Alternative Formats

Alternative format refers to a different way to access information other than by standard text or standard presentation. Alternative format is necessary when the standard text or presentation cannot be read or heard by the user.

Examples of standard text include:

  • Print documents in hardcopy
  • Microform (microfiche, microfilm, microcard) documents
  • Electronic documents without accessibility features used
  • Podcasts that have not been transcribed
  • Videos without captioning

A common myth is that electronic documents are always accessible, however, this is not always the case. For example, a PDF can be:

  • An image file and therefore completely inaccessible to screen-reader technology;
  • A partially accessible file with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) having been run on it it but missing markup or tags;
  • Or a more fully accessible file with all markups and tags.

Make sure to check out this YouTube tutorial on How to Create Accessible PDFs to ensure the accessibility of your PDF

Common Alternative Formats

  • Large Print (font size 16 or greater)
  • Braille (printed tactile documents)
  • Audio
    • MP3
    • Daisy (Audio only)
    • Audio description for multimedia
  • Electronic
    • Microsoft Word or other processor files
    • PDF
    • Daisy (audio and text)
    • HTML
    • Close captioned for multimedia

For information on how to create accessible Office documents, see the Accessible Digital Office Document (ADOD) Project

Documents: Accessible Practices

Many of the materials that we provide to students or exchange with colleagues are documents such as those created in MS Word, Adobe Acrobat, or Excel. Documents can be among the most accessible formats for people with disabilities; nonetheless, it is necessary to be intentional about making them accessible by adopting a few simple practices.

These practices include (but are not limited to):

  • Providing a text alternative for non-text content such as images or charts.
  • Using readable text, 12 to 18 point font size, with sufficient contrast to the background colour (the default of black on white is an accessible combination).
  • Using heading styles in proper order (e.g. heading 1 for section headers, heading 2 for sub-headers, etc.).
  • Using meaningful hyperlinks – for example, McMaster Accessibility Website rather than http://accessibility.mcmaster.ca

Check out our section on Graphics for more information about providing a text alternative for an image.

Still confused about creating accessible documents?  Click on the YouTube video below to watch a suite of videos from Microsoft on Creating Accessibility Documents