Accessibility: Creating Accessible Word Documents

When creating documents, it is always best to ensure that you are creating content that is going to be accessible to a broad audience.  Here are some important things to remember when creating an accessible document using Microsoft Word:

Fonts

  • Fonts should be sans serf, such as Arial, Helvetica, or Verdana.
  • For ease in readability, the font size should never go below 10px.

Headings

  • When structuring your document, use properly formatted headings.  Headings should follow a natural order:  Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, etc.  Try to avoid skipping a heading level.
  • Avoid using headings as ways to style your document.  Headers are the primary way screen readers navigate through a document.  When headings appear randomly in a body of text, a screen reader looks at it as a new content point, breaking the continuity of the content tree.
  • Heading colors should maintain a high contrast.  Avoid using lighter shades of a color.  Use darker colors.

Images, Graphics, Maps and Graphs

  • Make sure to provide alternative text descriptions (ALT text) for all images and graphics.
  • Be thoughtful to describe the image so that it reflects the reason you added the image or graphic in the first place.  If it is purely decorative, then you can simply describe it as such.
  • Alternative text descriptions for graphs should describe the information that is being displayed.

Links

  • When writing links, don’t use the web address (URL) as the display text.  Use the title of the page or indicate the links destination that you are linking to (ie:  Adobe Support Site, New York Times article on snow removal).

Color

  • Don’t use colors to convey meaning.  Individuals who are color blind may not be able to distinguish the color and associate its meaning.  Screen readers may pass over the color of text as well.
  • When using color with text, make sure there is a high contrast ratio.  Use darker colors on white / light backgrounds.

Testing Your Document

The current versions of Microsoft Word have built in Accessibility Checker.  After running your document through the Accessibility Checker, it will provide you with a list of errors, warnings and tips on what you need to do to make the document more accessible.  While it doesn’t automatically fix the issues for you, it is a great way to make sure your document will reach the broadest audience.

Note:  The Accessibility Checker will only work with .docx files

Additional Resources

While these are the fundamental considerations to take when crafting a document, there are other components to a more complex Word document that also require a similar attention.