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General Course Material Guidelines

The items below are in order of priority. We need information about the books you will be using as well as copies of your syllabi and reading list as soon as possible.

Improving existing document accessibility

If you are using Moodle and copying a course from a previous semester, please take a look at the details contained in the File Scan block of the course you are intending to clone. If the course does not have the block, follow these instructions to install it.

The File Scan will help identify which course PDFs are not minimally accessible. As you may discover, documents in electronic format are not automatically accessible.

Those documents will need to be remediated so that all students have more success in interacting with them. There are a few ways to accomplish this:

Reach out to the libraries

  • Use electronic library materials instead of scans where possible. Contact Jessica Brangiel,, for assistance.
    • Many times these inaccessible documents can be found in the library, and you can replace the inaccessible PDF with a link to the library resource.
    • You can also put the link on your Moodle page in addition to an inaccessible PDF if that works best for you.

Providing multiple options is considered a best practice in accessibility.

Re-scan the original document

Before you re-scan a document, we highly recommend reviewing The University of Washington's excellent guidelines about creating high-quality scans. Keep in mind that the cleaner the original document, the more accurate the Optical Character Recognition (OCR). OCR converts or translates images of text into text.  Factors which can affect the accuracy of the translation include

  • document quality
  • font
  • marginalia
  • skewing
  • contrast levels

Results must be manually checked.

Re-scan using the Canon Printers

If the library does not have the reading, the original document can be rescanned using the Canon Printers found on campus. These have been set to automatically scan using OCR. OCR turns pictures of text into actual text, which can then be read by a screen reader.

Re-scan using the ScanNX Scanner the libraries

Located in the Cornell and McCabe libraries, the ScannX Scanner is a self-serve printer/scanner.  These scanners seem to handle difficult document and books slightly better than our Canon Printers. You may need to set the scanner to OCR by choosing Searchable PDF on the screen.  For best results, we also suggest choosing Black and White in the Scan In row and High in the Quality row.

Choose Searchable PDF to OCR a document. For best results, also choose High quality and Black and White for color.

Swarthmore Libraries

Use SensusAccess

Important note: For many of you, we do not recommend this option. The resulting file may be somewhat-accessible file, but we've seen that many of the originating files have been so poor in quality that the result is only useful to readers with excellent sight. Choose this option only if you're prepared to remediate the file after running it through SensusAccess. Please review The University of Washington's excellent guidelines about creating high-quality scans to make a more informed decision about using SensusAccess.

SensusAccess is an online service that converts text and image-based documents into different accessible formats (searchable PDFs, audio, Braille, or e-text). It is available to all Swarthmore staff, students, and faculty with a Swarthmore College email address.


If the document cannot be found in the library and the original document is no longer available, we have tools to fix these. Keep in mind this takes about 3-8 weeks to complete depending on the quality of the scan and the complexity of the document. PDFs that have blurred text, skewed text, lots of handwritten notes or are handwritten take much longer, and we will need your assistance getting them fixed, for instance if we cannot read handwritten text.

When creating a new course, please follow the above guidelines to avoid creating additional inaccessible material — especially as we work on the backlog of material already in the system.


Your syllabus is often a central organizing document for the course, and it should be reviewed for accessibility. This usually doesn't require big changes. We can show you how to organize the document using heading tags and styles and how to make use of the Accessibility Checker to flag other things that might be problematic.


For audio files, it’s important to provide a transcript of those files.

Videos need to be captioned and captioned accurately.

Many students, even those who have not identified as having a disability, find captioning very helpful in retaining information.

YouTube allows searching for videos that have already been captioned. There is an important caveat: many materials you find on YouTube have been machine captioned. The accuracy varies wildly depending on the speed and clarity of the audio. You will need to check the captioning for accuracy. If you run into issues, we can reach out to the video owners and ask them to fix the captions, or we may be able to find alternate versions you can use.


The Swarthmore Campus + Community Store is the primary source we use to know which books will be needed.  When ordering books, please be sure you include both your optional and your required books. Getting that information to the bookstore in a timely manner helps us ensure we meet a student's electronic accommodation needs and that they have the books at the start of class.

For planning purposes, books for the Fall semester are usually ordered sometime between Spring finals and commencement.  Plan on having your book list ready by mid-October for the Spring semester.

If you are able to do so, we need to receive publishing information from you at least 6-8 weeks prior to the start of the semester. (ISBN is most helpful; otherwise please provide the author, title, edition and/or publishing date). It can take as long as eight weeks to receive accessible textbooks from publishers. Important Note:  Books published prior to 2015 can take much longer than eight weeks to remediate. Please keep this in mind when thinking about your book assignments.

More questions?

We are more than happy to set up one on one time with you. Just get in touch at or schedule time with us.