• IT@UC Knowledge Base

 Accessibility for Syllabi

 Information for providing a class syllabus that is accessible.

      ·        Understanding the Need for Accessible Syllabi
Faculty Senate Accessibility Statement
How to Make your Syllabus Accessible
Image Alt Text
Creating Alternative Formats


Understanding the Need for Accessible Syllabi

The syllabus is a foundational document that articulates the learning objectives, policies and procedures in a course. It is an opportunity for the instructor to identify expectations, set the tone for the class, as well as articulate university policy on accessibility, equity and inclusion and how these policies are relevant to the day to day procedures of the class.


The Center for Teaching and Learning (CET&L) has an accessible Syllabus Template and Faculty Senate Accessibility Statement which include detailed suggestions on the content of the syllabus.


The following are recommendations specifically related to ensuring your syllabus is inclusive and accessible:

       ·      Include the Faculty Senate Accessibility Statement and contact information for the Accessibility Resources
       ·      State the materials, software, and technology needed for the course
      ·      Include information on who to contact for technical assistance
       ·      Describe how you will communicate with students and the anticipated timeliness of your responses


Faculty Senate Accessibility Statement

Accessibility Policy

The University of Cincinnati is committed to providing all students with equal access to learning opportunities. Accessibility Resources is the official campus office that works to arrange for reasonable accommodations for students with an identified physical, psychological or cognitive disability (learning, ADD/ADHD, psychological, visual, hearing, physical, cognitive, medical condition, etc.) Students are encouraged to contact Disabilities Services to arrange for a confidential meeting to discuss services and accommodations. Contact should be initiated as soon as possible to allow adequate time for accommodations to be arranged. 


How to Make your Syllabus Accessible

Below is an example of an abbreviated syllabus that highlights relevant features of an accessible document. Descriptions, as well as best practices, on how and why it is important to incorporate these features into your syllabi are detailed in the rest of this KB article.

    Diagram highlighting key elements a syllabus should include to make it accessible to assistive technology: styled headers in outline form, alternative descriptions for images, bulleted lists, properly formatted tables, descriptive links, and properly formated complex graphics.

       View a larger PDF File of the Accessible Syllabus Example



Heading structure is used on documents to organize information on a page into an outline format. Assistive technology, like screen readers, and some browsers provide a list of these headings so the user can jump to their choice of topics. Headings add structure and meaning to documents by labeling content and indicating their relative importance to each other. When creating a syllabus, keep in mind that a screen reader will assign a hierarchy to content using these headings.



       ·         Do not use headings to decorate or emphasize text. 
       ·         Do not use headings on large blocks of text.
       ·         Always use headings in outline format.
       ·         Always use a main heading first with sub-headings below.
       ·         Heading 1 should only be used ONCE per page; Headings 2-6 can be used multiple times.

             Image of headings choices in Word, located in the "Home" ribbon menu

            View larger image of headers in Word



1.      Highlight the text you want to make into a heading

2.      Go to the Styles menu

3.      Select the Heading Level from the options presented

4.      Apply a Style to text in Word

5.      Use Outline View to manage headings and arrange text

6.      How a screen reader user uses headings to navigate


Image Alt Text

Alt text (alternative text) are words inserted into web page code that are used to describe the nature or content of an image. Alt text is used by screen readers to describe the image to users that are blind or have a visual impairment.


       ·         Always use alt text for all images posted on syllabi.
       ·         Always accurately describe the image for images that support written information
Always use an action word for images that contain a link or require and action
Do not use the filename, “photo”, or “image” to describe an image
      ·         Avoid using text as images; if it must be used, provide the text in the alt text
       ·         Always use a longer description as a companion to graphs and diagrams
       ·         Always describe the image as a whole, even if multiple images are used

              Microsoft Word alt description information, located in the "Format Picture" dialog box 

              View larger image of alt tags in Word



1.      Select the image; right click or double-click on picture

2.      Go to the Format or Format Picture

3.      Select the Alt Text to open up the Alt Text field

4.      Enter image description in the Description field (Not the Title field)

5.      Add alternative text to a picture, shape, chart, SmartArt graphic, or table



A hyperlink or URL, most commonly referred to as a “link”, is a highlighted group of words that can be activated by clicking on them. Individuals using assistive technology, such as a screen reader, have the ability to navigate from link to link. Individuals using only the keyboard or other alternative input devices can also navigate through a website by jumping from link to link. It is important to use descriptive words in the hyperlink (link) text, so users know where the link leads.

       ·         Always use hyperlink (link) text that is descriptive of the content it is linking to.
       ·         Do not use phrases like “read more” or “click here”.

Microsoft Word - Step 1:
Highlight the words you wish to add a link to and select "Add a Hyperlink" from the Insert > Links shortcut bar

Image of Links pop up window in the "Insert" menu bar choices in Microsoft Word


Microsoft Word - Step 2:
Enter the link/URL into the "Address" text box and activate the "OK" button

Image of Insert Hyperlink Dialog box in Microsoft Word


Microsoft Office - Step 3:
The highlighted words will turn blue with an underline, indicating a link has been inserted

Image showing the text in the Word document has been activated as a link through blue text coloring and underlining

View larger image of links in Word 


1.      Highlight the text that describes the destination of the link

2.      Select the Hyperlink from the Insert menu

3.      Enter the URL address into the Address Field if the Hyperlink window

4.      Check OK to save the link

5.      Creating Accessible Documents with Microsoft Word 2010: Links


Not all people can see certain colors and some people can’t distinguish clearly between colors. Assistive devices such as screen readers will not read changes in color, therefore information could be missed by many users. When color is being used to convey information, make sure text is also provided to explain the information.


Use of Color Only:

Map of the United States indicating 24 states containing seniors who the majority took the SAT test and 26 states containing seniors wo the majority took the ACT test. (Indicated by the colors orange and blue)


Use of Color and Pattern:

Map of the United States indicating 24 states containing seniors who the majority took the SAT test and 26 states containing seniors wo the majority took the ACT test. (Indicated by a solid orange and a dotted blue)


       ·         Avoid the use of red and green in graphics.
       ·         Always provide text as an alternative to color information.
       ·         Don't use color alone to convey information



The contrast between text and background colors needs to be high enough to be easily read. WCAG 2.0 requires specific contrast ratios for text and background colors. Contrasts can be checked quickly using the WebAIM Color Contrast Checker available at: http://webaim.org/resources/contrastchecker/



  • UC Red (#E00122) text on white background is acceptable for large fonts, at 14 point (approximately 18.66 px) and above.
  • White text on UCred (#E00122) background is acceptable for large fonts, at 14 point (approximately 18.66 px) and above.
  • UC Red (#E00122) text on black background is never acceptable.
  • Black text on UC red (#E00122) background is never acceptable.


      Image showing a poor background/text color contrast ratio: dark purple with black text

      Image showing a text/background color combination that passes the WCAG 2.0 AAA contrast ratio: medium blue background and black text

View larger image of color contrast ratio examples


Sometimes, a large amount of information is best displayed in a table. In order for this information to be correctly accessed by assistive technology, the content must be formatted correctly. You must assign header columns (a header row), otherwise a screen reader will read the cell data linearly without giving any context for the information.


       ·         Always specify headers at the top of the columns.
       ·         Always include caption information describing what the table is about.
       ·         Do not create tables by hand, like using tabs or styling text into columns.
       ·         Avoid using tables for design or layout purposes


In Microsoft Word, make sure to check the "Header Row" box under the "Table Design" menu bar header when creating tables:

      Image of Microsoft Word Header Row check box selected in the Table Design menu

In Microsoft Word, prove an “Alt Text Description” in the table properties dialog box describing the information contained in the table:

      Image of Microsoft Word Table Properties box with Description text completed for the corresponding table

 View larger image of Tables in Word



1.      Place the cursor in the top row of your data table

2.      Open the Table Tools or Table Tab

3.      In the Table Styles Options, select the Header Row check box

4.      Under Table Tools, select a Layout Tab

5.      Click the Repeat Header Row button.  This will indicate the top row as the table’s header

6.      Use Table Headers


Tip: Make sure to provide a table description in table properties dialog box.


Creating Alternative Formats

The process for converting documents into accessible PDF’s varies depending on the software and hardware used to create the document. Additional steps are needed in Adobe Acrobat to ensure the document is accessible for a student accessing the syllabi using a screen reader.



1.      Select “Save as…” under the file menu in Word

2.      Select “PDF’ or “Web Page” in “File Format” menu

3.      If exporting to PDF, choose “Best for electronic distribution and accessibility”

4.      See Create Accessible PDFs for more information


       ·         Provide the syllabus to students in an electronic document or html form as well as a PDF
      ·         Have printed copies of the syllabus available for students that prefer a paper copy



              ·         For questions about accessibility, please contact the Accessibility Network at accessibility.network@uc.edu 
       ·         For questions about software, learning management system, computers, or technical concerns, please contact the IT@UC Helpdesk at helpdesk@uc.edu,
              513-556-4357 (HELP) or toll free 866-397-3382.


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