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  • Writer's pictureYevgen Y

Basics of Accessible Word Documents

We can not stress enough importance of the #Accessibility of courses. There are many conversations held in the institutions and policies are getting developed worldwide on how to make accessibility embedded into the course design and development. We need to remember that accessibility does not necessarily relates to disabilities but part of a universal design strategies.

I recently attended a webinar ‘Accessibility of Word Documents (Basics)’ provided by Deque and will share some basic tips I've learned in this post.

So why accessibility of the Word documents is so important? Because people who use screen readers can read and search the documents more efficiently. So here are some tips on how to make your document more accessible.

  1. Use simple and easy to read fonts with high contrast color. You can always run color contrast checks online (as an example for web documents) or use an Accessibility Checker in Word (located in the Review Tab). Because most of us do not use screen readers we do not know what they actually do. Note, that most readers will not specify highlighted, italic, or underscored text, so if you chose to use them it will be only visually seen by people who does not use screen readers.

  2. If you are using equations/formulas, note that they are not read properly, suggestion is to use outside tools, or include them as images with alternative description.

  3. Important: use build in styles for headers (not bold, large) such as Headers (Heading 1, Heading 2, etc.), it is important, because this will allow users to navigate document by headings.

  4. Use build in lists (numbers or bullets) for list items to allow screen readers to read them properly.

  5. If you are using Headers and Footers, do not put vital information there, as most screen readers do not automatically read them. Try to duplicate this information into the body of the text.

  6. When using links, use meaningful text for display, instead of direct link (this suggestion is similar to the web design). Readers will announce to the user that it is a clickable link.

  7. Put alternate text on all the images (under 150 word). Do not use words image, or picture, as readers, automatically announce that also. Decorative images should be marked ‘Decorative’ as alternative text. It is also preferable that you do not wrap text around the images, as some readers will not properly position it in the flow of the document. Use ‘In line with the text’ option.

  8. Use of columns in the documents: do not use tabs to create columns, instead use Layout feature, to allow proper read of the document. Similarly, try to avoid using tables for formatting your document.

  9. Avoid text boxes, instead use SmartArt Design, with alternate text.

  10. Tables: when you use tables, do not use ‘Draw table’ as it will be read as graphics. Use Insert>Table, table design, and dedicate header rows. Try to make tables simple. Again, try not to use it for styling your documents, only for data and when necessary.

  11. If you are using graphs, use high contrast and alternative text for each graph.

  12. Use accessibility checker on your document (errors, warnings, tips). It is located under Review tab. You must fix all Errors and Warnings for making your document accessible. It is also important, because properly accessible Word document will be properly converted to other types of documents such as PDF, WordPress, etc.

This is just basic tips for creating your Word Documents more accessible and readable by screen readers. I know many of us do some of it already, but I am sure you found a few surprises here.

Happy formatting, and creating better documents for everyone.

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