Micrsoft Word Guidance

Contents

  1. Structure
  2. Images
  3. Layout
  4. Colour contrast
  5. Hyperlinks

In a recent conference session, there was a discussion about the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and the idea of renaming them to something like Digital Accessibility Guidelines. Although the Internet is really important and we should make it accessible, I find in my work that document accessibility is just as big an issue.

I am hoping to take the IAAP (International Association of Accessibility Professionals) Accessible Document Specialist Opens in new window exam in a few months time. As part of my preparation for this exam, I hope to create some guidance around different applications. This page will cover Microsoft Word.

Making your Word document accessible is simple but not always easy. There are a few things you have to remember to check, and there are some things you have to avoid. In my opinion though, much of it comes down to using correct and efficient techniques. As many of us are largely self-taught, it would be unrealistic to expect that these techniques are known and applied.

Structure

When a sighted person views a Word document, they take in a lot of information about the structure of the document. This includes things like:

We use structural information to make sense of a document but also to help navigate it. For someone using a screen reader, there are tools they can use that give them this same information. However, that only works if the author has created the document correctly. To help with this, I have created some video resources.

Images

Images are perhaps the most obvious type of content that could pose a barrier for someone using a screen reader. They are, by nature, visual and need to be described in text so that a blind person can access it.

Never assume that a blind person isn't interested in imagery. Everybody is different and it is important to give equal access, as far as this is possible. When including images in your Word document, this means really thinking about your alternate text.

How to create accessible images

Layout

As content designers, we want our document to look visually attractive, easy to read and navigate, and not to be text-heavy. I have heard it said that accessibility impedes good design. I strongly disagree with that! I think it is definitely possible to have a visually appealing document that is also accessible. What it does mean, is that the designer has to learn new skills, new ways of doing things... and that isn't always something we want to do.

Colour contrast

Good colour contrast benefits all users. Even if a person has perfect sight, if they are trying to read content in bright sunshine, poor contrast will make it very difficult for them. Fortunately, there are some excellent tools out there that will check contrast for you and give you options for fixing poor contrast.

How to check and amend colour contrast

Hyperlinks are a useful tool to help us navigate within and between documents and the Internet. When a user activates a link, they are taken to a new destination, sometimes in the same window or document, and sometimes elsewhere.

In Word, I thought hyperlinks were quite easy to get right... until I saw someone copy a URL, paste it into their document and continue typing. Sure enough, Word converted the URL into a link but the text on the page was also the URL, which was long and contained random letters and numbers - not much fun to listen to with a screen reader!

Fortunately, it is really easy to create links properly but also to amend existing links and make them more accessible.

How to create accessible hyperlinks
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