Creating Word documents that can be read and understood by a diverse range of people, is just as vital as creating accessible, inclusive websites and online content. Imagine going to a recruitment website and downloading the Position Description as a Word document, or being sent it as an email attachment, only to find that you cannot access the document using your screen reader (if you are blind or vision-impaired) can’t listen to the linked podcast (if you are Deaf or hearing impaired), or simply can’t understand large sections of it because the document is full of industry jargon that is not explained.
Let’s start with what ‘accessibility’ actually means, when it comes to a Word document. It’s about removing barriers that prevent interaction with, and the understanding of, the contents of a document, so that people of all abilities are not excluded.
That’s why it’s important to be able to create a Word doc that can be accessed by everyone, including people with a sensory (sight and hearing), cognitive, and/or mobility disability, seniors, and those with English as a second language. But don’t worry, it’s actually quite straightforward to make your content in a Word document optimally accessible, just by following a few simple rules.
The best approach to creating accessible content is to learn what you need to do beforehand and then apply that to the content you create. However, before you dive right in, make sure you check out Authoring Techniques for Accessible Word Documents. This guide was produced by the Inclusive Design Research Centre and it includes detailed step-by-step instructions for creating an accessible Word document.
After you’ve done that, read through the tips below, and you’ll be well on your way to ensuring that the word documents you make and share can be read and understood by people of all abilities.
Our seven quick tips for easy Word document accessibility are:
Set up your Word doc as a ‘.docx’ file
Ensure that you are using Microsoft Word from 2010 onwards, as a ‘.docx’ document, because earlier versions of Word (‘.doc’ variants) don’t have the same accessibility features activated in the program such as the Accessibility Checker.
Create structure with headings
Headings and sub-headings give your content structure and are a key way for all users to navigate and skip to the content within a document that they want to read. Begin with the ‘H1’ element (that stands for Heading-1) and make sure you designate sub-headings down to the ‘H6’ element if you need to. However, most documents don’t need more than ‘H3’ specified.
Avoid using Tab or Enter buttons
Don’t use the TAB or ENTER buttons to make space between sections of text in your documents. Until we become aware of this ‘don’t rule’, most of us do this pretty much automatically as it’s fast and we don’t know any different. Yet this adds unnecessary repetition for screen readers and slows down the process of communicating what you want to communicate in your Word document. Instead, select ‘Normal’ or ‘Normal with no spaces’ and then key in your content. Format it later with ‘Line and paragraph spacing’ on your Paragraph tool bar, to deliver good accessibility for the reader.
Create Alternative Text for images
A picture paints a thousand words, or so they say… unless you can’t see the picture well or at all, and there are no words of explanation about what the image is or is supposed to be representing. Alternative Text is a description of the image and is useful for people who cannot view images or cannot clearly interpret the meaning of an image for a variety of reasons. Complex organisational charts, diagrams and infographics should also include a suitable text description to convey more complex images, even if that ends up being quite long. Simply right-click to ‘Format Picture’ and then select ‘Alt Text’.
Create meaningful links
Links in a document that contain the words ‘Read more’ and ‘Click here’ can be an irritation for the reader. Good writing principles mean that you can embed a hyperlink within the name of the file that is in the text, like we have done in ‘Accessibility Rules’ below. This also provides an important benefit for users of assistive technologies who may use shortcuts to identify the links of a document’s page.
Don’t use jargon
Try to keep the content in your document as free from jargon as possible. Not every job seeker for example will be familiar with the technical terms used within your sector, and those with English as a second language plus people with some forms of cognitive disability can also be excluded, so use acronyms and abbreviations sparingly. And always remember to include the full meaning of the shortened phrase on the first mention.
Use the Check Accessibility option
This is an inbuilt feature of Word 2010 onwards and you can access this function by selecting the ‘File’ tab then the following path: ‘Info/Check Issues/Check Accessibility’. The Accessibility Checker checks your file against a set of possible issues that people with disabilities might experience in your file. Each issue is classified as an ‘Error’, ‘Warning’ or ‘Tip’. It could be helpful for you to check out the Accessibility Rules of the checker to make corrective action easier… for Word 2016, Word 2013, Excel 2016, Excel 2013, PowerPoint 2016 and more.
Like to know more?
You can find information on the accessibility and inclusion services that Media Access Australia provides to businesses, Government departments and charities from the Digital Accessibility Services website, or call (02) 9212 6242 during business hours, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.