Following this guide will help you create an accessible Word document (and thus, PDFs) for all your students. Using accessible course materials is essential, so every student has an equitable chance of succeeding in your online course(s).
The key parts of making a Word document accessible deal with its:
- Alternative Text for Images
- Descriptive Hyperlinks
- Contrast & Color
- Data Tables
- Accessibility Checker
- Document Title
- Converting to an Accessible PDF
How to Create an Accessible Word Document
Alternative Text for Images
Images meant to convey meaning should contain an alternative or “alt” text description. When a student using a screen reader encounters an image in Word, their screen reader will read the description for them.
Headings are essential to Word documents because they give your document structure. This hierarchical structure allows students to scan your documents, whether visually or via a screen reader, assuming the hierarchy is well-formed.
You can create headings by using Word’s built-in styles on the ribbon’s Home tab.
- Be descriptive and meaningful out of context
- Help people know where they’re going
Descriptive hyperlinks give meaning to where the URL in the background will take you. You’ve seen several descriptive hyperlinks already throughout this guide (and yet, no URLs).
Screen reader and keyboard-only users can skip from link to link by pressing the Tab key on their keyboard. Therefore, if links don’t make sense on their own, we’re not providing enough information.
See our How to Create Accessible Links tutorial, where we discuss good and bad hyperlink examples. WebAIM has more to say about links and screen readers, helping you form better descriptive link text.
Contrast & Color
Text colors and their background colors need sufficient contrast so all students can read your content without difficulty, even those with color blindness. You can find insufficient color contrast by using Word’s Accessibility Checker.
The highest and best possible contrast is black text on a white background or white text on a black background. The worst contrast example here is an off-white color text on a white background.
Additional tools on the web, like the Just Color Picker and WebAIM’s Contrast Checker, can help you find better colors to use in your documents (or web pages). You may just need to darken your text or background color to find a better contrast ratio.
Use of Color
Data tables display information in a grid or matrix. They contain header columns and/or rows that explain what the information in the grid means.
Sighted students can scan tables to make associations between table data and their corresponding headers. When you set table properties correctly, table headers provide those associations for students using a screen reader.
Read How to Create Accessible Tables to see how to set up your tables properly.
Office products, like Microsoft Word, have an internal Accessibility Checker to help you find and fix many accessibility issues within your documents.
However, automated accessibility checkers can only find so many issues. Thus, we should follow the guidelines seen throughout this tutorial. Adhering to these guidelines and using the accessibility checker together helps ensure you create accessible documents for your students.
Add a Document Title
If you ever plan to convert your Word document to a PDF (e.g., for sharing), you should add a document title first. Screen readers will read this title to students instead of the filename. Accordingly, the document title should be an easy-to-read replacement. (You can copy and paste your document’s Heading 1; that would likely suffice.)
Sighted students will see this title instead of the filename on Adobe Reader’s PDF tab. Students using a screen reader will hear this title instead of the filename. Therefore, this title should be helpful for all your students.
Unfortunately, Word’s Accessibility Checker doesn’t flag a missing document title as an accessibility issue. Consequently, you’ll have to remember on your own, refer to this guide, or be reminded by Canvas upon uploading the PDF. Luckily, you’ll have multiple chances to get it right for your students.
Converting to an Accessible PDF
Instructors primarily use PDFs for their students’ online course materials. Regardless of their reasons, there are many benefits to providing PDFs for your students instead of the original document.
Adobe PDFs can be shared, viewed, and printed by anyone on any system using free Adobe Reader software. Regardless of your operating system and the original application used to build the document, anyone can access that PDF for free. You can’t say the same about the original Word document you created that PDF with.
Once you’ve fixed any accessibility issues, then you can convert your Word document into an accessible PDF. Please see How to Convert a Word Document into an Accessible PDF for detailed instructions.
Even if Word’s Accessibility Checker can’t find all the issues for you, adhering to this guide will significantly improve the likelihood that you’ll create an accessible Word document. Therefore, every one of your students will benefit and get an equitable chance to succeed in your online course(s).