Digital accessibility: staff and student guide

This page summarises the key information that all LJMU staff and students should follow when creating digital documents, webpages and/or videos.

Good design helps everyone. The way you create documents and share digital materials has an effect on the audience that receives them. Digital technology can enable some, but also disable others, we want it to enable everyone. Nearly 1 in 5 people in the UK have a disability, this could be visual, hearing, motor or cognitive (affecting memory and thinking). Over 11% of LJMU students have a declared disability. Legislation around the world is changing and enforcing companies and public bodies to make sure they follow best practice in creating digital content. LJMU has an obligation to make sure that we all understand these practices and follow them to improve access for students, staff, and anyone we connect with. If you are a student or staff member, you have a vital part to play in this change.


LJMU’s aim is to make everyone aware of diversity when designing, creating and distributing digital content or services. The institution recognises that to become 100% compliant will take time and the guidance below will develop as we move forward to reach this target.


Here are some key areas where you can make some significant improvements to accessibility. 

Use the accessibility checker 

Canvas and Microsoft software contain tools that allow you to double check if the content is following best practice. Please use these tools to check before publishing or sending content to anyone.  

Guide to using the Microsoft accessibility checker

Guide to using the Canvas accessibility checker

Structure (use heading and styles)

If you are creating a digital document such as a Word document or webpage, you must use the styles to indicate which part of the text is a heading or subheading. This is because screen readers use this information to help partially sighted readers skip to the section they wish to read and help text to speech systems make sense of the document. They are also useful for any reader as they will show how the document is structured.

Guide to improve heading accessibility

If you are structuring a webpage use the (H1, H2) document structure for similar reasons.

Overview of HTML page structure

Guide for Canvas (VLE) authors on page structure

Images and other graphical elements

Alt text (alternative text)

Alternative text or alt text is a way of providing a description of an image that you may have added to a document or webpage. People with poor eyesight can understand the image if you provide them with alt text (alternative).

Guidance to adding alt text to images in Microsoft documents

Guidance for adding images to Canvas

No text in images

Creating an image of text is obviously impossible for a screen reader to read and also for it to enlarge. Always have the text external to the image.

Using colour to convey information

Do not use colour as the only way to convey information in an image, diagram or graph. Many people suffer from colour blindness and may not be able to identify the differences in the information.

Accessible file formats 

In choosing your format you might consider the importance of the information, the breadth of the audience and how the information might be accessed.  

HTML webpages 

The most accessible format for information over the internet is HTML, e.g. a webpage or a Canvas page, as long as you have followed the rest of this guide. This is because the format is very flexible which allow the user to easily change it to suit their needs on a wide range of devices. This is not always possible for a range of reasons.

PDF files 

PDFs are probably the next most accessible document type. The PDF format supports both rigid page layouts, and flexible reflowing layouts; one good strategy to help maintain flexibility is to keep different types of content (text, diagrams, tables, etc.) in separate ‘paragraphs’ and avoid mixing them across the page horizontally, including flowing text around inline elements. Follow the guidance below to make sure you have created an accessible document.  

If the document is simple in design (i.e simple text-based document) without the text flowing around images, follow this process:

  • Follow best practice in designing and creating the document, such as using heads and styles, and alt text for images (see above) 

  • Export the document to PDF using this process

  • Test the reflow of the document in the PDF viewer. From the Menu bar choose View > Zoom > Reflow 

If the document contains a complex layout, many images and/or design elements please consult this further guidance.  

  1. You will need to use Adobe Acrobat Pro to create the document. How to access Adobe Acrobat Pro. Please note that Acrobat Pro is only available to LJMU Staff.  

  2. Please read the following guidance to ensure the document is fully accessible. Guide to create and verify PDF accessibility 

  3. Test the reflow of the document in the PDF viewer. From the Menu bar choose View > Zoom > Reflow 

Microsoft file formats 

Microsoft have created the immersive reader which is built into all of their software to help those with accessibility issues to understand the content of your document. This means that any Microsoft formats can be accessible as long as users know about the immersive reader and have the Microsoft Office installed to open the document. In addition to this, please follow the guidance for each file type when creating your documents. 

Word: Make your Word documents accessible to people with disabilities 

Excel: Make your Excel documents accessible to people with disabilities 

PowerPoint files 

For a live presentation:

  • Avoid using a pure white or black background. Use pastel colours for the background with a dark colour for the text

  • Use the standard templates, they are optimised for accessibility

  • Use at least 18 point for body text; larger size for headings

Please watch this short video to help you create more accessible PowerPoint presentations. Guidance for creating more accessible PowerPoints.

Write in plain English 

Many of our students and those in the wider community suffer from cognitive issues such as dyslexia. The key concept behind writing in plain English is to ensure the reader can grasp information faster, clearer and more concisely, it is not about dumbing down the content. The following link to the plain English site outlines some of the key processes that will enable more people to access your content more effectively. These include shortening sentences, using active verbs, giving clearer instructions and using pronouns such as ‘you’ and ‘we’.

Please spend some time reading through this short guide to help you create text content which is far more accessible to everyone: How to write in plain English.

Video and audio 

All video and audio content that is released outside of the University such as on the website should have subtitles and closed captioning. Please take care to use a good microphone and to check your recording levels to aid the speech to text but also to provide clear audio recording for students.  

All Panopto and Zoom recordings have automated subtitling.  

Microsoft has live subtitling and recordings have subtitles.  

This may have been difficult for you to learn and caused you to rethink some of the habits and methods that you have grown accustomed to over the years. But you are now making positive steps to develop new skills and becoming part of a growing group of practitioners who are trying to make the world a more accessible place for all. Please pass on your knowledge to staff and students to help spread good practice.

Further information