The following guidelines apply to all types of documents: Word, PDF, Powerpoint, email messages, course readings, syllabi, assignments, handouts, grant proposals, etc! We also have a guide specific to creating accessible and searchable PDF documents

Our primary goal is to make documents accessible to users of assistive technology. A bonus is that following these guidelines will make your documents more user-friendly for all.

Accessible Document Checklist | Accessible PowerPoint | Accessibility Checkers | How to Export from Word to PDF | Need Help | Additional Resources


Accessible Document Checklist

  • Make sure documents are digital, legible, and available in advance

    • In addition to, or instead of, paper, make documents available in digital form. A physical piece of paper presents a barrier to people with print disabilities.
    • Sharing digital documents well in advance of classes or meetings is also an important accessibility consideration.
  • Use Headings and Consider Your Document Structure
    Microsoft Word Logo

    • Users of assistive technology rely on heading levels to navigate documents.
    • In Microsoft Word, make sure to use heading styles to format text headings. 
    • Edit the Word Normal template to change the styling of default headings font, size, etc. (Mac instructions)
    • Avoid floating elements such as text boxes.
    • In PowerPoint, use built-in slide layouts so that slide titles and slide text have the correct structure and labels for screen readers. 
    • Use pre-formatted bulleted and numbered lists and columns instead of formatting manually or using tables for layout rather than for data.
  • Ensure Images and Charts have Descriptions, aka "Alt Text" or "Alt Tags"

  • Use color deliberately with Adequate Contrast

    • Don’t use color only to convey meaning, combine use of color with text, labels or symbols.
    • Instead of red/green colors, use words (emphasis) or *surround text with asterisks* to create emphasis 
    • Make sure font size is large enough (at least 12 pt) and contrast between text and background color is sufficient that the text is easily readable.
    • Limit use of background images which can make text difficult to read.
    • Here are some tips from Microsoft on color and formatting for accessibility
    • Don’t set text alignment to justify. Keep text alignment to the left. The following image shows the appropriate setting in the toolbar icons for left justification:  Icons for Justifying Text
  • Make your links Descriptive and Unique

    • Screen-reader users often use a keyboard shortcut to list all the links on a page. In such a list, the links do not pick up the surrounding text.
    • A descriptive link describes where users will go if they click it.
    • For example, instead of “Click here to see our President’s Welcome,” say “See our President’s Welcome.”
    • Descriptive link names also make pages more readable and more scannable for all users.
    • Make your link names descriptive in Word documents.
    • Highlight the text, then use Control+K (Windows) or Command+K (Mac) to quickly add links in MS Word.
    • Alternaely click the “Add Link” icon (Word Windows: Linking Icon for Word on Windows ; Word Mac:  Linking icon in Word for Mac ; Google Docs:  Linking icon in Google Docs ).

Accessible PowerPoint Microsoft PowerPoint Logo

Please see these excellent guides from the National Center on Disability and Access to Education:


Accessibility Checkers

Microsoft Office applications including Microsoft Office PowerPoint and Word and Office 365 PowerPoint and Word contain “Accessibility Checker" tools which scan your document for potential issues. These tools will catch some (but not all!) accessibility issues and offer tips on how to fix them.

A good practice is to start a document in Word or PowerPoint, use the Microsoft Accessibility Checker, save the document then export as needed to Google Docs, Google Slides, or to save as a PDF. 


How to Export from Word to PDF

If you properly export a word document to PDF, it will retain your headings, alt-text, links, lists, etc.

  • If you have Acrobat Pro installed on your computer, use the Acrobat tab in Word to create a PDF.
  • If you don't have Acrobat Pro, choose Save as (Mac) or Export (PC) and select PDF.
  • Don’t Print to PDF, as this will not retain your structure, links, etc.

Need Help?

IT Accessibility-related questions and requests can be entered into the AskIT ticketing system, selecting the category “Accessibility”, or by emailing askit@amherst.edu.


Additional Resources