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How to Create and Confirm an Accessible Word Document

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How to Create and Confirm an Accessible Word Document - Accessible Word Tips

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Developing an Accessible Word Document

This page provides some quick guidance and tips for how to create a more accessible word document. Creating an accessible word document requires both considering the technical aspect of the document and the content you provide within the document itself.

Please note that while this page covers some major topics related to Word document accessibility, for larger documents, it is highly recommended to hire a professional company to create a WCAG compliant word document. Using an accessibility checker can help confirm some parts of the technical accessibility of your document but may also miss other aspects that are not formulaic in their presentation, which may be more difficult to identify in larger documents. For further details about Word document accessibility, we encourage you to also visit WebAIM information page.

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Document Style

  1. Use “sans serif” fonts, such as Calibri, Arial, Helvetica, Verdana, and so on, as opposed to “serif” fonts, such as Times New Roman, Georgia, and others.
    • Why? Serif fonts can “merge” together for some viewers because of the lines at the end of each letter.
  2. Include headings for each section of your document.
    1. Why? Headings can help viewers both navigate the document and better digest the content provided in your document.
    2. Make your headings brief.
      • Why? Screen reader users will use your headings like a table of contents to navigate the document.
    3. Use the “Styles” tool for headings.
      • Avoid updating the font of your headings by itself without updating the styles tool.
        1. Option 1: Update your heading by right clicking on the heading number you want in the Styles box and clicking “Modify”.
        2. Option 2: Update the font of your heading and then right click the heading number you want in the Styles box and click “Update [name of style] to match selection”.
      • Why? The styles tool helps encode your document so that screen reader users can navigate the document.
    4. Use headings in numerical order. (i.e. Use heading 1 first, followed by heading 2. Do not use heading 1 followed by heading 3.)
      • Why? Skipping heading numbers creates inconsistency in the code for screen reader users and can confuse the program.
    5. Confirm your headings.
      1. Option 1: Click on the arrows by the left of the heading! It’ll fold down the section.
      2. Option 2: Create a temporary Table of Contents and update it as you update the document to make sure the headings are accurate and make sense.
      3. Why? This will ensure that screen reader users are not confused by the division of the content of your document.
  3. Use accessible, high-contrast colors for all text.
    • How do I check contrast?
      1. Find out the RGB of your chosen color by clicking on the “More colors” option under text or fill color.
      2. Click on “Custom” and confirm the “Model:” is selected to “RGB.”
      3. Copy down the Red, Green, and Blue values.
      4. Use this HTML Color Picker and insert the RGB into the appropriate fields.
      5. At the bottom of the color box is the HEX code. Copy that combination of 6 numbers and/or letters.
      6. Go to this fantastic Contrast Checker tool!
      7. Enter the HEX code as the foreground or background, depending on your selected colors.
        • Hint: Black is hex # 000000 and white is hex # FFFFFF.
      8. If all 6 circles are green with a checkmark, then the colors you have selected are fully accessible! The “color difference” circle on the end is important especially for color blindness.
    • Why? Lighter and brighter colors may be difficult to read for a number of your audience members, including low-vision and colorblind individuals. High contrast colors are easier to read.
  4. Avoid overcomplicated tables.
    • Why? Tables in general are difficult for screen reader users to navigate. It is best to present information outside of a table where possible.

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Slide Content

  1. All images and visual features must include alt text. Visual features can include inserted shapes such as arrows or boxes without words.
    1. How to add alt text will depend on the version of Word you are using. Generally, adding alt text is done by right clicking on an image, shape, or other visual, and editing the item’s properties. There will be an option to add “Alt Text” in the pop up or frame that appears on the screen.
    2. Depending on your version of Word, use the “Description” feature to give a quick explanation of the content.
      • Note: The “Description” feature is what a PDF will pull from if converted to PDF format.
    3. Depending on your version of Word, you might be able to mark some images as “Decorative.”
    4. Why? This provides access to visual content for screen reader users.
  2. Review the alt text of all images and visual features for accuracy.
    • Why? Sometimes images pulled from the internet include automated alt text which is essentially useless to a screen reader user. For example, a presenter shares a screenshot of a specific webpage because it relates to the content of the slides, but the automated text provides, “Screenshot of a cell phone. Image description automatically created.” This provides no context for a screen reader user to understand why the screenshot was shared.
  3. Include an image description under all visual content.
    1. Create your image description and place it directly under the visual in the document in brackets (i.e. [Image description: your written image description goes here]). You can change the font size of the image description to be a little smaller or to be bolded to distinguish it from the remaining text.
    2. Why? A written image description of visual content that is incorporated into your document will both be available to a screen reader user and may also be used by anyone with visual access needs but does not use a screen reader.
  4. Provide context for each URL provided.
    1. This can either be done via the “Text to display” feature or the “ScreenTip” feature when editing the hyperlink. If using the “Text to display” feature and changing the link from a URL to text, a physically printed document will no longer provide the URL. If you wish to keep the URL visible, use the “ScreenTip” feature instead.
    2. Why? Screen readers will directly read each leader of a URL to a screen reader user.
  5. Avoid extra spaces and blank characters.
    1. If you need extra spaces, use the tab function. If you need a new page, page break, either with CTRL+ENTER or under “Insert,” “Pages”, “Page Break”.
    2. Why? Extra spaces and blank characters may cause problems from some screen reader programs and devices.

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Confirming Word Document Accessibility

Confirming your document’s accessibility while in Word will also support the accessibility of the document when it is printed as a PDF. The PDF, however, will also need to undergo a separate accessibility review.

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How do I confirm my Word Document's accessibility?

Following the completion of your document, use the Word search tool and type “Accessibility.” Click on the “Accessibility Checker” to review…

  1. Headings use
  2. Alt text
  3. Table readability
  4. URL identifications

The review will specific instructions for how to repair the inaccessible aspects of your presentation.

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What are common Word accessibility issues?

The most common issues following a review by the Accessibility Checker include:

  1. Unstructured document
  2. Unlabeled hyperlinks
  3. Repeated blank characters
  4. Missing alt text
  5. Illegible tables

Some of the accessibility issues identified might be significant errors that must be corrected, whereas others might be warnings that should be reviewed and adjusted as necessary based on your document’s needs.

However, other issues may also be present after reviewing your Word document for accessibility. If so, feel welcome to reach out to the AAA Accessibility & Meetings Coordinator, Nell (she/her/hers), using the AAA Contact Form, option "Accessibility."

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Providing Access Copies

Access copies are necessary for a variety of access needs. If you are creating a word document as an additional handout for a presentation, participants may need access copies for use in preparation for the presentation, during the presentation, or reviewed following the presentation. Access copies should always be provided at least in a digital format and should also be provided physically when meeting in person.

Presentations should provide digital access copies in advance.

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Virtual Access Copy Check List

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Making a Large Print Version

Large print documents provide support for low-vision individuals in settings where physical access copies are available. Therefore, large print physical access copies are important for in-person meetings, but may also be important to provide as a printable access copy for a virtual meeting.

We recommend that you review the standards provided by the Council of Citizens with Low Vision International – An Affiliate of the American Council of the Blind Arlington, VA at Best Practices and Guidelines for Large Print Documents used by the Low Vision Community. The first three bullet points of these guidelines guidelines highlighted and further broken down into directions and additional reminders below.

  1. Use at least an 18-point, and preferably a 20-point font.
  2. Use a bold, sans serif, mono or fixed space font.
    • Adobe's Verdana, Helvetica, Tahoma, Arial; Linotype's Futura Light Bolded; and Typography's Gotham Rounded fonts currently offer optimal readability for large print documents when the aforementioned parameters are applied.
  3. Use a line spacing (leading) of at least 5.
  4. Make titles and headings larger than the text of the document.
  5. Use both upper and lower case letters for titles and headings.
    • i.e. Do not use all uppercase for titles and headings.
  6. Align titles and headings left where possible.
    • i.e. Do not align titles and headings in the center of your document.

The above bullet points are provided by and developed from the guidelines shared by the Council of Citizens with Low Vision International.

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