Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

5. Make sure readings and files are accessible

Just as there is no single best way for all students to learn, there is no single best format for course materials. For example:

  • Students who are blind/low vision, or who have dyslexia, ADHD, migraines, concussions, or cognitive disabilities, often rely on screen readers or other text-to-speech technologies to listen to their readings. Physical print is unusable for a student who uses text-to-speech technologies, needs to magnify or zoom in on text, or relies on screen settings or browser plugins to adjust the color contrast of texts.
  • Deaf or Hard of Hearing students, in contrast, need transcripts for any audio files.

In the ideal classroom, each student is able to access course materials in a format that is immediately easy for them to use: these are what we consider accessible resources. 

Are your course documents and files accessible?

Readings, texts, and presentation slides should be available to students as both physical print and as digital text that is formatted correctly for text-to-speech technologies. PDFs frequently pose accessibility challenges for students who rely on text-to-speech. Many faculty members share PDF scans of books and articles with their students, for example, but depending on how those scans were made, these PDFs may be only images of the text (which can’t be used with a screen reader) instead of text that can be read out loud by these technologies.

Word documents and PPT slides may be more accessible than PDFs, but unless the creator of the file is consciously striving for accessibility, there is a good chance that the Word doc or PPT file will have accessibility obstacles that could make it difficult or impossible to use by some members of its audience. You can “Check Accessibility” within the most recent versions of Word and PPT to check and fix accessibility problems as you’re creating files. 

Ways to improve the accessibility of course documents

  • Understand the creation of accessible course documents, outlined in the 30-minute tutorial Creating Accessible Course Documents. This tutorial covers how to choose and distribute more accessible versions of course documents, how to check if your PDFs are screen-readable text, and how to link directly to a library database or website that offers a reading as an online book, ePub, or HTML version. 

  • Share PowerPoint of other slide decks as the original slide decks and not PDFs. For additional PPT guidance, consider following the steps outlined in the online tutorial Making Your Slide Decks Accessible.

  • STEM faculty should use MathType when creating PDFs and PPTs using MathML and LaTeX.

  • Music faculty might consider MuseScore for accessible sheet music for Blind/Low Visio

  • Learn about Ally, an accessibility auditing tool within Canvas (see the next Tip)

  • Contact askpoorvucenter@yale.edu to discuss whether our student accessibility aides may be able to help remediate your PDFs and other course files.