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Digital accessibility student guide

Explore how to create, design and structure your content to ensure that is is accessible to everyone.

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PDF is a popular file format that allows documents to be represented as intended in any environment. However, many PDFs are not designed to be accessible, and so while they may be easy to open and share, they can present significant challenges for accessibility for users to engage with once opened.

Best accessibility practice recommends against creating PDFs when possible. Instead, when possible, we recommend: 

  • Creating, uploading or submitted files in editable formats, like Word, Excel, or PowerPoint,
  • Remediating existing PDFs to improve accessibility if PDFs are needed. 

PDF decision tree

If you need help deciding how to improve your PDFs files' accessibility, the below decision tree is designed to assist you decide your approach.

PDF decision tree

Description for PDF decision tree:

  1. Are you dealing with an existing PDF file?
    1. Yes (go to step 2)
    2. No (go to step 4)
  2. Do you have the source file?
    1. Yes (go to step 3)
    2. No (go to step 5)
  3. Remediate the source file and publish in original file format (addendum in step 10)
  4. Use authoring software to create and publish your document
  5. Do you have access to authoring software?
    1. Yes (go to step 6)
    2. No (go to step 7)
  6. Recreate content in authoring software and publish your document (addendum in step 10)
  7. Do you have access to Adobe Acrobat DC
    1. Yes (go to step 8)
    2. No (go to step 9)
  8. Run accessibility checker and remediate destination file (not recommended)
  9. Use external remediation service (recommended)
  10. If you must publish a PDF, export accessible source file to PDF

If you are considering using an external remediation service for your PDF files, please get in touch with Library Services who can offer more advice and support.

Creating accessible PDFs

The simplest way to improve the accessibility of any PDFs you create is to create your document in another application, such as creating documents in a word processing (e.g. Microsoft Word) or desktop publishing (e.g. Adobe CC InDesign) software with accessibility built in. If needed, these files can then be exported as PDFs, but the ability to build-in accessibility into the native documents will make the exported PDFs more useable. This approach is the most reliable way of achieving optimal accessibility in your PDF documents. If it is necessary to create PDF documents from scratch, there are ways users can ensure they are accessible. Note that this is not recommended – instead aim to create source files in word processing or digital publishing and share with students and others through that format.

If PDFs must be created:

Improving accessibility of existing PDFs

If you have existing PDFs, you can check for accessibility issues and remediate content as required to bring the documents up to standard. This is likely to be the case with PDFs created prior to the introduction of native accessibility checkers in software, or PDFs created by a third-party where the source files are now in the user’s ownership or control. 

Adobe offers a detailed workflow you can use to examine and repair your PDF documents. 

Digital course readings service

The digital course readings service is offered by City's Library Services. The service provides scanned extracts of books and journals not available online that are made available as a password protected document on Reading Lists Online. Students are able to read them online and download them for future reference.

This is permitted under the terms and conditions of the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) Higher Education Licence and Library Services' Reading List Policy.

To request digital course readings contact your Subject Librarian. More details about the service are available on the Library Services website


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