This article is aimed at instructors of students who have alternate format accommodations due to a print-related disability. Students who receive “alternate format” accommodations require academic materials in particular formats in order to fully access the content; those formats can include large print, Braille, and digital content, among others. The guidance in this article is centered around understanding accessible digital content, since it is the basic building block for nearly all alternate formats.

When a student is registered with Disability Services and has an alternate format accommodation, the student, faculty member, and the Alternate Format Production and Access Center (AFPAC) work collaboratively to ensure that the student has access to materials in the necessary format(s). This process starts when a student sends a faculty member a letter confirming the specific accommodations that they will need for the course.

However, even before you receive the accommodation letter from your student, there are some steps you can take to review your digital content to ensure it is as accessible as possible. The more accessible your materials are to begin with, the less time it will take Disability Services to convert them into any additional accessible format that may be needed during the semester. This saves time for everyone involved and minimizes the impact of any complications and delays during the semester, which can place an additional and unfair burden on the student receiving the accommodation.

In addition to expediting the accommodation process, reviewing your content for accessibility is generally a good practice for the following reasons:

  • Accessible digital content benefits all of your students because it optimizes readability and usability. 

  • Some students who need accessible digital content may not be registered with Disability Services. 

Preparing for the Semester: Creating and Selecting Accessible Digital Content 

Before the semester starts, we recommend reviewing the digital content that students will be using during the semester.

The following recommendations are intended to address the most basic accessibility issues; they will not ensure perfect accessibility for all students. To be “fully” accessible, digital content needs to include appropriate headings, image description, and other features. The recommendations are, however, a good starting place for making your content accessible. The unifying idea of the recommendations below is to ensure that you have clean, digital versions available for all of your course materials.

  1. Assigned books: If possible, select books and textbooks that have electronic versions available. In accordance with the campus Course Materials Submission Policy, please list your textbooks in the CU Bookstore as soon as possible to give students and Disability Services enough time to review the materials and create alternate formats if needed.

  2. PowerPoints: Consider giving all students in your course direct access to your PowerPoints during lectures. Some students find it helpful to take notes within PowerPoint, and giving all students access to your PowerPoint means you do not need to send the file separately to each student who needs it as an accommodation.

    There are steps you can take to make your PowerPoints accessible to all students, including students who use assistive technology such as screen readers or text-to-speech software. For detailed guidance, see Understanding PowerPoint Accessibility or contact the Digital Accessibility Office (DigitalAccessibility@colorado.edu) to schedule a training. To begin with, we recommend:

    1. Use fonts that are large and have good color contrast with the background.

    2. Use unique titles for each slide.

    3. When creating new PowerPoints, avoid adding text boxes; use the built-in layout placeholders instead.

  3. Readings that are PDFs: Please read through our guidance on Choosing Accessible PDFs for Your Course.

  4. Handouts and other paper materials: Ensure that you have a digital version available for all materials you plan to hand out in class. Ensure that students will have access to the digital version at the same time that other students can access the paper version.

Starting the Semester

In addition to reviewing your content, there are a few steps you can take during the semester to ensure that your students receive any alternate format accommodations in a timely manner.

  1. Make all your course materials available to students at the start of the semester, and let students know where and how to access them on the first day of class. This helps students evaluate the content earlier in the semester, so they have more time to provide it to Disability Services for conversion if it is not accessible. Doing so increases the likelihood that students will have all the content in an accessible format at the point in the semester when they need it. 

  2. Avoid adding new materials during the semester. If you need to add new materials to your course throughout the semester, ensure that you give them to students at least 2 weeks before they need to use them, in case the student needs to work with Disability Services to have them adapted into an accessible format. This includes in-class paper handouts; ensure that students have access to an accessible digital version of any handouts by the time that other students receive the paper copy.

Further Support

The recommendations above are a good place to start; they are best practices for all courses, and are especially important for courses where students need materials in an accessible digital format. You can receive additional support or consultation about accessibility from the resources below:

  • Please contact Disability Services at dsinfo@colorado.edu with any questions about the process for alternate format accommodations. The Alternate Format Production and Access Center can be reached at dsafpac@colorado.edu.

  • Please contact the Digital Accessibility Office at DigitalAccessibility@colorado.edu with any questions about assessing your content for accessibility or creating accessible content. The Digital Accessibility Office can also work with you to improve the overall accessibility of your course. 

  • For more detailed guidance on creating accessible content, please consult the Accessible Technology Resources page for guides on understanding Word, PowerPoint, and PDF document accessibility.