Accessible Digital Documents

How to Create Accessible Documents

The good news is that it is fairly easy to create accessible documents. We explain in general terms how to achieve this below and further on we will explain how to go about it in the most common applications used in the University of Michigan.

Techniques Common to All Document Formats

Structure 

Provide structure to your documents by using headings. All users benefit from visual and logical structure, but this is crucial for users of assistive technologies.

There are six levels of Headings. Your Heading 1 should be primarily used for the title of the document you are creating. Headings should be used hierarchically/nested sequentially. You should not skip heading levels, such as using a Heading 4 directly below a Heading 2. You may have multiple heading 2s, 3s, and so on, so long as the items have a similar level of structural importance (e.g., a heading 2 could be chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, but sections in each chapter might be heading 3s).

When possible try to adjust the styling of your headers so that they appear larger and more distinct than the surrounding text. 

The following picture shows how you should be using headings within any documents you create.

A sample visual layout with a Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, another Heading 3, and then a Heading 2.

Media

To provide a similar experience for everyone who views your document it is important to know how to make media items (audio, video, images, etc) accessible.

Alternative Text for Images

One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is by using alternative text (alt text). Alt text is used to describe the content and function of the images being used. Visually impaired users using screen readers will be read the alt-text so that they can understand an image. Without this alt-text, these users will be unable to get the same information as users without visual impairments. Alternative text is metadata added to an image that does not appear visually, and may differ from the types of language that appears in figure captions.

To be useful, alt text needs to be accurate, equivalent to the content of the image, succinct, and context sensitive. Alt text should also not refer to the fact that it is describing an image (e.g., do not use alt text which states “image of ….”). By using alt-text it is already communicated to users that you are referring to an image, so you do not need to specify this again. 

Say you wanted to provide an alt-text for the following image:     

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/qACJYmQIzpa7c4KEfC9mvvURWVqlbKil65A1fRTyNisvg24LuHtRx_YQmhHYq4JPMrjg0ZtvSPhlj6sv8omKK4Vcr2oAqU7yhSJnks88kc9ABI67uGOcaQ9049XZVhA1BBOhWpmi

Some Good Alt Text Options:

  • University of Michigan Law Library
  • Law Library at the University of Michigan

Bad Alt Text:

  • library.png
  • Picture of a library
  • Library Michigan Law University

For a more comprehensive overview of using alt-text and to view other examples please visit Webaim.

Captioning for Videos

Caption and transcribe all of your videos, so that blind and deaf users may be able to use your media. If you have a caption file there are free tools like Rev.com for converting those files to time-stamped transcripts. If the video contains important information that is not available in the captions, then make sure to include sufficient context for users to understand the actions and visual arguments in a video. This could be textual video descriptions in a transcription or audio descriptive tracks. One best practice when making videos is to try to describe the main purpose of visual arguments as you narrate over slides.

Tables

If you are using tables in your document, make sure to give them structure by providing headings for your columns and a caption, which can act as a summary for the table. A sighted user will be able to visually determine the position of a given cell in the grid. Users of assistive technology, however, need this additional structure to do the same.

Links

Label your links with concise, unique and descriptive text. Users of assistive technology rely on this to navigate documents.

  • Concise:  no more than 5 words. 
  • Unique:  no other link in the document has the same text. 
  • Descriptive:  it indicates exactly what will happen when the link is clicked

Say you would like to link to the University of Michigan's Accessibility website (https://accessibility.umich.edu/), then the following are examples of good and bad texts to use:

Good Example: 

To learn more about digital accessibility visit the University of Michigan Accessibility Website [University of Michigan accessibility website is the link]

Bad Example:

If you would like to visit the University of Michigan’s Accessibility website, click here.

Color and Contrast

When you are choosing colors for your document, make sure to provide high color contrast between the background and foreground. A rule of thumb is that if the contrast appears poor, then it probably does not meet the requirement. 

The following examples have poor color contrast, and as a result are difficult to read.

This is poor color contrast

This is poor color contrast

The following examples, however, are easy to read due to the high color contrast between the background and foreground

This is good color contrast

This is good color contrast

Additionally, make sure that color is not the only way that information is emphasized. Users with some visual impairments will not be able to perceive color differences, and therefore will not be able to pick up on any color based emphasis

Lists

Create a list using the specified list features of the platform you are using, instead of simply adding lines yourself. When you create lists yourself without specified list features, you will end up using tabs or spaces for indentation. Users of some assistive technology like screen readers will “hear” these spaces as “blank, blank, blank”. So it is best to use built-in list features. 

Table of Contents 

If the document is long, a table of contents (TOC) will help all users, but especially users with visual, motor and cognitive disabilities. The good news is that if you have a proper heading structure your work is essentially done.  We explain how to add a TOC below.

Creating Microsoft Word Documents

Structure

Select the text and …

 

Office 2016

Office 365

Technique

Ribbon Home tab

Click on Heading 1-6 style

Ribbon Home tab

Click on Heading 1-6 style

Media

Images

Adding alternative text:

 

Office 2016

Office 365

Technique
  1. Right click image
  2. Choose Format Picture
  3. Choose Layout & Properties
  4. Fill in Alt Text Description
  1. Choose Alt Text in ribbon
  2. Fill out Description

Video

Make sure that the included video is captioned.

Tables

 

Office 2016

Office 365

Technique
  1. Select the first table row
  2. Ribbon Design, make sure “Header Row” is checked
  1. Select the first table row
  2. Table tools > Design, click on Header Row

Lists

 

Office 2016

Office 365

Technique
  1. Select lines
  2. Ribbon, Home tab, click on number or bullet list buttons
  1. Select lines
  2. Ribbon, Home tab, click on ordered or unordered list buttons

Table of Contents

 

Office 2016

Office 365

Technique
  1. Click where you want to insert the table of contents 
  2. Ribbon, References tab, Table of Contents
  1. Click where you want to insert the table of contents – usually near the beginning of a document.
  2. Click References > Table of Contents and then choose an Automatic Table of Contents style from the list.

Check Accessibility         

 

Office 2016

Office 365

Technique 

File > Info > Check for Issues > Check Accessibility

Ribbon, Review tab, Check Accessibility

Other Versions of Microsoft Word

Word 2010 (Windows)

Word 2011 (Mac)

Word 2013 (Windows)

Creating Microsoft PowerPoint Documents

  • Try to create slides using preconfigured templates, as these templates tend to have more semantic richness than if you were to design your own slide deck
  • Choose a theme that has a good contrast between the foreground and background
  • Keep decorative non-informational images to a minimum

Media

 

Office 2016

Office 365

Techniques
  1. Right click image
  2. Choose Format Picture
  3. Choose Layout & Properties
  4. Fill in Alt Text Description
  1. Choose Alt Text in ribbon
  2. Fill out Description

Tables

 

Office 2016

Office 365

Techniques
  1. Select the first table row
  2. Ribbon Design, make sure “Header Row” is checked
  1. Select the first table row
  2. Table tools > Design, click on Header Row

Lists

 

Office 2016

Office 365

Technique
  1. Select lines
  2. Ribbon, Home tab, click on number or bullet list buttons
  1. Select lines
  2. Ribbon, Home tab, click on ordered or unordered list buttons

Check Accessibility

 

Office 2016

Office 365

Technique

File > Info > Check for Issues > Check Accessibility

Ribbon, Review tab, Check Accessibility

Creating Google Docs

Structure

To add headings:

  1. Choose text
  2. Menu, Format, Paragraph styles, choose Heading 1-6 

Shortcuts for Headings

 

Windows

macOS

Technique

Ctrl + Alt + 1 (through 6)

Command + Option + 1 (through 6)

Media

Images

To add alternative text:

  1. Right click image
  2. Choose Alt Text
  3. Fill in Description field

Tables

Since you cannot add table headers, tables in Google Docs need to be very simple to be accessible. Make sure the cells in the first row describe the columns.

Lists

  1. Select lines you would like in a list
  2. Click on number or bullet list as appropriate

Table of Contents

  1. Select place where you want the table of contents
  2. Menu, Insert, Table of Contents

Checking Accessibility

Google Docs does not have an accessibility checker. You can however save it as a web page and then use a web based accessibility checker.  

Note: only do this if the document is not confidential!

  1. Menu, File, Publish to the Web, Start Publishing.
  2. Copy the link provided to you
  3. Go to: https://wave.webaim.org/ and paste the link
  4. You will be provided with a report

Creating Google Slide Presentations

Choose a theme that has a good color contrast between the foreground and background.

Structure

To add headings:

Google slides only uses the slide title and subtitle as a heading.

Media

To add alternative text:

  1. Select an image, drawing, or graphic.
  2. Right click, Choose Alt text.
  3. Enter a description.

Tables

Tables in Google Slides need to be very simple to be accessible. Make sure the first row describes the columns. 

Google Slides does not have an accessibility checker.

Saving to Accessible PDF Documents

If you have followed the instructions above, when you export to PDF as recommended below, the accessibility of the PDF will reflect the accessibility of the source document.

From Word and PowerPoint in Office 2016 with Adobe Add-In

Select File, Save as Adobe PDF

Or

Ribbon, Acrobat tab, Create PDF, Options (make sure that “Enable Accessibility and Reflow with tagged Adobe PDF” is checked), Ok, Save

From Word and PowerPoint in Office 365

Ribbon, File, Save As, Download as PDF

From Google Doc/Slides

Menu, File, Download As, PDF Document (.pdf)

Checking Accessibility of PDFs

Adobe Acrobat DC

  1. Open PDF
  2. Choose Accessibility  in side menu
  3. Choose Full Check
  4. Pay attention to “Failed” messages. Some messages will also remind you to manually check certain things.