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Accessible Alternative Versions

Important Notice
These standards apply to content posted prior to January 18, 2018 that has not been subsequently edited or updated. Visit the main CDE Web Standards for the current standards.

This page is part of the California Department of Education (CDE) Web Design Standards, which only applies to specific CDE Web sites. Visit the CDE Web Standards to determine if these standards apply to a specific Web product (Web site, Web page, Web document, or Web application) that has been developed by or for the CDE.

Most Web pages (not including Web applications) on all CDE Web sites are created using Adobe's Contribute software templates. WebNETS, which is a custom software application that was created by CDE staff, is also necessary in order to create and process most Web pages on the CDE's public Internet site. Portions of these standards, where noted, apply only to CDE users of Contribute or WebNETS software; or to Web application developers.

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An Accessible Alternative Version (AAV) is a Web page version of content that is required to be included and posted along with the same content contained in an inaccessible document if the document will be posted to a California Department of Education (CDE) Web site. Accessible Alternative Versions have special formatting and content standards that make them very different from the majority of Web pages on CDE sites.

The CDE is committed to creating and maintaining accessible Web sites and to making every effort to post only accessible Web documents to CDE Web sites. It is only when a Web document must be posted to the site and cannot be made accessible that an AAV is allowed and required.

Some examples of inaccessible documents that require an AAV are:

  • All PowerPoint presentations posted with .ppt or .pps file extensions.
  • All scanned Adobe Acrobat Portable Document Format (PDF) files.
  • PDF files that cannot be tagged.
  • Documents of any file type that have extensive or complex graphics that cannot be explained with alternative text.
  • Documents of any file type allowed on CDE Web sites that cannot be made accessible.

Even though scanned PDF files are an example of inaccessible site content that can be posted if an AAV is posted as well, note that use of an AAV is a last resort. The preferred method of posting content that is contained in a scanned PDF would be to find the electronic source documents and either post accessible source documents in their native format or covert them electronically into an accessible PDF document. If either of these preferable solutions were selected, an AAV would not be necessary and all other Design Standards would apply.

AAVs are used sparingly at the CDE, pursuant to the Department’s Web Accessibility Standards; in particular item 11.4 under the Priority-1 requirements:

"And if All Else Fails - Priority-1

11.4 If, after best efforts, you cannot create an accessible page, provide a link to an alternative page that uses W3C technologies, is accessible, has equivalent information (or functionality), and is updated as often as the inaccessible (original) page."

What is an Accessible Alternative Version (AAV)?


  1. Is always a Web page.
  2. Is the version that will be returned in search results. When an AAV is present, the other inaccessible version will be blocked from CDE and external search results.
  3. Always begins with "Accessible Alternative Version of…" in the link text; here is how the link text should look:

    2006 Performance Report (PDF; 278MB; 28pp.)
    Accessible Alternative Version of the 2006 Performance Report

    Note: The above links are not active and displayed as examples only.
  4. Must always begin with "AAV" in the metadata title and in the "heading 1" page title due to constraints in trying to keep the title short for search engines. "Accessible Alternative Version" must be spelled out to begin the page description.
  5. Must include at the top of the AAV:
    1. A statement indicating that it is an AAV
    2. A statement indicating that the other (non-AAV) version should be the version selected by most users
    3. A link back to the other (non-AAV) version
  6. Uses text-only in the plainest way to convey the same information as is contained in the inaccessible version.
  7. Presents the content of images and graphics from the inaccessible version using text-only. There are never images or graphics in an AAV.
  8. Is reformatted from the original inaccessible version whenever doing so will make the AAV more usable or accessible. For example, AAVs for PowerPoint presentations should not be structured based on slide numbers in the PowerPoint presentation, but rather upon a hierarchical structure based on the information in the presentation.
  9. Uses heading styles liberally to indicate the information structure and to create an accessible outline.
  10. Includes an index (or table of contents) with hyperlinks whenever it is longer than ten screen lengths, even if the original inaccessible version did not include an index (or table of contents).
  11. Is augmented with editorial notes whenever doing so will add necessary information that is available to users of the original inaccessible version or when they are necessary to ensure that the AAV is usable, accessible, and equivalent to the inaccessible version.
  12. Must always be submitted in the same WebNETS package with the inaccessible version for the CDE Internet, or published at the same time as the inaccessible version for the CDE Intranet.
  13. IS NOT necessary or allowed when all versions of the same content are accessible per CDE standards.
  14. IS NOT intended as a primary format for ALL users, but as an alternate format for disabled users.

Frequently Asked Questions about AAVs

Q1.Complying with this AAV Section of the Design Standards will require a lot of effort (typing, layout, etc.). Why must that Web page be an AAV and not the primary or a complimentary version of the content?

A1. An AAV is required due to the inaccessible content, a PDF document for example, on the CDE Web site. It would be preferable to have a fully accessible Web page version of the content instead of the inaccessible PDF. In that scenario, the Web page would just be a regular Web page on the CDE site, the PDF would not be posted, and an AAV would not be needed.

Q2. So if I build a standard Web page version of the content (not an AAV) and if I don’t include an inaccessible PDF, my Web page is not considered an AAV?

A2. Correct, if you remove the inaccessible PDF and build a regular Web page, the AAV requirement is no longer necessary.

Q3. What if I make the PDF accessible; is a Web page version (AAV or otherwise) still required?

A3. Maybe. If you make the PDF accessible, then the standards outlined in the Web Documents Section of the Design Standards dictate whether or not the accessible PDF is allowed as a secondary or primary format. A Web version may be required, but an AAV is not required.

Q4. Is it possible then that I could have two Web versions of the same content?

A4. Possible, yes, but this will only occur if you make some unorthodox choices.

If you have a complex and inaccessible PDF document that must remain on the site, then you should not choose to make a standard Web page version of that document because it will not likely be as useful as the PDF document—isn’t this why you need the PDF on the site? Instead, post the PDF as the primary version and then prepare an AAV for disabled users.

If a Web page can be built for all users that is equivalent to the PDF, then build it and eliminate the inaccessible PDF. If you must post a Web version for everyone and still post an inaccessible PDF, then you must also post a second Web version--an AAV to go along with the inaccessible PDF.

In short, it is always best to have all versions of our content be accessible, but if the inaccessible document is very important, then you should make it the primary version of the content and then meet our accessibility requirements by having an AAV too.

Q5. PowerPoint presentations have needed a “Web page alternative” for some time, according to the Web Documents Section of the Design Standards. Does this AAV requirement change that standard?

A5. Going forward, PowerPoint presentations will more specifically require an AAV, which is a more formalized and targeted version of the “Web page alternative”. Any “Web page alternative” of a PPT that was created before this AAV Section was added to the Design Standards (June 2007) will be allowed to fulfill the AAV requirement.

Questions:   Web Services Office |
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, July 8, 2020