The following guidelines apply to all types of documents: Word, PDF, Powerpoint, email messages, course readings, syllabi, assignments, etc! Our goal is to make documents accessible to users of assistive technology, but following these guidelines will make your documents more user-friendly for all.
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 or vision disabilities.
- Scans should be made from clean documents or books, free of notes or scribbles.
- Sharing digital documents well in advance of classes or meetings is also an important accessibility consideration.
If you are converting scans into PDFs, make sure text is Searchable/Selectable
- Can you select the text in your PDF document with your mouse, or copy and paste it? If not, it’s saved as an image, which is not accessible.
- Several tools are available to recognize and convert PDF image content into text:
SensusAccess/Robobraille is a useful and free web service for converting files available to Amherst account holders.
Kurzweil is a program that provides text recognition as well as text-to-speech and study support tools, available freely to Amherst College users.
Use Headings and Consider Your Document Structure
- Users of assistive technology rely on heading levels to navigate documents.
- In Microsoft Word, make sure to use heading styles to format text headings.
- Be sure to edit the Word Normal template to change the styling of default headings font, size, etc. (Mac instructions)
- Avoid floating elements like text boxes. In PowerPoint, use built-in slide layouts and don’t insert additional text boxes.
- Set bulleted lists and columns instead of formatting manually.
Ensure Images and Charts have Descriptions, aka "Alt Text" or "Alt Tags"
- Does an image represent or contain relevant information to your audience? Make sure to add a description for people who cannot see it.
- Add image alt-text in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, or Outlook
- For simple graphs or charts, a description that includes the relevant information or main “take away” from the chart is sufficient.
Use color deliberately with Adequate Contrast
- Don’t use color only to convey meaning.
- 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 color 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:
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 scannable for sighted 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 and Google Docs, or click the “Add Link” icon (Word Windows: , Word Mac: , Google Docs: ).
- Accessible Powerpoint Template and Guidelines created by the Amherst College Office of Communications
Please see these excellent guides from the National Center on Disability and Access to Education:
- Creating Accessible Powerpoint- Mac Instructions
- Creating Accessible Powerpoint- Windows Instructions
Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat both 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.
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.
- Microsoft Office Accessibility Center: contains a wealth of resources on creating accessible documents in various formats, as well as accessible templates.
- University of Washington's Creating Accessible Documents
- Accessible Documents (Word, Powerpoint, Excel, etc) Cheat Sheets (Courtesy NCDAE)
- CAST Center - Universal Design for Learning: Text
- edX's Accessibility Best Practices for Developing Course Content