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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.

Re-scan the original document

Keep in mind the cleaner the original document, the more accurate the optical character recognition (OCR). Factors which can affect the accuracy of the translation include document quality, font, marginalia, skewing and contrast levels. Results must be manually checked.

  • Rescan 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 optical character recognition (OCR). OCR turns pictures of text into actual text, which can then be read by a screen reader.
    • The University of Washington also has some excellent guidelines about creating high-quality scans.
  • Use 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.
    • Please note that the quality of the converted document depends on the quality of the original document. For example, a clearly structured Word document will yield a better result than a poorly scanned PDF where the text is blurry or skewed.  The University of Washington also has some excellent guidelines about creating high-quality scans
  • 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. If the video is from the library, we can have that material captioned. 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.


We need to receive publishing information from you for any books you’re planning to use for the course 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, particularly if the book was published prior to 2015.

More questions?

I am more than happy to set up one on one time with you. Just get in touch at, or with me directly at