What's an Accessible Format

Almost anything can be made into an accessible format with the right amount of time and training, but time is a finite resource. What can you do quickly (and in small ways) to make your materials more accessible? The resources below will get you started, plus extra resources are linked in specific sections so that you can learn more.

In general, you can think of an accessibility hierarchy: HTML and other website languages are at the top because they are the easiest to make accessible; Word and Google Docs are in the middle; and the hardest to make accessible is PDFs. There are also techniques for making images, mathematics, audio, and other formats more accessible. These are just a few resources to get you started.

Visit the University of Washington's Accessibility Checklist for a more detailed list of accessibility needs. Cornell also has their own resource page on Accessible Event Planning

Making Written Words Accessible

These tips can help to make text more accessible to screen readers, magnifiers, people with most types of dyslexia, most types of color blindness, and to make it easier for an external brailler or refreshable braille device.

HTML or other webpages

  • Organize the page using Headings. <h1> should only be used once, for the title. <h2> through <h6> are used to make smaller or less-important headings.
  • Include ALT tags for images.
    • For images that are purely decorative and conveys no useful information, use the presentation role (<img src="image.jpg" role="presentation" alt="my image" />) to tell screenreaders to ignore the image completely. You can also use a null alt tag (<img src="image.jpg alt="" />), which will do the same.  
    • For graphs and images that convey extra or complex information, include a descriptive caption to ensure all users have access to the same information.
    • If you describe or otherwise refer to a specific image in your text, make sure the ALT tag uses the same wording. (ex. "As you can see in the first diagram, more people like cats than like roaches." <img src="image.png" alt="first diagram">)
    • HTML5 Guide to useful text alternatives.
  • Use sans serif fonts (Verdana, Calibri, etc.) or other simple fonts.
  • Use descriptive links, such as "Pre-register using this website" (do NOT use CLICK HERE for every link)
  • Keep your formatting as uniform as possible. Don't use rainbow letters or shift the font every paragraph.
  • Don't use colors or patterns for the background of the text, as it may interfere with the browser's ability to override the page's settings.
  • Use the <ul> (unordered list aka bullet points) or <ol> (numerical list) to create lists, rather than inserting your own icons and tabs, or use the built in option on your HTML editor.
  • You can also run your website through the WAVE analyzer.

Google Docs and Microsoft Word documents

To make word processing documents accessible, follow the above tips, plus:

  • Use the Headings options under the Styles button (or Ctrl+Alt+1 for Heading 1, Ctrl+Alt+2 for Heading 2, etc.)
  • Don't lock the file or prevent the end user from editing it.
  • If you are printing the handout, also have it available widely as an electronic file (on Canvas, or emailed to students).
  • When sharing a Google Doc that is set to View only, go into Tools > Accessibility Settings and click the boxes to "Turn on Screen Reader Support" and "Turn on Screen Magnifier Support."


If you are creating materials for a website, it is best to keep to html or plaintext pages rather than have important information in PDFs. To make PDFs accessible, follow the above tips, plus:

  • Make sure the document is OCR'd
    • Adobe Acrobat Pro allows for basic OCR on scanned documents. This program is available on all public access PCs in the Libraries, but you will need a free-to-create Adobe ID (it doesn't have to be connected to your Cornell account). 
    • If you only a low quality image scan, use ABBYY FineReader or other higher-quality OCR app. ABBYY FineReader is available in the Digital CoLab in Olin Library 701. Adobe Acrobat Pro does not work well with low quality images.
  • Make sure the document is tagged for images, reading order, etc.
    • If you are going from a Word document or PowerPoint slideshow, you can simply used "Save as PDF" to create an OCR & tagged document. (Some versions of these programs may not correctly tag the entire document, and will require editing.)
    • If you already have a PDF that needs to be tagged, you can use Adobe Acrobat Pro's Accessibility Tools to create a tagged PDF, or you can use the online PAVE site.
  • Avoid creating PDFs that are scanned images only, as these are completely inaccessible to a screen reader. If you can't copy-paste from the PDF, then it's totally useless. 

Making Math and Science Accessible

Making Images and Maps Accessible

See also our Tactile Learning Materials page. 


Making Video Accessible

Making Audio Accessible

Making Social Media Accessible

Making Data Accessible

Making Presentations Accessible