Administrators at Purdue University look for ways to raise awareness of web accessibility issues and to educate employees on how to create websites that are accessible to individuals with a broad range of disabilities. They have focused efforts through a campus-wide Web Accessibility Committee (WAC). WAC members represent both academic and administrative units across campus. Most are web developers and all are strong supporters of accessible web design. WAC members have drafted a campus Web Accessibility Policy, created and maintained a Web site containing web accessibility information and resources, and developed and delivered Accessible Web Design training sessions.

Purdue's Web Accessibility Policy, sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Ethics and Compliance and enforced by the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE), took effect on March 15, 2010. The policy establishes minimum standards for the accessibility of Web-based information and services. It is based on the Section 508 standards, which were developed for U.S. federal agencies.

Once the policy was in place, the WAC and OIE received many requests for training, in particular on how to make PDF documents and forms more accessible to individuals with disabilities. As a result, they held a series of workshops that used a train-the-trainer model to empower individuals across campus to improve accessibility and share their expertise with others. Each person agreed to assist with subsequent trainings, and to be a resource in her or his academic department or administrative unit.

Participants and Location

Marketing materials, including emails, flyers and an announcement in campus publication Purdue Today, provided detailed information about what to expect at each of the training sessions. Open to all Purdue faculty and staff members, including those from regional campuses, 235 individuals attended the training. This included Administrative Assistants, Web Designers, Secretaries, Multimedia Designers, Managers, Computer Specialists, HR Communication Specialists, and Limited Term Lecturers.

The activity was organized by Marcy Hintzman, Assistant Director for Compliance and Disability Services, Office of Institutional Equity, as part of her role in the Office of Institutional Equity and Purdue’s Web Accessibility Committee. The trainings were held on-campus in a computer lab in order to allow participants to participate in hands-on activities as a part of the training.

Terrill Thompson, Technology Accessibility Specialist from the University of Washington, provided the hands-on training. Thompson regularly leads similar trainings as part of his role in AccessComputing. AccessComputing, the Alliance for Access to Computing Careers, serves to increase the participation of people with disabilities in computing fields. AccessComputing partners with more than thirty postsecondary institutions and other organizations to apply evidence-based practices to (1) help students with disabilities successfully pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees and careers in computing fields and (2) increase the capacity of postsecondary computing departments to fully include students with disabilities in computing courses and programs.

Activities and Logistics

Trainings took place twice during the academic year. The initial training took place over four days in October, and a follow-up training took place over four days in January. On the first day in October, Thompson led two half-day “train the trainer” sessions for Web Accessibility Committee members. On the following three days, and on all four days of the follow-up training in January, several sessions on PDF accessibility were held that were open to all faculty and staff. These sessions included both lecture-based instruction and hands-on exercises. A minimum of four Committee members who attended the “train the trainer” sessions assisted participants with hands-on exercises. This approach permitted the training of more individuals in a shorter period of time, and provided Committee members with valuable experience providing training and support on PDF accessibility. This knowledge would help them long-term to continue providing support to their department or unit. Two different types of sessions on accessibility were held: one covered accessible PDF documents and the other covered accessible PDF forms.

The training on Accessible PDF Documentswas held as a two-hour hands-on training targeted to anyone who authored PDFs, regardless of the method used or the technical experience possessed. Hands-on exercises included:

    1. Creating an accessible PDF document from Word.
    2. Reviewing and editing an existing tagged, somewhat accessible PDF using Adobe Acrobat Professional.
    3. Adding tags to an untagged document, and checking them for accuracy.

The training on Accessible PDF Forms was held as a four-hour hands-on training targeted to anyone who authored interactive PDF forms or was responsible for ensuring that PDF forms are accessible to all users. Hands-on exercises included:

    1. Adding accessible interactive form fields to a PDF using Adobe Acrobat Professional.
    2. Repairing an inaccessible PDF form.

The follow-up training in January offered these same trainings, primarily targeted at individuals who had been unable to attend the trainings in October. It also included two half-day advanced sessions. These were targeted at individuals who had participated in the October trainings and had new follow-up questions that emerged as they worked to implement what they learned. These sessions were free-form troubleshooting sessions in which participants contributed documents in advance, then during the session they walked interactively through those documents, discussing the challenges and identifying and implementing solutions.

Finally, a set of books on accessibility was purchased to serve as resources for the university community. The books, written by Karen McCall, included Accessible and Usable PDF Documents: Techniques for Document Author Third Edition; Logical Document Structure Handbook: Microsoft Word 2007 & 2010; and Document Structure Handbook: PowerPoint 2007 & 2010. The set of books serve as a resource for the Web Accessibility Committee as they provide technical guidance to the campus community after the in-person training and are stored in the library for campus users.

In addition, the training sessions were recorded for the university to use as a resource and to share with those individuals who could not attend in person. The training videos have been closed captioned and posted on the Committee’s website as a resource for individuals to watch. Regional campuses have the ability to link to these training videos or post these training videos on their websites.


Travel and accommodation expenses for the trainer, approximately $3,000, were covered by an AccessComputing minigrant, In addition, Purdue funded the closed caption video of the training sessions ($1000) and the books on PDF accessibility that would serve as a resource after the trainings ($500).


Organizers of the event reported that “as a result of this training, many more forms and documents at the university are accessible. For example, a representative from Human Resources who attended the training fixed the PDF version of the university’s request for absence form. Now for the first time, my colleague who is blind can fill out his own request for absence form without assistance. This is the only accessible format of the form that is available.”

When participants were asked to describe how they intend to implement what they have learned, many individuals described extensive plans. They included fixing PDF documents already online in their classes, centers, departments and regional campuses; integrating information into resources related to web design; creating training materials for departmental staff; and sharing the information with students.

Organizers report that, “We believe that the awareness of how easy it can be to make electronic information accessible has increased and will continue to increase as the word spreads. As a result, we anticipate having more websites, documents, forms, etc., accessible. This will increase access to information to more students, employees, and the public. We have received many inquiries about when we will provide this training again.“

Lessons Learned

For individuals who wish to conduct a similar PDF accessibility-related activity, project organizers suggest the following:

  • Locate a trainer who is well informed about PDF accessibility. This may be someone from your campus or an external expert.
  • Cultivate a group on campus who will support the trainer during sessions and be points of contact related to PDF-accessibility after the event.
  • Include an overview of the software programs that you are using to make the documents accessible. Not all participants will be familiar with PDF authoring software. For this reason, you may consider offering separate beginner and intermediate workshops for individuals with differing levels of familiarity with PDF authoring.
  • Provide detailed handouts with screen shots for participants to refer to as they implement what they have learned at the workshop.
  • Provide a hands-on component in your trainings. Many participants reported that this component was critical in helping them absorb the material.
  • Use actual documents from your institution in the training. Participants can relate more fully to the training if it includes their own documents, or documents with which they are at least somewhat familiar. Ask participants to volunteer their documents prior to their training.
  • Plan for ways to support your campus community after the training. This might include print resources or recordings of trainings. This is valuable to new staff, those who were unable to attend, and those interested in refresher training.


The following resources may be useful to those who wish to sponsor web accessibility-related activities: