Removing Barriers to Online Learning - Creating Accessible Syllabi

When creating Word documents to deliver online or otherwise require your students to access, it is important to make sure they work well with assistive technology so that disabled students can easily access the information. This page will cover several things you can do to make Word documents more accessible and explore the Accessibility Checker in Word (added to the PC versions of Word, version 2010 and later).

Syllabus Template File

Download this Accessible Word template for creating a syllabus. Accessibility practices have been applied to the file. Note that if you add things, such as images you will need to apply best accessibility practices. Saving out the Word file to a PDF will create an accessible PDF depending on your platform and saving methods.

Files for PDA Day Practice

Download folder of Word files to practice correcting for accessibility. The Accessible Word template for creating a syllabus is included in the download. Clicking on the link will download a zipped or compressed folder of files. Uncompress the folder to see these files:

  • Accessible-Syllabus-Template.docx
  • Syllabus-errors.docx
  • Word-needs-accessibility.docx

Practice on the Syllabus-errors and Word-needs-accessibility documents. Use the Accessible-Syllabus-Template to start creating your Syllabus in Word.

Web Accessibility Compliance is for:

Web Tutorial on Word Accessibility

Online tutorial on Word Accessibility. The information I impart in this PDA presentation is available on this page.

What makes a Document Accessible and what are Accessibility Barriers

  • Tags - need information embedded in the document
  • Title of document - read first by screen reader
  • Headings and sub-headings created by using the Word Format toolbar
  • Images, graphs, charts need alternative text
    • Information presented as a graphical background or wallpaper is inaccessible
    • Busy page backgrounds or watermarks
  • Lists should not be simulated, use the List feature
  • Hyperlinks have descriptive text
  • Color - Use of color alone is a barrier for the color-blind
    • screen reader users
    • individuals with low vision
    • users of devices that do not support the displaying of color
  • Data Tables
    • Use true tables, do not use tabs, spaces or columns (for table data)
    • Headers - repeat header rows across the pages
    • use of non-standard tables
      • tables in which a cell spans more than one row or column can make some information inaccessible
      • Unlike HTML, information about the relationship between table cells cannot be embedded in a Word document.

Mac Issues

  • Work flow for Mac people
    • Can create your file on a Mac
    • If you need tables across pages - need to create on a PC
    • Finish on a PC, convert to PDF on a PC in order to get a tagged PDF
  • OR fix file in Acrobat Pro
  • Image Alt text can only be added to a Word document on Word 2011 with the upgraded patch
  • Creating Tables on Mac - Repeated headers across pages will not work, even when going to a PC computer to finish

Syllabus Requirements

Information to be included on Syllabus from Board Policy 3.9.1P


  • Course description
  • Student learning outcomes
  • Instructor contact Information
    • Office location
    • Office hours
  • Required textbook and supplemental materials
  • List of assignments including exams
  • Grading policy
    • Late policy
  • Attendance and lateness policy

Optional Best Practices

  • Class forum
  • Important dates
  • Overview of topics
  • Calendar of assignments
    with language indicating that dates are tentative
  • Academic integrity
  • Standards of contact
  • Students with disabilities


Colour Contrast Analyser - test the contrast of text color to background color on a Word document or web page. On a PC you will be able to sample colors from the document with a tool. On a Mac, you will need to provide the hexidecimal colors to test.

ColorZilla for Firefox or Chrome - add to Firefox or Chrome to sample colors to get hexidecimal code. Use this if you are on a Mac and you need color codes to work in Colour Contrast Analyser.