Creating accessible handbooks
In response to requests from Schools asking for advice on how to create accessible handbooks, the Accessible Information Working Group (a former subgroup of the Student Disability Committee) has produced this guidance. Its aim is to provide course organisers with helpful and practical advice in order to assist them in making documents as accessible as possible for disabled users.
Individual courses will have different requirements on what they will include in their handbooks but including the following information where possible can help improve usability and accessibility. You will probably include most of them already.
- Date of publication, contents page, glossary.
- Recommended reading lists (these are most useful when they are structured i.e. with essential, highly recommended texts etc). If we need to locate texts for students in alternative formats we may only be able to procure a certain number and it is important that the most important ones are prioritised). It is now a requirement of the University's Accessible and Inclusive Learning Policy that reading lists should indicate priority and/or relevance.
- Lecture timetable and location (if available at time of printing).
- Exam dates and coursework deadlines. (Exam dates may not be available at the time of publication in which case giving the exam diet period generally is useful).
- Contacts – it is good practice to give two methods of contacting the course organiser and course secretary e.g. postal address and phone number or phone number and email address. It is also useful to include contact details of the student support officer if appropriate.
- Leave a space for students to record their Personal Tutor and their contact details.
- Location of department/programme office and any other venue information e.g. laboratories.
It is impossible to make one document accessible to all users but the following suggestions can assist in making the document as accessible to as many users as possible. This should mean you will have less requests for documents in alternative formats which will save you time and money.
Some general formatting guidelines are:
- Font Size/Type – we would suggest a minimum font size of point 12 should be used and point 14 is preferable (although we realise space can be very tight in these documents).
- A sans serif type face such as Verdana or Aria as this is the most accessible for many disabled people.
- Numbering pages helps with navigation.
- Try and avoid underlining and use of italics. It is better to use bold to format documents.
- Ensure documents are left aligned, not fully justified.
- Contrast/Text Colour – a dark text on a light background is best and there should be good contrast between the two for example black on yellow not red on pink.
- Try to ensure no information is conveyed by the use of colour alone e.g. most important items are shown in red. If doing this then you should also put the red items in bold. This will mean that those with colour blindness can also identify the important items.
- When using abbreviations and acronyms give them in full on the first occasion they are used, then use the acronym or abbreviation in future occurrences.
- Use a paper thick enough to ensure that the print on one side of the paper is not visible on the other.
- Make sure charts/tables/images have meaningful labels.
- Try and make sentences as short and simple as possible, avoiding long paragraphs and blocks of text without simplifying the text. Advice on this can be found at:
Alternative formats (paper versions)
As noted above, it is impossible to make documents 100% accessible to everyone, as making alterations in one way may make materials accessible for one disabled person but inaccessible for another. In addition, the requirements of disabled people, including those with similar disabilities may be significantly different. In order to take account of these individuals’ needs we would recommend that the following tagline be added to all documents.
“If you require this document in an alternative format e.g. large print, on coloured paper etc, please contact “a contact position/name (the document’s creator) and two methods of contacting that individual should be given e.g. phone and email or postal address and email etc.”
Practice has shown that adding this tagline does not result in a high number of requests for alternate formats. You are unlikely to receive many requests and those you do receive are likely to be for large print which is cheap and easy to produce. To help course administrators and others produce accessible documents we have produced the following guidance:
The tagline can be placed at the beginning or end of the document and should be on electronic as well as paper versions.
Electronic/ Online Handbooks
Electronic handbooks are becoming more common and the principles are just the same. We would recommend you try and follow the formatting advice given above. Some other useful guidance for electronic versions is provided below.
The main elements to bear in mind when producing an electronic handbook are:
- It is important to make sure there is sufficient contrast between the font colour and the background colour i.e. black on white or black on yellow rather than pink on red. Is it clear to readers how they can change the colour of the font and the background colour easily?
- Can you navigate around the document using the keyboard only i.e. without using the mouse?
- Is the document compatible with assistive technology i.e. can it be read by screen readers such as Jaws? You may not have the resources to test this but if you follow the good practice guidelines this should not be an issue.
- Word is generally regarded as the most accessible format although PDF’s can be made accessible. We would recommend you keep a Word version of your PDF in case a disabled student requests it in this format. Information on creating accessible PDF's can be found on the Information Services website at:
For further information or to request this document in an alternative format, please contact the Disability Information Officer.