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Developing Accessible Documents

Saving Your Document – Format Matters

When creating a document, there a many factors that need to be considered to ensure the content is accessible to all users. The first is format; when creating a Microsoft Word Document, for example, it is best practice to keep the format as the default .docx to preserve accessibility features as opposed to downloading it as a TXT, DOC, RTF or other file type produced by Microsoft. Knowing how different document types interact when converted can help save time later by cutting back on unexpected problems.

If a student uses assistive technology, it may be beneficial to ask what format they are the most comfortable using.

Converting A File’s Format

Microsoft Word or PowerPoint to PDF

When creating a PDF, it is often easier to begin by first making an Accessible Microsoft Document. This is because when you convert or save a Microsoft Word or PowerPoint as a PDF, the accessible features are usually preserved. However, it is still recommended that the creator manually take the time to check for potential accessibility issues, especially in regards to ALT Text within Images.

Google Doc or Slides to Microsoft Word or PowerPoint

The formatting and font of a document often change when converting it from a Google Doc or Slide Presentation to a Microsoft Document. Due to this, the accessible features are not usually preserved. The reverse is also true. As such, it is recommended that the creator manually take the time to check for potential accessibility issues.

Google Documents to PDF

It is not recommended that you create a PDF directly from a Google Document. Doing so often makes it inaccessible to screen readers. It is recommended that the document is saved as a Word Document, edited for accessibility, and then saved as a PDF.

Building a Document – General Guidelines

No matter the format used, there are a few Guidelines that should be followed in order to meet the Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG) Standards. The list below is not exhaustive as there a many, many factors to consider. For information regarding specific formats, please view the Additional Resources Section.

Add Alt Text To Images

Alternative (Alt) Text helps people that may not be able to see a graphic understand anything of importance that a visual graphic is trying to convey. For example, when sharing a poster online, all of the information shown within the graphic should be included either in the Alt Text field or nearby.

Alt Images are an art NOT a science. How a text is portrayed and where it is located changes what needs to be added in the Alt Text sections. Decorative images that have no function or do not relay any kind of information (atmospheric or otherwise) can either have an alt tag that is left blank (alt=’’) or can use the word decorative (alt=’decorative’).

Alt Text Challenges

Maps, Charts, Graphs, and Mathematical equations can be difficult to explain using Alt Text. As such, it is recommended that individuals work in conjunction with content experts (if working with Graphics outside of your expertise) to ensure important content is accurately conveyed. The Alt text/Caption can be something like ‘Fig 23’ IF and only IF the image is fully explained and referenced in detail on the same page.

For graphs and charts, the data may have to be presented in an alternative table format to ensure all data is presented accessibly.

Use Built-In Heading Styles

Titles, Subtitles, and Headings make the document easier to scan and navigate both visually and with assistive technology. When using headings, ensure they are properly nested following the appropriate order of: Heading 1, Heading 2, and then Heading 3. Ideally, documents should only have one designated Title.

Ensure Links Are Accessible

When linking to a resource within a document, make sure the linked text is understandable out of context. Avoid linking phrases such as Click Here, Learn More, or Here and instead Identify the Purpose of A Link (W3C).

If linking to a document, it is recommended that you include the format within the linked text. It may also be beneficial to include the size of the file. Example: Math Formula Sheet (PDF, 69kb).

Font Formatting

Keep the following tips and recommendations in mind when creating content:

  • Avoid underlining anything other than links where possible. Opt for Bold or Italics, but limit the amount those are used as well to only important information.
  • Avoid all capital letters
  • Choose an accessible font such as Arial or Times New Roman
  • Do not use color only to convey information.
    • Example: Rather than saying ‘click the red button to cancel’ and only showing a red button, ensure the red button reads ‘Cancel.’
  • Ensure sufficient color contrast between the text and the background as well as between linked text and non-linked text.

Additional Resources