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SLU Online Course Accessibility Checklist

The Saint Louis University Distance Education Office offers multiple resources to help ensure that SLU instructors are designing their courses with accessibility in mind.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 guarantee protection from discrimination and equal access to opportunity for people with disabilities. The SLU Online Course Accessibility Checklist (PDF) summarizes criteria for accessibility in online courses at SLU. Below are detailed explanations of each checklist item, examples, and a compilation of existing web resources for further information.

Course Navigation and Design

Navigation refers to the process of planning, controlling and recording a learner's movement from one place to another in the online course. Online course layout and design should facilitate easy and predictable movement through the course and its activities.

Examples of Practices that Facilitate Course Navigation
  • Design elements are used repetitively, increasing predictability and intuitiveness.
  • Links, files, and icons are labeled with easy-to-understand, descriptive, and meaningful names.
  • The course design enables learners to easily locate where they are within the course and to return to the home page from any location.
  • Tables organize data and include descriptive headers.
  • The hierarchy of material in a page or document is clearly indicated through heading styles. A table of contents may be included that allows learners to move easily throughout documents.

Color and Font

Color and font are important to consider as they should maximize usability by facilitating readability.

Examples of Practices for Readable Color and Font
  • Text color is easily distinguishable from the background, with sufficient contrast between the text and background.
  • Font color is not used as a reference point or navigation guide (e.g., "green font indicates required reading, red font indicates optional materials").
  • Colors alone are not used to convey meaning (e.g., "required terms appear in red, while optional terms appear in green").
  • Font style and size are selected to maximize on-screen legibility; simpler fonts are chosen over more ornate fonts, and the number of font families is limited to one or two.
  • White space or negative space is used around content to increase comprehension and reduce eye fatigue that occurs with large blocks of text.
  • Editing and proofreading errors are minimal.
  • Large blocks of text are broken up with graphics, videos, or other non-text-based content.

Documents (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, PDF)

Text-based materials must be designed such that screen-reader applications could access them. Screen readers allow text-based material to be converted into synthesized speech. This video summarizes document accessibility practices (University of Minnesota).

The Pius XII Memorial Library has two scanners that can create text-searchable PDFs on level one in the Academic Tech Commons. The library also provides access to Adobe Acrobat Pro, which can create text-searchable PDFs from existing PDFs. See this Pius Library FAQ page and the information below for more about creating text-searchable PDFs.

Examples of Practices that Ensure Screen-Reader Accessibility
  • PDF files are created in optical character recognition (OCR) format, not merely as image scans; any text contained in PDF files should be selectable and searchable (see the next section).
  • Webpages and documents use heading styles found in the word processing software (e.g., the styles gallery in MS Word).
  • Tables in text-based materials have headings for columns and rows.
  • Images used as instructional resources must include a descriptive text alternative. The text alternative must be detailed enough to allow the learner to visualize the image's content, without actually viewing the image. This may be achieved through a descriptive slide that precedes or follows a slide with an image and/or by adding descriptions to the "alt-text" tag associated with images within text-based programs (like MS Word).
  • Text referring to hyperlinks is labeled as "links."
Making Screen-Reader Accessible PDF Documents using OCR Format

OCR stands for optical character recognition. The process converts images of text (such as scanned photocopies of book pages) into text that is fully machine searchable and readable using a screen reader. Ensuring all PDFs used in your course are OCR compliant will allow all students full access to the material if they need assistive devices such as screen readers. It will also allow fully-sighted students to search the document to find a particular word or part of the text.

Most content found in library databases is already fully searchable and in screen-reader-friendly PDF or HTML format, so linking to the material is sufficient.

The instructions below are for materials you wish to scan and make available to students, or other materials that you have created yourself. If you need assistance creating a permanent link (called a "permalink") to content in a library database, contact your subject librarian or use the library chat service.

Create a Text-Searchable PDF from a MS Word Document

You can create a text-searchable PDF from a document you have created in Word. Use the "Save As" menu option, select "PDF" from the "Save as Type" drop-down box.

Use Adobe Acrobat Pro to Convert a PDF or Image File That is Not Already Text Searchable

If you have a PDF or other digital file that needs to be converted to an OCR document, you can use Adobe Acrobat Pro. There are multiple versions of Adobe Acrobat Pro on campus. There are 21 computers on the first floor of Pius XII Memorial Library with access to Adobe Acrobat Pro. They are labeled ATC-H1 through ATC-H21.

Instructions below were confirmed using Adobe Acrobat Pro Version 2021.005.20048. This is the version available in Pius Library as of July 2021. Note: if you have access on your machine or in your department, the instructions may differ slightly from these. 

  1.  Open the document in Adobe Acrobat Pro
  2. Select Edit PDF from the right-hand panel, or from the Tools menu. Adobe will automatically apply OCR to your document and create a fully editable copy of your PDF document.
  3. Save your OCR-formatted PDF with a new name.

See also these directions from Adobe to Edit Scanned PDFs and add OCR.

Use an OCR Scanner to Scan a Printed Document

The Academic Technology Commons in Pius Library has two book scanners with OCR software that will convert text scans into digital documents that are compatible with screen readers. These machines are on Level One near the AskSLU Desk and are available anytime Pius Library is open. To create a text-searchable PDF from a scan, follow the steps below. Scans can be saved to a USB drive or sent via email.

  1. Place your document to scan in the scanner (we suggest using the overhead scanner on the left as you walk up to the counter).
  2. If you are using a USB drive, plug it into the port on the front of the computer interface to the right of the scanner.
  3. Touch any button on the screen to begin.
  4. Press Scan.
  5. Continue scanning until you have all the pages you want. 
  6. Touch the "more options" button on the "Send PDF file(s) via Email or insert USB drive" button.
  7. On the "more options" interface select "Searchable PDF" (alternatively, you may select “Audio (.mp3)” for an audio file of the content)
  8. Change the name of your file on the right-hand side if you wish.
  9. Select the USB option and push "Save" or select the email option and enter your email.

Your scan will be saved on your USB drive or emailed to you as a searchable PDF. If sending via email, please ensure you have received the PDFs and that they are searchable before leaving the library. You can find assistance at the AskSLU desk adjacent to the scanning area if you have any questions or problems during this process.

Ensure your PDF is Fully Accessible with Adobe Acrobat Pro

  1. From the Tools menu select Action Wizard.
  2. Select Make Accessible from the Actions List.
  3. The actions will run on the currently open document, or you can select multiple documents to run the actions on.
  4. Click Start and follow the prompts to make the document accessible.
  5. If you believe your document is already accessible, or after running the Make Accessible action, select Tools > Accessibility > Full Check/Accessibility Check to ensure your PDF meets all accessibility standards.

See also these directions from Adobe to create and verify PDF accessibility.

Audio and Video

Alternatives to non-text content must be provided to ensure all learners have access to equivalent course information and content. For this checklist item, non-text content refers specifically to audio and video files.

NOTE: The Distance Education Office is in the process of determining how to best address audio-visual accessibility. In the meantime, accommodations will be made on an as-needed basis.

Examples of Audio and Visual Accessibility Practices
  • Videos and animations are captioned or text transcripts are readily available.
  • If audio content corresponds with visual content in a way that conveys meaning, captions provide the equivalent experience through the description.