Documents are accessible when the material is easily understood and used by all. Whether
you use Microsoft Word, Google Docs or PDF files, strive to make them accessible for
Alternative text or “alt text” describes the content of pictures, graphs and charts in digital content. Alt text should be added to images in a way that conveys meaning for course materials, including Moodle, Word or Google docs, slides, etc.
When adding alt text, write in simple, precise language and keep the explanation brief. Typically, alt text should only be a sentence or two that describes the elements or the idea that you are trying to present to the viewer. Avoid writing “Image of”, “Photo of” or other things like that. A screen reader will add that by default.
To add alt text to an image in Microsoft Word, right click on the image and select “Edit Alt Text”. If the image is decorative, you can check the box “Mark as decorative.”
To add alt text to an image in a Google doc or slide, right click on the image and select “Alt Text.” Don’t worry about the title; just add your description. If the image is decorative, you can write “decorative” in the description box.
Use the built-in numbered lists or bullet points to help users better comprehend material. Bulleted lists should be used to show a list of related items. Numbered lists should be used to show steps in a process or the number of parts to something.
Avoid using special characters, images or dashes to create a list.
Creamy Tomato Soup Recipe
- Add butter to a large pan and melt on medium heat.
- Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is soft.
- Add salt, pepper, oregano and paprika. Mix to combine.
- Dump in a can of tomato paste and a can of diced tomatoes. Stir to combine and let cook/simmer for about 3 minutes.
- Add chicken broth and stir well. Let the mixture simmer for about 4–5 minutes.
- Add heavy cream and stir to combine. Let the mixture simmer for a minute or two and then take off heat.
- Put soup into a blender or use an immersion blender to make it smooth.
- Serve hot with any bread of your choice.
When creating a document, it is better to left-align your writing versus having it in justify. Justify creates inconsistencies in spacing between words and therefore, it makes it more difficult to read for all viewers.
Most of us weren’t taught how to take full advantage of the formatting features in Microsoft Word and/or Google docs. Instead of pressing the enter button twice to create a space between a paragraph or image, it is best to use the line and paragraph spacing features. This will make your document easier to navigate for your screen reader users while still making the document look neat and orderly for everyone else.
Below is an image of the location for paragraph settings in Microsoft Word.
Below is an image of the location of paragraph setting in Google Docs.
Color and Contrast
Make sure that you have strong color contrast between the background and your content. Always use more than just color (for example, color and boldface type) to communicate important information.
For example, to note that an assignment is extra credit, I used both the color orange to highlight the assignment as well as adding (EC) next to the due date in the Sample Course Schedule (docx). Additionally, I put a key above the table to decode the significance of the orange color and (EC).
To ensure that your contrast between foreground and background is accessible, WCAG AA requires a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text. In general, large text is defined as 18-point or greater. If you are looking for a contrast checker, we recommend WebAIM Contrast Checker.
When creating a digital resource, consider using the Web Accessible Hope Palette or try Color Safe to create your own accessible palette. Otherwise, feel free to keep things simple and just use black on white.
Headings make the structure of your documents accessible to screen readers as well as make it easier for everyone to find relevant material. Organize your paragraphs under descriptive headings and use the built-in styles to make sure that structure is applied to your work.
Below shows the location for Styles in Microsoft Word. You can modify the Microsoft Word styles to match your current or preferred styles.
Blow shows the location of Styles in Google docs. You can set and change the default text styles in Google Docs.
Make sure that objects are embedded in the flow of text. When you type, you want the image, chart or other material to push along as the text grows. You want your objects to be located in a meaningful place in the text so that the linear reading order of the object and text makes sense.
You can improve both the usability of links for everyone by making them concise and descriptive. The best links are meaningful even when found out of context. When you are creating a hyperlink, ask yourself “Where is it going?”, “What will be viewed?” and “What will happen when it is clicked?” The goal is to write something that helps all users make an informed decision on whether they wish to follow the link.
Things to avoid
- Don’t paste long, non-descriptive links.
- Avoid “Click here,” “Read more” or “Info.”
- Don’t use duplicated links.
Things to incorporate
- Use specific and descriptive language.
- Make each link unique.
- Include links within the body of text.
Examples of good links
To format an accessible syllabus, watch AccessibleU's Formatting an Accessible Syllabus playlist (YouTube).
If you need to convert a RGB to hex code, try RapidTables Converter.
Whether you are creating a table in a web content management system or a document, there are tools for formatting your table to be accessible.
- Use tables to show data. Avoid using tables to create page layout. Even if you hide the borders visually, a screen reader will find them!
- Keep things simple. If possible, avoid tables with multiple header rows, merged cells or tables embedded in tables.
- Designate at least one row and/or column header for all tables.
- Add alt text to tables. Don't just repeat the same information in the description that appears in the heading above it. Describe the structure of the data. If your description is longer than a couple of sentences, consider putting the description in the main body of the text.
- Put something in every cell. If you leave a cell empty, it can be confusing to all viewers (not only for screen reader users).
- Repeat header rows at the top of each page if your table continues onto multiple pages in Microsoft Word. Avoid having a table splitting across multiple pages in Google Docs.
- Tables should never be an image or screenshot. If you cannot avoid it, make sure that you spell out the significance of the table.
You can learn more by downloading Example Tables (docx).
After you have created a document in Microsoft Word or Google Docs, try to avoid sharing it as a PDF. A PDF file’s main purpose is to preserve the formatting. Unfortunately, PDF files are often inaccessible. If they are not saved or created properly, screen readers and text-to-speech applications will not be able to read them.
So ask yourself, “Does this file need to be a PDF?” If the main purpose of your document is to be printed, then a PDF is appropriate. If not, why can’t you simply share the Word document?
If you have a compatible version of Acrobat on your computer, you will find a tab called Acrobat in Word, PowerPoint and Excel. Make sure that in the preferences that you have “Enable Accessibility and Reflow with tagged Adobe PDF” checked before creating the PDF.
“Save As” PDF
You can use the “Save As” function in Office to create tagged PDF files without installing Acrobat. This will not be as clean as with the Adobe add-in, so use the add-in if you have it.
Never “Print” to PDF in any program. A screen reader user may still be able to access the text of a PDF created in this way, but you will lose heading structure, alt text and any other tagging.
We are here for you
We anticipate that some students may discover new barriers with the variety of course delivery methods and some students will disclose a disability for the first time. We want to help. Please do not hesitate to reach out.