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Michigan State University

Guidelines for Accessible Electronic Publications


MSU stakeholders with responsibility for, or a strong interest in, accessibility have been meeting over the past several months to review options for accessible electronic publications. This document summarizes the observations and discussion of the meeting participants, including the relative strengths and weaknesses of various document types and technologies. It is the recommendation of the working group that all campus publications plan for accessibility when the publication is being developed. It is also recommended that existing publications be made available in the most accessible format which can be reasonably produced. A summary of different formats and their relative accessibility is provided below to assist with the selection of an accessible file type.



Many university print publications are now, or soon will be, made available electronically. In an effort to ensure that these publications are accessible, various technologies were reviewed. Each is listed, in order of accessibility, along with its relative strengths and weaknesses. If you currently use an inaccessible format for your publication, you should make plans to deliver it in one of the accessible formats described below.

1.  HTML web content

HTML-coded content is the most accessible of the discussed options. Depending on the size of the document being published and the number of readers, this is the optimal choice for accessibility. Adobe InDesign CS5 is currently the industry-standard design and production tool for publication work. The HTML output from InDesign often requires fixes and modification prior to use. Many publishers recreate their content as HTML rather than relying on the output of InDesign.

2.    Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word documents are relatively accessible and are a good choice for publications that can be converted into this format. Guidelines for creating accessible Microsoft Word documents may be found at the following link:

3.    Optimized text-based PDF

The PDF output from InDesign is acceptable when correctly configured for accessibility. However, InDesign software has limitations that are challenging when converting documents. Larger documents may benefit from specialized PDF optimization software. Assistance with creating an accessible PDF document may be found at the following link:

4.    Text-based PDF

A properly formatted, text-based PDF is a suitable choice for accessibility and would be an appropriate choice for most publications, but is still not quite as easy to use as an optimized PDF or HTML content. Unfortunately, many PDF files are not correctly formatted; however, with education and better tool support, this situation is improving.

5.    Image PDF (not accessible)

Image PDF files are not accessible by definition, because they are a picture of the publication and don’t contain accessible content. Scanning a document and saving the image as a PDF should be discouraged because it produces a document that is not accessible.

 6.  Flash-based “flipbook” (not accessible)

An image-based flipbook is any of several technologies for displaying a publication in its original print format, including publications provided by ISSUU. Flipbook publications are not accessible at this time, although this situation may improve over time as flipbook technologies mature and evolve.

7.    Microsoft Publisher (not accessible)

Microsoft Publisher is sometimes used on campus to generate informal publications with relatively small audiences. The native output format of this tool is not a good choice for accessibility. Often Microsoft Publisher is used to produce a PDF document for electronic publishing purposes, which may be accessible depending on how it is produced.



MSU’s web accessibility guidelines may be accessed at the following URL:


If you have any questions about whether your publication’s document format is accessible, please call Karen Woehlert at 517-353-3925.