Course Materials

The George Washington University (GW) is committed to providing accessible course materials to students with disabilities. Accessibility applies to not only websites and software, but also to electronic documents such as those created using Microsoft Word or PowerPoint that students need to use in their classes. Course materials that need to be made accessible include course syllabi, course materials from Microsoft Office, PDFs, textbooks, and video and audio files. Often, accessible course materials will not only benefit students with disabilities but also will help assure that all GW students will be able to access and use them.

Academic Technologies, through the Instructional Technology Lab, and Disability Support Services (DSS) both provide guidance and training about how to make courses accessible. For general support with developing accessible course materials, please contact Academic Technologies or the eDesign Shop for online courses.


Please include this statement as part of your course syllabi:

If you need disability accommodations, please register with DSS at If you have questions about disability accommodations, contact DSS at 202-994-8250 or or visit them in person in Rome Hall, Suite 102.

If you need assistance designing and developing an accessible syllabus, please refer to Equity and Excellence in Higher Education’s tips for applying universal course design strategies to your syllabus.

Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office has several built-in features in both computer-based programs and web apps that you can use to increase the accessibility of your files. Microsoft Word files are often the starting point for other files, such as PDF and HTML.

Having the correct tools to create accessible documents is imperative to improving course accessibility. With MS Word and PowerPoint 2010, Microsoft has made available a new tool called Accessibility Checker that can be used to check documents for any accessibility issues.

A good heading structure is one of the most important accessibility considerations in most Word documents. Headings will allow screen reader users to navigate through the page easily and will make the page more usable for everyone. Using slide layouts provided within PowerPoint will ensure files have correctly structured headings and lists, as well as proper reading order.

Adobe PDF

Scanned documents that become PDFs are not accessible; they are treated like images by a screen reader. PDFs must be made accessible when they are created, through the use of tags. PDF tags provide a hidden, structured and textual representation of the PDF content that is presented to screen readers. The tags exist for accessibility purposes only and have no visible effect on the PDF file.

For example, screen reader users have very limited page access. They will not be able to navigate a page to locate a desired section of content unless the content creator has authored pages following certain markup guidelines and best practices. To convert a Word document to a PDF that is accessible, the Word document must be properly formatted before conversion or the PDF will likely not be accessible.

If possible, start with an accessible source document (e.g. in Microsoft Word) and export to an accessible PDF. However, if the original source document is not available, accessibility features can be added to the PDF using Adobe Acrobat Pro.


DSS recommends working with textbook publishers that offer alternative formats for students to choose from, such as an electronic format. DSS provides reading or alternative text for students with vision or other disabilities.

As a member of the AccessText Network, which partners with publishers, DSS can request E-text files for a wide range of printed material. If an electronic version of a text is not available, DSS can scan a hardcopy of the book.


Videos and live audio must have captions and transcripts. With archived audio, a transcription may be sufficient. For most web videos, both captions and a text transcript should be provided. For content that is audio only, a transcript will usually suffice.

Transcripts provide a textual version of the content that can be accessed by anyone. They also allow the content of your multimedia to be searchable, both by search engines and end users. Screen reader users may also prefer the transcripts over listening to the audio of the web multimedia.

Most proficient screen reader users set their assistive technology to read at a rate much faster than most humans speak. This allows the screen reader user to access the transcript of the video and get the same content in less time than listening to the actual audio content.

For captioning support in the classroom, contact Academic Technologies or DSS. For captioning online courses, contact the eDesign Shop or DSS.