Accessibility Guidelines for Creating Text Documents

An accessible document is an electronic document which can be used by everyone, including people with disabilities who use screen readers to learn about your documents by reading it out loud. Since you do not know who may access your documents, take advantage of the existing accessibility features in Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Word, and PowerPoint to create your accessible documents. This will ensure all users including those who use screen readers will be able to access and learn the content of your documents.

Below are two sample templates. They are provided for you to create any Word or PowerPoint documents. Follow instructions on the template to create your accessible documents .

You can also use this "Is My Document Accessible? [pdf]" to check to see if your document is accessible.  Detailed instructions are provided for you below in either text format or video tutorials format. 

Accessibility Guidelines for pdf Documents

Not all pdf documents are accessible. To check to see if your pdf document is accessible, follow instructions below.

Will your pdf document be read?

  1. Open your pdf document with Adobe Reader or Acrobat Professional.
  2. Go to View tab on the top and select Read Out Loud to activate the Read Out Loud feature.
  3. Go back to View tab and select either Read This Page Only or Read to End of Document to read and listen to your document. 

How to make your pdf documents accessible

When you scan a document, it is scanned as images only. Screen reader reads text only and cannot read images. Any images, photos, charts, or text boxes will be skipped and not read at all.  To make your pdf documents accessible, you need to use Adobe Acrobat Professional version XI or later version.

  1. Open your pdf documents in Adobe Acrobat Professional.
  2. Click Tools tab on the top then select Action Wizard.  An Actions List will be displayed on the right pane.  Click Make Accessible.
  3. Click Start and follow instructions to make your document accessible. 

 Make pdf documents accessible video tutorial

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Accessibility Guidelines for Word and PowerPoint Documents - The L.I.S.T. Check

Below are the major accessibility guidelines to ensure your Word or PowerPoint documents are accessible. An acronym is created to remind you of checking the four elements when creating document, namely, L is for Links, I for Images, S for Structure, and T for Table, including manually checking the logical reading order of your table.

I. Links or URLs

Provide a text description or meaningful label for your web links or URLs whenever you reference any website in your document.  Then add a hyperlink to this text description. This description will provide meaningful information/label about the website and help your students make a decision to visit it or not. The URLs usually consist of a combination of alphanumericals and symbols and does not provide enough information about the website. Listening to a meaningful website label will save time and help your student decide whether it is the appropriate website they want to visit. 

Instructions below apply to both Windows and Mac 2016 Word and PowerPoint users.

  1. Enter a text description or meaningful label for the website.
  2. Select the text label or description, right-click (Control+click for Mac users) and select Hyperlink. Or, go to Insert tab on the top ribbon and select Hyperlink from the Links group. An Insert Hyperlink window will open.
  3. Enter URL in the Address box.

Example: Visit CFD Accessibility page for more information. It is optional to provide urls. However, if your students may print or receive only a hard copy of your document, you should include url so that they may view and enter the url by hand if they wish to visit the website. 

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II. Images, Graphics, Photos, Diagrams, Text boxes

Screen reader reads text only and it will skip any images, graphics, photos or text boxes. If you want to deliver a message through images or graphics, summarize your key message with text descriptions through either captions or alternative text.

Captions are visible text which may appear either above or below the image.  Alternative text is invisible on printed document but will be read out loud by the screen reader.

For Word documents

Windows and Mac Word users follow the same instructions below to add captions.

  1. Right-click (Control+click for Mac users) your image or go to References tab and select Insert Captions…  A Caption window will open.  
  2. Enter descriptions for the image in the Caption box.
Windows Users
  1. To add alternative text, right-click (Control+click for Mac users) your image, graphic or text box and select Picture. A Format Picture window will appear.
  2. Click Alt Text tab and enter the key message you want your student to learn about this graphic, image, or photo in the Alternative Text box.
Mac Word Users
  • To add alt text Control+click the image and select Format Picture. A Format Picture pane will appear on the right.
  • Click Layout & Properties icon and select Alt Text from the list.  Enter a brief title for the image in the Title box and your key message in the Description box.

For PowerPoint slides

Instructions below apply to both Windows and Mac PowerPoint users.

From New Slides, select either "Content with caption" or "Picture with caption" custom design theme and enter text to explain your visual image.

  1. To add alt text, click your image, right click (Control+click for Mac users) to select Format Picture and a Format Picture/Shape pane will appear. 
  2. Click the Size & Properties icon then Alt Text from the list. Enter a brief title in the Title box and your key message about this image in the Description box.

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III. Structure

Always include structure for your documents by using Heading Styles feature in Word. Structure will help screen reader users navigate your document easier and faster.

In addition, adding structure will make it easy for you to create a table of contents much easier with a few clicks. It will also provide a schema or concept map for your students to learn how content information is organized and connected to each other.

Follow instructions below to add structure to your Word and PowerPoint documents.

For Word documents:

Windows Users
  1. Heading styles can be found under the Home tab in Styles group.  Assign appropriate Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, etc. for your content.  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.
  2. Enter text for your heading title, place your cursor anywhere in the heading title area, go to Styles group under Home tab to select your preferred heading style. 
  3. 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 to the left of your document.
Mac Word users:
  • Under Home tab go to Styles group or Styles Pane to locate your Heading 1, 2, 3, etc. Make the appropriate heading assignment as mentioned above.
  • To view your document structure, follow the same instruction as above then click Document Map icon on the Navigation Pane.

For PowerPoint Slides:

Instructions below apply to both Windows and Mac PowerPoint users.

  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 heading description for your slide structure. Please make sure you use a unique title or the same title but with different sub-heading for each slide. Do not repeat or reuse the exactly same title.
  3. Use Outline pane as you create your slides to see the text and logical reading order of your slides content.  The Outline View can be found on the top under View tab in  Presentation Views group. Or, click the Normal icon at the bottom underneath your slide notes section. It will toggle from slide to Outline view.  Texts appear on your Outline pane will be read aloud.

Create structure in PowerPoint video tutorial

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IV. Tables

Be mindful of the logical reading order of your table. Screen Reader reads the information on your table from left to right and from top to bottom, one row at a time. When you organize or format information in columns and rows or in a tabular format, use table function instead of Tab key. Avoid any nested table.

If the content of your table may extend more than one page, repeat header row information. Instructions below apply to both Windows and Mac users.

For Word documents:

  1. Select header row of the table, right-click (Control+click for Mac users) and a Table Properties window will open.  
  2. Click the 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/icon from 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 eight 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 for your notes.

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Accessibility Checker

Both PowerPoint and Word have built-in accessibility checker that allows you to check 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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