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Creating Accessible Word Documents

Microsoft Word is the most widely-used word processor on the market. The following best practices are provided to help you maximize the accessibility of your Word documents.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for 'how to' videos and resources on the web.

Use Headings & Styles

Sighted viewers can scan a page and use visual cues like larger or bold text to find the section of a document that they want to read. However, for someone using a screen reader, these visual markups are useless - leaving them to navigate word by word from the start of the document or webpage until they find the section they want.

  • Using styles and headings allow a screen reader to navigate from section to section, making for a more convenient experience for that user.
  • Heading should always be used in a hierarchical manner. Anything formatted as Heading 3 should be a sub-section to what has been labeled as Heading 2. Headings are nested under other headings; you should never jump from Heading 1 to Heading 4 without using Headings 2 and 3.

Add Alternative Text to Images (Alt Text)

Images are non-text content, and must provide contextual information for screen readers and other accessibility devices. Alt text provides semantic meaning and description for images which is necessary in order to determine the content of the image.

  • Right click on the image.
  • Select 'Format Picture'.
  • Click on 'Alt-text' and type a description of the image.
  • If the image is purely decorative and you want a screen reader to skip over it, make sure to go in and check to make sure the file name is not listed as default alt-text. Instead, press the spacebar, then enter to create null alt text.

Use Appropriate Font Type & Size

Try to use simple font in a good size - no smaller than 11 point for printed materials. Avoid fancy or cursive fonts as these can be difficult to read. Avoid using too many fonts and typing long phrases or sentences in ALL CAPS.

Use Formatted Lists

When you create lists, use the bulleted or numbered list formatting tool. This allows a screen reader to identify the number of items in a list. Using list formatting tools allows a screen reader to determine the length of the list, and the reader can understand how the content is organized and how many items are on the list.

  • Do not type the numbers or dashes yourself.

Format Tables Appropriately

Use tables only when you absolutely have to. Use them to organize data when that is necessary. Do not use tables to layout your page. Screen readers will read a table from left to right starting at the top. The relationship between the cells is not defined by a screen reader if it is not formatted correctly.

Appropriate Use of Color

Make sure your use of color is appropriate for differently sighted (low vision) viewers

  • Don't use color alone to convey meaning
  • Use sufficient color contrast
  • Check your color using color contrast checkers

Spacing/Layout

Often, people use the tab key or space bar to indent items. People often add extra blank lines between sections of a document or page in order to distinguish between sections. For a student with a screen reader, they may believe they've reached the end of a document if they encounter multiple blank spaces. Try to limit the use of blank spaces and use formatting tools to create spaces before or after your line breaks or section headings.

  • Columns: Use true columns, not tab, spacebar or blank lines or text boxes to move text around
  • Extra Spaces: Use the page break tool (not a series of spaces) to move to a separate page.
  • See Repeated Blank Characters

Create Appropriate Links and Hypertext

Avoid uninformative link phrases. Phrases like "click here" do not give the user a description of where they will be taken. Instead, use descriptive hyperlink text that clearly communicates what the user will get when they click.

  • Consider the link length: overly long or overly short links may present contextual difficulties
  • Never use an URL as a link. Imagine listening to a screen reader read that off.
  • Include a link title for additional explanation of link reference.
  • See: Links and Hyperlinks

Check Accessibility

Use Word's Review/Spelling & Grammar Checker

  • After clicking through all the recommended grammar, spelling and punctuation suggestions, the 'Readability Statistics' will display, including word counts, sentence averages, and readability statistics.
  • Most important are the 'Readability Statistics' including
    • Flesch Reading Ease - The higher the number the more difficult the reading ease
    • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level - Corresponds to the US grade level necessary to comprehend the information.

Use Word's Inspect Document for Issues/Check Accessibility

Videos

Resources on the Web


Contact Accessibility Coordinators

  Brandon Ray/Director of IT Services/Technology Accessibility Coordinator

   360.442.2251
Fax: 360.442.2259
  bray@lowercolumbia.edu

  Mary Kate Morgan/Director of Disability Support Services & Special Populations

   360.442.2341
  mmorgan@lowercolumbia.edu

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