Disability Support Resources

Why do we need to make our content accessible?

Grand Valley State University strives to be an inclusive environment. As such, it is GVSU’s policy to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Please see Grand Valley’s ADA philosophy statement for more information.

To comply with the ADA, documents posted online, including, but not limited to, Adobe PDF files, Microsoft Word documents, Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, and online flipbooks, must be screen-reader friendly. Screen-reader software is a form of assistive technology that reads a screen’s display aloud to the user. It can be especially useful for people who have visual or motor impairments. Here is an example of how it works.

All multimedia resources available to the general public must be captioned. Captioned media displays the audio content of a program as text on-screen and synchronized with the dialogue of the speaker, and includes additional auditory information such as sound-effects. This provides accessibility for individuals who are deaf, deafened, or hard-of-hearing,while also benefiting individuals with diverse learning abilities and whose primary language is not English.

Institutional Marketing is no longer posting communications pieces to Issuu.com because documents on this website cannot be read by assistive technology and therefore are not accessible. Once Institutional Marketing (IM) completes a project with a department, IM will provide a nonaccessible PDF of the project to the department. The department is responsible for making all documents on their websites accessible and there are several ways to do this. Please compare the options to determine the best fit for you, your audience, and your communications piece.

This webpage provides standards developed by Disability Support Resources and Institutional Marketing for all Grand Valley State University communications pieces that are posted online. It also lists resources and recommendations to help students, faculty members, and staff members better understand their options for posting accessible documents online.

What are my options for making my document accessible?
What do I need to do to make my document accessible?
Web Format/HTML Format
PDF Format
Online Flipbooks
Comparing Your Options
Accessibility Resources

What are my options for making my document accessible?

An accessible online document has an established reading order, as well as visual elements that are tagged with alternative text descriptions. For example, any visual element such as a photo, chart, or graph that is necessary for the understanding of the document must be tagged. The established reading order and alternative text descriptions are needed for assistive technology to comprehensively and accurately communicate the information to the reader.

Generally speaking, these are the options for making your document accessible:

See the comparison chart to determine which option might work best for your audience, content, budget, time, and file format.

What do I need to do to make my document accessible?

Microsoft Word   adding to CMS (HTML)
accessible PDF (MS)
accessible .docx
Microsoft PowerPoint   adding to CMS (HTML)
accessible PDF (MS)
accessible .pptx
Microsoft Excel   adding to CMS (HTML)
accessible PDF (MS)
accessible .xlsx
Microsoft Publisher   adding to CMS (HTML)
accessible PDF (MS)
online flipbook
Adobe InDesign   adding to CMS (HTML)
accessible PDF (Adobe)
online flipbook

See the comparison chart to determine which option might work best for your audience, budget, time, and file format.

CMS Web Format/HTML

Creating a Web page (HTML) is one way to make your document accessible. Grand Valley’s Content Management System (CMS) has built-in features that make a website’s content screen-reader friendly. HTML is also more search-engine friendly than a PDF and there is no need to make the user download a document to read it.

If the information contained in the document you wish to post online is not already on a website, adding the information to your website via the CMS is the least costly option (if you have someone in your department to do it). You would add it by copying from your document and pasting it into the CMS. Further formatting may be required.

When using HTML within Grand Valley’s CMS, you can mimic the design of your printed piece with photos or design elements to add visual interest. Institutional Marketing can provide you with the design elements used in your communications pieces.

When inserting photos or design elements into your website via the CMS, you will be asked to provide alternative text to tag the images. By tagging the images, the information you are communicating is both screen-reader friendly and visually appealing.

Accessible PDF Format

You can also make PDFs themselves accessible by tagging them. Please note that these options may be more time-consuming and/or more expensive than creating a Web format version (HTML).

Tagging PDF Files

There are ways to tag PDFs to make them screen-reader friendly, so the screen reader reads the main text and alternative image text in the correct order. Adobe Acrobat Pro is required to do this.

Review the following for how to tag a PDF:

Hiring a vendor to tag your PDFs is also an option, especially if you have a large PDF or multiple PDFs. Appligent, Inc. is one such vendor. To get an estimate or quote for your communications piece, email section508@appligent.com.

Sharing a PDF File Without Tagging

You may share your existing PDF as-is without tagging it if you create a landing page on your website with:

  • One link to your untagged PDF AND one link to a tagged PDF with the same content
  • One link to your untagged PDF AND a clear path to the same content on the website (in HTML)

Online Flipbooks

Issuu flipbooks are not screen-reader friendly. However, there are digital publishers similar to Issuu that offer screen-reader friendly flipbooks. If you want to publish an online flipbook, here are some vendors:

Please note that digital publishing can be very expensive and will likely only be worth the investment for a high-profile piece that will be viewed online extensively.

Comparing Your Options

This chart will help you decide what is the best option for making your document accessible online.

(Your website)
Tagged PDF PDF File + HTML
(Your website)
Online Flipbook
Cost - Free using GVSU’s CMS - Free if you own Acrobat Pro and tag the PDF yourself
- Varying cost to pay for vendor’s time
- Free - Expensive
Ease of Creation - Moderate - Hard if you tag the PDF yourself
- Easier if you pay outside source
- Moderate - Moderate
Design Elements - Alters look of printed piece
- Best for simple designs
- Can add images for visual interest
- Maintains look of printed piece - PDF will maintain look of printed piece
- HTML will follow websites design
- Maintains look of printed piece
- Can enhance content with flipping pages sound, video, and rich media
Time - Some time - Most time - Some time - Some time
End-user Friendliness - Most user friendly
- Nothing for user to download
- User must download PDF
- If not tagged correctly, a screen-reader will not read accurately
- Two versions of the same content must be supplied and could be confusing - User is directed to external site
- More downloading time needed
Best Application - When dealing with highly informational content - When it’s important to maintain look of printed piece - When it’s important to maintain look of printed piece - When it’s important to maintain look of printed piece
- When it’s helpful to enhance content with flipping pages, sound, video, and rich media

Accessibility Resources

Within Grand Valley

Outside Grand Valley


Q: Do I have to make all documents posted to the website ADA compliant, including Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Publisher, Excel files, and PDFs?
A: Yes. See What do I need to do to make my document accessible?

Q: Do attachments to emails have to be made accessible?
A: That depends on your audience. If the document may be read by someone requiring assistive technology, then yes.

Q: How do I convey the information in my document in the fastest, simplest, most cost-effective way possible?
A: Use Web Format/HTML

Q: How do I place an accessible PDF online?
A: First, read the Web Format/HTML section. Second, review the options outlined in the Accessible PDF Format section.

Q: How do I post an accessible online flipbook now that Issuu is not recommended?
A: First, read the Web Format/HTML section. Second, read the Online Flipbooks section.

Q: Why is Grand Valley discouraging the use of Issuu?
A: Screen readers cannot read Issuu flipbooks. The process of creating the Issuu flipbook flattens out the text and images, stripping them of readable information. There are other companies that offer ADA-compliant products that are similar to Issuu. Read the Online Flipbooks section.

Q: How do I test a document to see if it is accessible?
A: GVSU’s Disability Support Resources recommends using the following screen readers to test documents:

  • Apple’s built-in VoiceOver
  • JAWS for Windows
  • Window Eyes for Windows
  • NVDA for Windows

Q: Can I still use Issuu for my online documents?
A: You may use Issuu only if you create an additional document that is accessible. This document must be equal in all the information provided in the Issuu document to be ADA compliant. This means providing all text, and providing alternative text for visual elements necessary for the understanding of the document. You must ALWAYS provide a link to the accessible version in the same location that you are providing a link to the Issuu version (i.e., a website landing page).

Q: I want to learn more about working with Web formats (HTML). Is there help available with GVSU’s CMS?
A: Yes, please visit http://www.gvsu.edu/cmshelp/.

Q: Who can I call for answers to other questions?
A: Please call Disability Support Resources or Institutional Marketing.

Page last modified January 13, 2015