PDF Accessibility: Considerations and Best Practices for Learning Objects and Other Library Materials

Poster Description: Though PDF materials are widely used, they require an awareness of accessibility best practices, technical acumen, and time to properly accessibility tag. This poster shares the approaches developed and applied by an experienced instructional design team that have created and remediated hundreds of PDF resources for accessibility compliance.

Poster: View the poster via link.

Presenter Names: Stefaniada Voichita, Kari D. Weaver, Mike Chee, Janna Kholodova, University of Waterloo

Presenter Bios: Stefaniada Voichita is the Library Associate, Instructional Design at the University of Waterloo Library where she oversees the day to day design and development of accessible online learning objects and maintains the open learning materials collection in the Library’s Online Learning Object Repository. Email: svoichit@uwaterloo.ca

Janna Kholodova is an Instructional Graphic Design Co-op Student on the University of Waterloo Library’s Instructional Design Team and a student in the School of Architecture. In the library, she envisions and develops custom graphics, designs infographics, and provides accessibility tagging support for PDFs. Email: jkholodova@uwaterloo.ca

Dr. Kari D. Weaver is the Learning, Teaching, and Instructional Design Librarian at the University of Waterloo Library where she leads the work of the Instructional Design Team, develops library teaching culture, and enhances strategic partnerships related to teaching and learning. Email: kdweaver@uwaterloo.ca

Mike Chee is currently the Open Education Librarian at the University of Waterloo Library where he supports stakeholders across campus in finding, assessing, adapting, creating, and licensing in addition to studying faculty perceptions and barriers to OER use. Mike is particularly knowledgeable about accessibility standards for online learning. Email: mchee@uwaterloo.ca

11 replies on “PDF Accessibility: Considerations and Best Practices for Learning Objects and Other Library Materials”

This has pointed out the importance of tagging citation punctuation and screenshots of databases in ways I have not considered. I’ll have to think about how much is achievable in a small library without dedicated staff, but really useful to draw attention to this!

Thank you, Abby. Indeed tagging is essential from an accessibility standpoint. I believe that even in small libraries is achievable through tiny steps. Our unit is small too, and we are all involved in tagging, ready to step in whenever needed now. Our co-op students could perform tagging in a week after starting with us and master tagging by the end of their term (three months top). We also record our learnings in a shareable document that everyone in the unit can access when needed. I hope this provides encouragement to regard this task attainable regardless of the size of the library.

Kind regards,

This is something I’m thinking about right now, so your poster is helping me consider how this could happen in my small library. I’m similarly wondering, like Abby, about what workflows can be put that are sustainable in a smaller library. But, your poster is so helpful in considering these different aspects of tagging a PDF!

Hi Christina and Abby – even though we are at a large library/institution, we do this work with a very small team. I spent the majority of my career working in smaller academic libraries with more limited staff, and I would say the workflows are essentially the same. The couple of big differences would be to look at how you could provide training and technology to everyone who creates materials as opposed to having individuals specialize. (After all, in a small library, everyone does everything!) That would also make it possible to have a colleague audit your work. You can also provide training to students covering desks and have them go through and audit – that’s actually part of why we developed our asynchronous training. I know working in smaller libraries, we were often looking for opportunities to have things for students to do while working at Circulation, for example, other than homework. The biggest issue is just allowing enough time for everything to happen in the workflow you establish.

Final thought – We think we do a pretty good job with this work, but we’re always learning too. Anything you do to improve PDF accessibility will make the experience better for your learners, so don’t be afraid to try it out and see where it takes you!

Such timely information as I have to tag a long document created in Canva over the next couple of days. And your OER training modules are so helpful. Would you happen to have a printable version of your poster so I might keep it as a reference sheet? I’m assuming you find the NVDA screen reader best for your needs as this is the one noted in your checklist? Finally, do you have a site recommendation for how to write ‘good’ alt text? It really is an art! Thank you!

Hi Joy – A downloadable version of the poster is available through our institutional repository: https://uwspace.uwaterloo.ca/handle/10012/18126
It should be printable, but may not be the prettiest!

We do indeed find NVDA best for our needs, especially because it is freely available both to us and our users.

Writing “good” alt text is definitely an art! We have some guidance in the “Alt text for images” section of our Microsoft Word Accessibility Training module (https://lib.uwaterloo.ca/online_learning/microsoft-word-accessibility-training) which might be helpful. In addition, I often refer to the Alt-text guidance from WebAIM (https://webaim.org/techniques/alttext/).

Good luck with your tagging!

This is a very informative poster! I appreciate that you mentioned UDL. I assume the tagging can only occur in a paid version of Adobe Acrobat, is this correct? If tagging can be done in the free version, can you please share where tags can be found/edited?

Hi Bree – Unfortunately you need to have a paid version of Adobe Acrobat Pro. That said, accessibility is a requirement and a reflection of our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, not a choice. We used that fact to help advocate for us to have the software we needed to make this happen.

This is great, thank you so much! I also really liked your Online Learning Object Repository. How was that developed and do you have any metrics about its use?

Hi Tessa – thank you. We love it, too! It was developed at my insistence in collaboration with our Digital Repositories Librarian and Digital Initiatives Department. We needed a hosting solution for a wide variety of instructional formats that allowed them to be open/openly licensed, respected the intellectual property of our wide variety of contributors, provided control over the content to be included to ensure accessibility compliance/remediation and version control, and, based on a variety of user testing, where we could present a strong institutional brand. (Our faculty, staff, and students have an extremely strong preference for explicitly University of Waterloo materials.) We had been working on it and planning it for nearly two years when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and had originally expected to be working on it for about another year before launch.

With the pandemic, we made the strategic decision to significantly move up that projected timeline, launch it in Beta, and have been taking notes to make improvements to the front-end and back-end functionality as we have lived with it and used it. It was designed in Drupal 8 with the use of a variety of plug-ins, and the instructional design team and the development team in digital initiatives is currently meeting to plan the move to Drupal 9 along with prioritizing our most needed updates.

Happy to answer other questions about it or the development process via email.

Oh, also, heavily used both at our institution and at others. Around 70% of our usage is from within North America, with usage from other, primarily English speaking, geographic locations around the world. We are preparing to launch our first set of French language modules in the next few weeks and are curious to see how their usage compares to our other materials. One of our longer term goals is to look at how we can collect more robust metrics and complete more usability and user testing on our materials.

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