Creating Accessible Documents

Creating Accessible Documents

Creating accessible documents means that people who have visual impairments, people who are blind, and people with learning disabilities can access your document.

Whether your end product is a word document or a PDF, there are a few simple practices that will help ensure accessibility to a wider audience. Generally speaking, it’s much easier to create a document with accessibility in mind then it is to “fix” an inaccessible document.

1. Text flow / order

People who are blind can use screen reading software that reads text out loud, in order to navigate and access content. In order to help them navigate through your document it is useful to use styles in Microsoft Office documents to identify headings, body and captions.

Note: proper use of styles also makes creating an automated table of contents for your document possible

PDF files use tags to guide screen readers and help identify the order of text and images that will be read out loud. If you have identified each block of text in you document using styles, then the tags will be  generated automatically when converting to PDF.


2. Images

Many software packages allow you to tag images with a description that will be read out loud by a screen reader. In MS Office applications simply right-click your image, choose “format picture” and then “alt text”. When converting to PDF or other formats, alt text will be included.

Text as images

  • When an image contains text, the text should be identified in your alt text description.
  • In some instances (e.g. scanned documents) the text content is actually an image and therefore is not accessible to screen readers. If possible, it is best to use actual text and not scanned images or screen captures of text.

3. Visual appearance

There are a few simple practices to help ensure that people with visual impairments can read your document.

High contrast

Create contrast between your font colour and background. Black text on a white background is a good choice.

Font size

When producing material for print, choose a minimum font size of 14.

Serif vs. sans serif

Generally a sans serif font (e.g. Arial) is considered a good choice for large blocks of text intended for web and computer reading. For printed documents, serif fonts (Times) are considered preferable.