Creating Accessible Documents


An accessible document is an electronic document which can be used by everyone, including people with disabilities who use screen readers to learn. Since we do not know who may access our documents, take advantage of the existing accessibility features in Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Word, and PowerPoint to create accessible documents.

Sample templates downloads: Follow instructions to create your accessible documents.

Guidelines for Accessible pdf Documents

Check to read your pdf document

  1. Open your pdf document with Adobe Reader or Acrobat Professional.
  2. Go to View menu and select Activate Read Out Loud feature from Read Out Loud.
  3. Go back to View menu to select Read This Page Only or Read to End of Document and listen. 

Make pdf documents accessible

Screen reader reads text only. If your document is a scanned image, it will not be read. All non-text images, photos, charts, or objects will be skipped.  To make pdf documents accessible:

  1. Open pdf documents in Adobe Acrobat Professional version XI or later version. (Acrobat Professional is available at SJSU Software Downloads.)
  2. Select Tools at the upper right corner then Action Wizard.  Click Make Accessible under Actions.  A Make Accessible pane will become available.
  3. Click Start and follow instructions to make your document accessible. 

 Make pdf documents accessible video tutorial

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Guidelines for Word and PowerPoint Documents

Below are four major guidelines to ensure your Word or PowerPoint documents are accessible. 


For Word documents:

  1. Include structure by using Heading Styles feature in Word. Structure will help screen reader users navigate the document easily.
  2. Heading styles can be found in the Styles group under Home tab.  Keep your heading titles short and use heading in the correct order, that is, heading 2 should be after heading 1, heading 3 after heading 2, etc. Do not skip any heading order. Using the correct order will maintain a good structure for your document.
  3. Enter text for your heading title, place your cursor in the heading title, go to Style group under Home tab to select your preferred heading style. 
  4. To preview the structure of your document, go to View tab and check the box next to Navigation Pane in Show group. View the structure of your document in the Navigation pane at the left of your document.

Create structure in Word video tutorial

For PowerPoint Slides:

  1. Use one of the built-in Office Theme slide layouts except the blank one to create your slide. These layouts will maintain a structure for your slides.
  2. Always include a title for each slide. This title provides a description for your slide structure.
  3. Use Outline pane as you create your slides to see the text and logical reading order of the content on your slides.  Texts appear on your Outline pane will be read aloud.  

Create structure in PowerPoint video tutorial

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Links or URLs

  1. Add a label or meaningful name for your web links or URLs to describe and prepare your users of the destination website.
  2. Highlight the label or name of your web link, right-click and select Hyperlink. An Insert Hyperlink window will open.
  3. Enter URL in the Address box.

Example: Visit CFD Accessibility page at

Accessible web links video tutorial

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Images, Graphics, Photos, Diagrams, Text boxes

Screen reader reads text only and it will skip any non-text images, graphics, photos or text boxes. If you want to deliver a message through images or graphics, you need to provide either captions or alternative text.

Captions are visible and can go above or below the image.  Alternative text is invisible but will be read by the screen reader.

To add captions, right-click your image and select Insert Captions…  A Caption window will open.  Enter descriptions for the image in the top Caption box.

  1. To add alternative text, right-click your image, graphic or text box and select Format Picture… A Format Picture window will open.
  2. Enter brief title in the Title box.
  3. In the Description box, enter the message as detailed as possible you want the reader to learn about this non-text graphics, images, photos, text boxes.
  4. Or, use "Picture with caption" or "Content with caption" slide layouts as an option to explain your visual image.

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For Word documents:

Be mindful of the logical reader order of screen reader. It reads information from left to right and from top to bottom, one line at a time.  When you want to organize or format information in columns and rows or in tabular format, use table function instead of Tab key.

  1. Go to Insert tab to Insert Table.
  2. Repeat header row information if the content of your table may extend to more than one page.
  3. Select the table and right-click it.  A Table Properties window will open.  
  4. Select Row tab and check the box next to Repeat as header row at the top of each page. Press Enter key or Ok button.  This header row will be repeated at top of each page.

For PowerPoint Slides:

  • Always use Insert Table or Insert Chart function in your New Slide layout.

Beware of the color contrast for table header row. 

  • Go to View tab and select Grayscale to test the color contrast of your slides.

Accessible table/chart video tutorial

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Other guidelines in creating PowerPoint slides:

  • Avoid using colored highlights as the only way to emphasize key points. As many as 8 percent of men and 0.5 percent of women with Northern European ancestry have the common form of red-green color blindness.
  • Use "Black and White" function in the "Color/Grayscale" group under View tab in PowerPoint to convert your slides to black and white to test your color contrast. 
  • Use bigger font size if you plan to project your slides onto a screen.
  • If slide transitions and/or animation is used, make sure they are simple. Have a simple text version available just in case.
  • Check reading order of your texts on the slide to see if they are read aloud or in correct reading order. Use Outline pane to generate your text to ensure proper reading order.
  • If video or audio is embedded in your slides, make sure transcripts or closed captions are included.
  • Information on the Notes pane will not be read. 
    • Go to File > Export > Create Handouts.  Your slides and notes will be created in Word document and can be distributed as handouts.
    • Or, create a new slides to include your notes.

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Accessibility Checker

Both PowerPoint and Word have built-in accessibility checker that allows you to check for accessibility problems in your document. To access Accessibility Checker:

  • Select File > Info > Check for Issues > Check Accessibility

Follow instructions to identify and fix accessibility issues in Word and PowerPoint.

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