Web accessibility help for eCommons submitters

All newly submitted or updated text and audio/video content (A/V) is required to be accessible. In support of Cornell’s Web Accessibility Policy, we strongly encourage you to consider accessibility in your workflow.

Some general good practices for web accessible documents include:

  • Meeting the current standards prescribed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
  • Specifying the title and language of the document
  • Using proper headings, structure or tags (terminology varies by software), and not using formatting (e.g. font size and color) to convey document organization and structure
  • Including alternate text for embedded images
    • Limit it to 250 characters, or a screen reader may not read it in its entirety
    • All alt-text should end with a "." so a screenreader will pause after reading
    • WebAIM article on alternative text
    • Complex image description guidelines including for scientific images
  • Using text for textual content, not images of text
  • Creating properly formatted lists and tables (e.g. using Word's tools to create lists and tables, rather than using tabs, spaces or tables to position content)
  • Selecting color combinations with sufficient contrast
  • Not using color to convey meaning.

In addition to the information below, you may find helpful information on IT@Cornell's accessibility web pages, which include information on outsourcing PDF remediation (requires Cornell log in).

Microsoft Office documents

If MS Word is where you start creating the documents you intend to upload to eCommons, make sure the end result is accessible by using Word's built-in Check Accessibility tool, available on the Review tab.

For more information on creating accessible Word documents, please see:

For information on creating accessible PowerPoint and Excel documents, we recommend:

The National Center on Disability and Access to Education also provides "cheat sheets" for different versions of MS-Office programs.

PDF documents

Whenever possible, start with the source document (e.g. Word or other program), rather than starting your accessibility work with the PDF. WebAIM provides a very good overview of PDF Accessibility. WebAIM also has specific instructions for preserving accessibility features when converting Word documents to PDF. Many additional resources are available from IT@Cornell. The National Center on Disability and Access to Education also provides "cheat sheets" for different versions of Adobe Acrobat and InDesign.

If you have access to it, use Adobe Acrobat Pro to run a Full Accessibility check on your document, before you upload it to eCommons. Make sure it passes without errors. Some items require human inspection, in addition to using Acrobat's checker.

If you do not have access to Acrobat Pro, a free option for checking accessibility is PAVE - Validate and Fix PDF Accessibility (maximum file size: 5MB).

When you do not have access to the original source document, consider using Equidox, a web browser-based PDF remediation tool licensed for use at Cornell. We regret that the eCommons team cannot provide support for Equidox. If you have trouble accessing the tool, or any other problems with it, please contact the web accessibility group.

Finally, you can outsource remediation to Cornell's preferred vendor for PDF remediation (Onix).

Google docs

See Google's guidance, Make your document or presentation more accessible. Use a browser plug-in such as SiteImprove to check the accessibility of your Google documents.


EPUB accessibility can be checked using a dedicated tool such as ACE, by the Daisy consortium. EPUBs should contain no WCAG (most current version, level A and AA) errors. More information on EPUB accessibility is available from the Daisy consortium (see EPUB accessibility in their Accessibility Publishing Knowledge Base) and from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Audio and video recordings

If you upload audio or video recordings that include spoken language to eCommons, they must be captioned.

If you are not creating captions as part of your production process, eCommons administrators can create machine-generated captions using Cornell's video platform (Kaltura), and embed a player for the captioned recording on the item page. Note that the resulting captions are quite variable in quality, and it may be necessary for you to correct the caption file, which we will provide to you upon request. More help on streaming and captioning is available.

Please notify us of items requiring captioning.

Video content or animations that are exclusively visual (contain no spoken language) must be accompanied by a text description of the critical information depicted. The accompanying descriptive document must itself be web-accessible.

Plain Text files

See the W3C's guidance, Plain Text Techniques for WCAG 2.0 (or most recent version, if available).

Other file formats and software

Most software vendors provide online guidance for their products, including how to create web accessible files.


eCommons supports specialized metadata related to web accessibility, which is available to submitters via the online submission interface, and in batch processes. If you have questions about adding accessibility metadata to your submission(s) or to previously submitted content, please contact the eCommons administrators.

Math (and other STEM) documents

eCommons is following guidance from colleagues at arXiv: From LaTeX source, output a PDF and HTML, using the LaTeXML tool from NIST. Additional resources provided by arXiv include: a technical write up and a best practices guideline for authors