the slide background and the text; 
  • Maintain high contrast across colours used in the slides; 
  • Ensure that if using colour to communicate content it is not the only way for that content to be communicated; 
  • Use the Microsoft slide layout templates provided; 
  • Include titles on each slide to maintain the logical flow of the slide; 
  • Ensure that your font is large enough to read easily (30-point type is recommended); 
  • Ensure that all websites are hyperlinked and have a descriptive title versus a long web address; 
  • Use simple slide transitions and if using animations, make sure they are brief and do not distract from the slide content; 
  • Leave space between texts and images, an overcrowded slide can be hard to see, difficult to follow and may cause problems for those using assistive devices; 

This list is based on the Council of Ontario Universities (2018) Educator’s Accessibility Toolkit. 

Embedding multimedia in your PowerPoint 

If you are embedding video content on your PowerPoint ensure that the content is captioned. When embedding audio provide transcription of the content to users. See “Multimedia Resources” below for further information.  

When including images make sure to use alt-text to describe all graphics, tables, charts, photos, etc. Following the guidance provided above (in “Microsoft Word Documents” > “Using Images”) create effective alt-text for all images within the PowerPoint. 

Multimedia Resources 

If you plan to use videos in your classroom instruction, make sure that videos are captioned and that captions are turned on while showing the video. If captioning is not available seek a video transcription. When using audio within your classroom make sure that transcriptions are available. Transcriptions should include the following: 

  • The name of the speaker; 
  • All speech content; 
  • Any relevant descriptions of speech; 
  • Descriptions of relevant non-speech audio; and  
  • Headings and subheadings organizing the content. 

Multimedia resources should also include audio descriptions of any visuals present (e.g. charts, graphs) within the resource. 

(Adapted from: Coolidge, Doner, Robertson & Gray, 2018) 

Other considerations 

In making your classroom materials available in multiple formats and by making each format accessible to the greatest number of students you are working towards a fully accessible classroom. Some other areas for consideration include: 

  • Consider audio-recording your lectures and making them available to students via Brightspace or as a podcast; 
  • Allow students to audio-record your lectures for their own study purposes; 
  • Provide students with lecture notes, slides, and other handouts electronically; 
  • Encourage collaborative note-taking from the whole class using institutional tools like Word Online or OneNote;
  • Use discussion boards in Brightspace to emphasize aspects of the lecture as a backchannel and collaborative space for learners.
  • Ensure that all lecture notes, slides, and handouts are accessible; and  
  • Where possible and appropriate allow students access to lecture materials ahead of class.