Providing Accessible Course Materials

A course website is an effective, convenient, and environmentally friendly way to distribute reading materials to your class. In order to reach the widest possible audience and ensure equal access for everyone involved in your course, it is essential that those materials be accessible to people with disabilities and interact meaningfully with assistive technology. Below you’ll find information on how to provide accessible PDFs, Word and PowerPoint documents, and scanned materials to your class via the course site.


The easiest way to ensure PDF accessibility is to make sure the source file is accessible. For information on Word and PowerPoint documents, please see the next section.

If you are not the creator of the PDF, you can still maximize accessibility of the document by adhering to the following criteria:
  • PDFs should be in text format. If your PDF is in image format, please convert it to text using Optical Character Recognition software such as SensusAccess, Adobe Acrobat Pro, or another OCR software
  • Provide text descriptions/alt text for images, or null (“ “) alt text for decorative image elements
  • Ensure your document is navigable using keyboard-only input
  • Information on using Adobe’s Accessibility checker

Word and PowerPoint documents

Documents created in Word or PowerPoint tend to be primarily textual, and are therefore already taking one step towards being accessible to the widest range of users. There are other elements, however, that require the creator to be proactive about accessibility:
  • Ensure your document has clear structure. Use the style sheets provided to indicate headings and bulleted lists (making text bold does not make it a heading)
  • Provide text descriptions/alt text for images, or null (“ “) alt text for decorative image elements
  • Tables should be inserted using the table tool, rather than drawn by hand
  • Make all links descriptive: rather than saying “click here” or “read more,” for example, say “visit the support page”
  • Caption any video content
  • Use sufficient color contrast
  • Do not use color alone to convey information. Always use a secondary method such as underlining, bold font, or an asterisk
  • Information on making your Word documents accessible
  • Information on making your PowerPoint documents accessible


Providing scanned material in electronic format is a convenient way to distribute otherwise paper-based materials to a class. Some steps, however, need to be taken to ensure your scanned material is accessible to everyone.

Poor quality scans create difficulty for readers of all abilities, but are particularly ineffective for low-vision users and those who use assistive technology such as screen readers or text-to-speech software. When uploading scanned materials to your course sites, please consider the following:
  • Always scan clean copies of text. Underlining, margin notes, folded corners, and misalignment make scans unreadable or difficult for people of all abilities
  • Use a high-resolution scanner. There are scanners available in all of MIT’s libraries for your use
  • If scanning from a book, press the book as flat as possible to avoid dark spots. Scan a single page at a time when possible
  • Align the source material properly on the scanner to avoid crooked pages
  • Perform Optical Character Recognition on scanned documents before uploading them to your course site (image files do not interact with assistive technology such as screen readers and text-to-speech programs). You can use SensusAccess, Adobe Acrobat Pro, or another OCR software

All inquiries are welcome at accessibility [at]