Make Digital Documents Accessible

Digital Documents

An accessible digital document is one that is well-structured and provides visual information also in a non-visual format. Examples of digital documents are PDFs and Microsoft Office files, but there are many more. They are found on a website, sent in an email or shared in various ways. The information on this page is specific to Microsoft Word but the principles apply to any text document. Building accessibility into the document from the start is the best practice.

Plan, Organize and Structure

Assistive technology interprets electronic documents based on their structure, just as it interprets web pages. Think about and plan the organization and structure. In electronic documents, you create structure by using the software’s built-in tools to create headers, lists, and tables rather than bolding, adding spaces, or using other "tricks". The PDF format is the most widely used on the web, so become familiar with the steps required to produce accessible PDFs.

Write in Clear Language and use Descriptive Links

Clear simple, jargon free language is easier for everyone to understand. Links should be clear where they are going. Avoid "read more" and "click here" when you can, but if you have to use such conventions, include a title attribute in the code.

Hierarchical Structure H1-H6

One and only one H1 per page - it is the title of the page. H2-H6 are used to indicate hierarchy - never used for sizing text. 

Give Images Alt tags or Blank Alt Tags

Make Images Accessible by providing alternative text that will assist by giving context when the images is missing or unviewable. If the image does not convey useful information, like decorative images and blank alt tag will allow a screen reader to skip it.

Follow UCSF Editorial Style Guide

The UCSF Editorial Style Guide has been compiled to help standardize the use of frequently used terms, punctuation and style and create brand consistency for communicators when writing for and about UCSF. It is intended to improve clarity and readability across all communications outlets providing news and information for the University community and external audiences.

Check your Work

Always check your work. Use the built-in accessibility checkers when you can.

Accessible PDF Documents

Generally, you’ll need to convert or export from another document format to create a PDF before uploading it to your website. It is easier to produce accessible PDFs when you begin with an accessible source document. With each version of MS Word and other software, the accessibility features have improved. When possible use the latest software version.

MS Accessibility Checkers

Like the spelling checker tells you about possible spelling errors, Accessibility Checker in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint tells you about possible accessibility issues in your Office file so you can fix these issues so someone with a disability can read and get to your content.

Use the Microsoft Accessibility Checkers to find issues and get suggestions

Creating Accessible Microsoft Word Documents

In Word 2007 and later for Windows, most of the Ribbon is taken up by the Styles Menu. (See below) By using Styles you can add structure that Assistive Technology can interpret to your documents.

Pop out the Styles menu to change the formatting of styles or create new styles

MS Word’s accessibility checker helps identify and fix issues as you work, and once you’ve completed your document. Run the accessibility checker by selecting File > Info > Check for Issues > Check Accessibility.

MS Word's accessibility checker is available in: Excel 2016, Word 2016, PowerPoint 2016, Excel 2013, Word 2013, PowerPoint 2013, Office 365, Office 365 Admin, Office 365 Small Business Admin, Excel 2010, PowerPoint 2010, Office 365 operated by 21Vianet, Office 365 operated by 21Vianet - Small Business Admin, Office 365 operated by 21Vianet - Admin, Excel Starter, Office 2010, Word Starter, Word Starter 2010

On MS Word for Mac, use the Styles and Formatting options to provide structure.

Convert Accessible MS Word Documents into PDFs

Once you’ve created an accessible Word document you can convert it to an accessible PDF document:

  1. Go to File > Export > Create PDF/XPS Document
  2. In the File Name dialog, Select Options
  3. In the options menu, be sure that “Document structure tags for accessibility” is checked. For longer documents, adding bookmarks can be useful as well but is optional.
  4. Select OK and save your document as a PDF.

Other Document Formats

When you can, convert other kinds of documents to HTML, as HTML documents are easier to make accessible. The principles that apply to MS Word also apply to all text documents, plan, organize and structure for best results. Write in clear language, use hierarchical structure, give images alt tags, use descriptive links and check your work.

PDF Documents

Creating a PDF from the original file and fixing accessibility issues is also an option if you have Adobe Acrobat Pro. Fixing PDFs should be a second choice, best to address them in the original format before converting to PDF.