Skip to Main Content
Montana State University - Home Montana State University Library - Home Ask the Library

Library Accessibility & Instruction Guide

A guide that compiles information about accessibility best practices for instruction, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), tutorials & resources, as well as accessibility of MSU library resources.

Accessibility Checklist

Basic Best Practices (for PPT, Word & PDF documents, D2L, and all instructional content)

For online instruction, following basic digital accessibility best practices will help ensure content is more accessible to students, including the following from Universal Design Cheatsheet from MSU Web & Digital Communications:

  1. Image description (alt text) on images = “what would you tell someone if you could not show the image?”
  2. Headings are important! Don’t fake them with bold text
  3. Link text should make sense on its own. click here = FAIL
  4. Color. Do not rely on color alone to establish meaning
  5. Convert documents to webpages. Use HTML pages, not PDFs, DOCX, PPT…
  6. Captions must be used on videos
  7. Transcripts must be used on videos and audio
  8. Color contrast greater than 4.5 to 1. Contrast FAIL.

Watch a 10 min Video Tutorial on Accessibility Best Practices

Additional checklists:

From WebAim:


Formatting Headers using Heading Styles

Why use heading styles?

Headings communicate the organization of the content on the page. Web browsers, plug-ins, and assistive technologies can use them to provide in-page navigation.

How to format a heading style:

Highlight the text you want to use as a heading. Then, in Word, LibGuides, etc. there is a dropdown box to choose between normal text, heading 1, heading 2, etc. (from: Headings by the W3C)

Use Hierarchical structure:

For example:

Heading 1: Title of the Book (use only one H1 per page/document, etc. e.g. there is only one title of the book!)

Heading 2: Chapter tittle, or section title

Heading 3: sub-chapter, or sub-section, if needed

Heading 4: sub-chapter, or sub-section of the heading 3, if needed. 

Heading 2: Chapter tittle, or section title

Heading 2: Chapter tittle, or section title

Best practices:

  • "Use one unique h1 per page that describes what that page is about. That h1 preferably starts just above the main content.
  • Use headings to describe the content below. Do not use an HTML heading just to make the text appear bigger or stand out.
  • Use heading levels like the index of a book: hierarchical.
  • Do not choose a heading by its size, but by its level in the context of the content.
  • Do not skip a heading level from the top down." (from: Accessible Heading Structure by The Ally Project)

Print Accessibility Checklist

"There are no absolute ideals for accessibility that will provide access to all people. However, by following these guidelines, [users] are less likely to be needlessly overlooked." (Gilson & Kitchin, 2007)

  • Use large font (e.g. Poster Title: 72 point, Section Title: 46–56 point, Block Text on posters: 24–36 point)
  • Use non-serif fonts (e.g. Franklin Gothic for MSU communications).
  • Check color contrast between font color with background color (e.g. black text, white background). 
  • Use 1.5–2.0 line spacing.
  • Optimize white space.
  • Do not place text over images.
  • Ensure adequate resolution of graphics (visible from 6 feet when printed).
  • Provide additional copies in the following alternative formats:
    •  large print hardcopy (18 point text).
    • Grayscale version of documents with color or images
    • Online version that follows digital accessibility guidelines

Sources: solopress.comasha.orgGilson & Kitchin, 2007

Accessible Presentations & Meetings

Presenting & Delivering Online Meetings

  • Speak clearly, loudly, and at a moderate rate. ​
  • Use pauses to allow for processing time.​
  • Minimize the use of jargon and acronyms, or clearly explain them in your talk.​
  • Repeat audience questions into a mic, if need be.​
  • Provide clear verbal descriptions of visual content​
    • Including images, charts, and videos. ​
    • Imagine delivering your presentation on the radio.​
  • Provide captioning of films and video clips.​
  • Provide text version of what was/will be said in the presentation ​
    • A separate transcript, or ​
      • In the slide notes
  • Make presentation materials available in advance​
  • In Person​
    • Use a microphone if group is over ~6 people​
    • Refrain from wearing perfume, cologne, or other strongly scented products​
    • Provide a couple printed versions​
  • Online​
    • Allow participants to use chat or speak for questions, comments, etc.​
    • Allow more time for discussion​
    • Offer captions - Live captions are included in PPT 365 and MS Teams, or captions are an available option in all other online meeting platforms

Creating Accessible Slides 

  • Make Text Easy to See​
    • 28–32 point font​
    • sans serif font​
    • avoid all caps​
    • use a high contrast color scheme​
    • Minimize animations to less than 3 per slide; avoid repetitive flashing elements​
    • Use simple slide transitions​
  • Provide Clear Text Alternatives to Non-Textual Content
    • Alt text for images, charts, etc. ​
      • Images in background of slides do not need alt-text​
      • Explain visual content in text on the slide or slides notes ​
    • Describe audio and video in text​
      • Include captions and/or transcripts for the content​
      • Describe in slide notes, on the slide, etc. ​
  • Design Your Content to Be Interpreted by Assistive Technology​
    • Use a templated slide format​
    • Use built-in formatting options for slide layout, bullet points, shapes, etc.​
  • Perform an Accessibility Check​
    • See the tab on this guide for Accessibility Checkers

Additional Resources

Image Accessibility Best Practices

Image Descriptions (Alt-text)

The following is an abbreviated list from the Full Image Description Guidelines from the Diagram Center:

  • Consider context
    • Is it the central point of a lesson? If so, the image is a critical part of the learning concept and should be described as thoroughly as possible.
    • Is it purely decorative? If the image does not teach anything, describe it as a decorative image and avoid sharing irrelevant information.
    • Is it part of an assessment or activity? If so, be sure to describe the specific pieces of information needed to complete the task.
    • Is an action required? When a figure contains additional links or represents an activity (e.g. pencil icon represents a writing exercise, headphone icon represents a listening exercise), highlight the functional role to facilitate navigation.
  • Know your target audience (e.g. age, culture, subject-matter expertise).
    • Use vocabulary and phrases appropriate for the reader.
    • Reference examples and details that the reader will understand (this includes objects and attributes used in the description).
  • Be concise
    • More is NOT better – be succinct.
    • Don’t repeat information presented in the main or adjacent texts. Instead, direct readers to existing descriptions, when available (e.g. captions).
    • Include color only when it is significant 
    • Avoid introducing new concepts or terms.
  • Be objective
    • Describe only what you see – physical appearances and actions rather than emotions and possible intentions.
    • Don’t interpret or analyze the material. Instead, allow readers to form their own opinions.
    • Don’t omit uncomfortable or controversial content, such as images associated with politics, religion, or sex.
  • Use consistent tone and language
    • Use active verbs in the present tense.
    • Check spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
    • Apply the same writing style and terminology as the surrounding text.
    • Write out abbreviations and symbols to ensure proper pronunciation by screen readers.
    • Use descriptive vocabulary that adds meaning (e.g. “map” instead of “image”).
  • Describe charts & graphs
    • Determine if the chart or graph can be sufficiently summarized in a sentence or two. If not, provide the data in a table with row and column headings.

Images with Text

  • When possible avoid placing text in  or over images.
  • For images that do have text:
    • Include the text in the alt-text field, or
    • If the image has more than one or two sentences of text, include a brief alt-text description and then also include the text somewhere else on the webpage with the image (however, this can be repetitive and therefore not the best user experience).
  • Word Clouds
    • While a word cloud itself is usually not accessible because it’s often inserted as an image, an alt-text description listing the words in order of importance can be used as an alternative. 

    • Provide a text alternative that conveys the top, most common words in the word cloud. 

Add Alt-text in Word Documents

  1. Right-click a picture and choose Edit Alt Text
  2. Enter a description of the image in the "Description" field
Title vs Description for alt text in Word

If you see two fields for both a Title and Description when you are adding alt text, use the Description field.

Why? Microsoft's intention: "The screen reader first reads the title. The person can then decide whether to hear a longer description." If there is no title, it will just read the description.

Writing Alt-text for exams

Complex Images & Additional Resources for Alt-Text

These resources are from the Accessibility Handbook for Teaching and Learning by Briana Fraser and Luke McKnight, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. No changes have been made. 

Audio Accessibility Best Practices

Some best practices for audio recordings accessibility are:

  • Provide a written transcript that users can view or download, and post it in the same location with the audio file. The transcript does not have to be verbatim what is said in the video, so if you write out the script in advance that is okay.  
  • Include a detailed description wherever you post the video, which should include the general topic(s) covered or a brief overview of the video. 
  • Audio consistency and high volume are best to strive for when initially recording. 
  • Include the audio length in the title or description,.e.g. Gray wolves howling, Yellowstone National Park (1:24 mins).

Video Accessibility Best Practices

All Videos

  • Include all content in the audio track (audio description). It's best to make sure that all meaningful content shown in the video or presentation is also mentioned in the audio track. This is for users who might be listening to the video without seeing or watching the screen, so if there is text or something meaningful on a slide that doesn't get spoken in the audio, they would miss it. 
    • Or, include an audio description track and follow the guidelines included in the next section. 
  • Add closed captioning to the final video. MSU uses TechSmith (linked below), and YouTube can also generate automatic closed captions, so all you have to do is check for accuracy.
  • Provide a written transcript that users can view or download, and post it on the same page with the video. The transcript does not have to be verbatim what is said in the video, so if you write out the script in advance that is okay.  
  • Include a detailed description wherever you post the video, which should include the general topic(s) covered or a brief overview of the video. 
  • Audio consistency and high volume are best to strive for when initially recording. 
  • Include the video length in the title or description, e.g. Topic Exploration Video (5 mins).

Audio Description Best Practices

W3C outlines good recommendations for audio descriptions (linked below) as follows:

  • "Describe the visual elements that are important to understand what the video is communicating. Imagine that you are describing the video to someone who cannot see it — what do you say? You don’t need to describe every detail or things that are apparent from the audio.
  • Describe objectively, without interpretation, censorship, or comment.
  • Write description in present tense, active voice, and third-person narrative style.
  • Generally, all text in the video should be included in the main audio (integrated description) or in the separate description. For example, title text at the beginning of the video, links and e-mail addresses shown at the end, speakers’ names in text, and text in a presentation. The text does not have to be included verbatim (exactly word-for-word), yet all of the information conveyed by the text needs to be available in the main audio, in the separate description, or clearly with the video."

Software for Captions and Audio Descriptions

MSU provides access to TechSmith (linked below), which can be used to generate closed captions and/or add an audio description track Log in with your NetID to upload videos that you want to add captions or a description track to.

For instructions on how to add captions, and/or an audio description track in TechSmith, see the links provided below. 

Hardware Accessibility Guidelines

The following guidelines are referenced from Oregon State University page on Hardware Accessibility,  and  Section 508 1194.26 

  1. Keys, controls and latches should be easily within reach, identifiable by touch, usable with one hand and easy to manipulate.
  2. Keys and controls should be identifiable by touch without activating them.
  3. If keystroke repeat is supported, the delay between repeat should be adjustable to up to two seconds per keystroke.
  4. The key or control status should be identifiable by touch, sight or sounds.
  5. If touch-screen or touch operated controls are used, they should comply with guidelines 1-4 and allow for the use of alternative input devices.
  6. Alternative forms of user identification should be provided on systems that use biometrics.