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MIT Thesis FAQ: Creating an Accessible Thesis

Accessibility Basics

Below is guidance for creating an accessible PDF/A that supports use by screen readers and can be used by people with print disabilities.

The easiest way to create an accessible PDF is to make the file you’re converting into a PDF as accessible as possible. Then when you create the PDF from that file, you need to make sure you’re doing so in a way that maintains as many of those accessibility features as possible. There may also be some things that need to be added or fixed in the PDF itself.

Start with Accessible Source Files

By creating an accessible document from the beginning, there will be less work required to remediate the PDF that gets created. Most software offers a guide for creating documents that are accessible to screen readers, some of which are provided here.

General Tips for Most Word Processing Software

  1. Use styles and other layout features for things like headings, lists, and tables. If you don’t like the default styles associated with the headings, you can reset them. This process is typically explained in the accessible document guides.
  2. Avoid using blank lines to add visual spacing, instead increase the size of the spaces before and/or after the line.
  3. Avoid using text boxes.
  4. Anchor images to text when inserting them into a doc. Currently Microsoft Word and LibreOffice allow this functionality.
  5. Add alt-text to any images or figures that convey meaning. For formats such as graphic novels, a transcript in the Appendices may be more appropriate (see more about this in the FAQ section).
  6. Mark non-meaningful images as decorative. Currently Microsoft Words allows this, but LibreOffice and Google Docs do not.

Appendices and Embedded Metadata

Adding embedded metadata to your thesis file
Embedded metadata is useful in helping to find files and making sure that information about them is not lost in the future. Basic fields like Title, Subject, Author, Department, and Keywords are useful to add as a basic set.

Microsoft Word 2019

  1. Go to File > Info (should be automatically selected when you click File)
  2. On the right side of the screen you will see the file's properties. You can add a Title and Author directly from this page.
  3. If you want to add additional information, click on the dropdown arrow next to Properties and click "Advanced Properties"
  4. In the box that pops up, under the Summary tab you can add Title, Subject, Author, Company (i.e. Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Keywords.
  5. Under the Custom tab you can select additional fields (such as Department) or add your own.
  6. When finished adding metadata to the extent desired, click OK.

LibreOffice Writer

  1. If you do not have Word but are using a type of word processing document, you can add embedded metadata in LibreOffice Writer.
  2. Go to File > Properties…
  3. In the box that pops up, under the Description tab you can add Title, Subject, Keywords.
  4. Under the Custom tab you can select additional fields (such as Department) or add your own, such as Author.

Instructions for Creating the PDF

For step-by-step instructions on creating a PDF/A-1 file from your accessible source file, please see the Saving your thesis as a PDF/A-1 page.