Document Accessibility - What is an accessibility document and why accessibility is important?

Document Accessibility

Published: June 28, 2021

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    All aspects of the Web should be accessible to everyone nowadays. The goal is to provide equal access and opportunity for people with disabilities and give them active participation in the digital aspects of our society. Document accessibility is of huge importance in this domain, referring to accessible documents that can be read by people with disabilities, cognitively impaired, color blind, or people with visual impairments.

    All of these users interact with documents through assistive technologies such as screen readers, text-to-speech converters, screen magnifiers, etc. When creating content in documents, you should focus ensure that you are creating accessible content. To do that, you should use headings, lists, meaningful hyperlinks, as well as alternate text to images. You should also be meaningful in the way you use links and tables, and learn how to export from one format to another. Below, we are talking about this in detail.

    What Is Document Accessibility?

    Microsoft Word is one of the most popular applications for users with disabilities, and one that can be customized, too. The text within Word can be easily read by many assistive technologies including screen readers, Braille devices, text-to-speech technologies, and more. Below, we are describing some of the basic rules you should follow when making your Word, PowerPoint, PDF, Excel, and other files accessible online.

    How To Create Accessible Documents?

    As you may know, an accessible document is a file that is created to be easily readable by a specific technology. Making a document accessible is best when you are in the early phases of creating it. Below, we are guiding you to the process and the tools needed when creating accessible documents.

    • 1. Focus On The Document Properties (Found In Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel & More)

      Look at the document’s properties by visiting the Properties Tab. Whether it’s a Microsoft Word document, a presentation, or a spreadsheet, your document needs to have a clear Company Name, Address, and Phone Number in the Author field as contact information for the reader. Also, the reading language should be set to English.

    • 2. Add Alt Text To All Images, Charts, Tables, Embedded Objects, Video, Signatures, or Audio Files

      All of your clip-arts, images, charts, shapes, embedded, inked, visual, audio or video files use something known as alternative text (or alt text) that is essentially an audible description of a non-text object meant to help visually impaired users understand it.

      In some documents and programs, you need to right-click the object to find the Alt Text menu. In others, you can add alternative text by clicking the image. Doing it is essential, especially in Microsoft Word and PDF documents.

    • 3. Use Styles In All Lengthy Documents

      Just like the alternative text is for images, heading styles in numerical order (heading 1, heading 2, etc.), lists, bullets (preferably round ones), and normal paragraphs should all be used to maintain the structure of your accessible documents. Optimizing your headings and other sections will also make it easy for content to be picked up by a screen reader.

    • 4. Meaningful Hyperlinks

      The format of your external links is important for document accessibility, too. When formatting a hyperlink (in Microsoft Word, PDF, or any other document type), make sure to actually link to the part of the sentence describing the item, and not use a word like “here” to put the hyperlink on. This is one of the common mistakes Microsoft Word users make.

    • 5. Avoid Using Watermarks That Are Images

      An image used for a watermark is not read by a screen reader, so you should definitely stick to symbols only (even though they are defined as “background” on them) when creating accessible content.

    • 6. Avoid Using Blank Cells For Formatting Or Paragraph Marks For Spacing Between Lines

      Doing this in Microsoft suite creates a shutter sound which is very annoying to a listener. Instead, add cell padding and spacing, or paragraph and line spacing when you are creating documents.

    • 7. Use Closed Captions For All Audio Files

      Accessibility in Word documents also means using a closed caption for all audio in your documents or presentations. This will help people with low or no hearing ability or users with site challenges.

    • 8. Write In A Simple And Clear Way

      Your writing style matters as well when it comes to creating accessible documents. Make sure to write in plain language, without using jargon and abbreviations. Focus on simple and clear writing in every document – it will make your content easy to be transcribed and understand by users.

    • 9. Check If Your PDF Documents Are Accessible

      PDF documents are often difficult to optimize and problematic for users. The best way to check whether every page of a PDF is accessible is by using the Accessibility Checker that is built-in within the Acrobat suite. Similarly, to make every page of PDFs accessible, you can use Adobe Acrobat Pro’s Action Wizard (in the “Tools” section of the menu).

    • 10. Add An Accessibility Disclaimer

      Make sure to use a general title for the document which would be the main one. In the starting part of your document, add a space or small image or text box where you describe that if users have problems reading or understanding the document, they should contact the right person. Provide contact information.

    • 11. Letters, Font, and Point Size

      The ideal fonts include Arial, Helvetica, or Verdana, which are all part of the ‘sans-serif family. The right text size of 12-points benefits most users, with the right color contrast (black text on a white or yellow background is a good example). Among the other important considerations for making your documents accessible on the web, you should avoid using color alone to convey meaning, focus on lowercase letters and use bold font to highlight and emphasize text. Do not hyphenate words at the end of lines, stick to normal text for numbers from one to nine, and use numerics from 10 upwards.

    • 12. Specify Column Header Rows In Tables

      Creating accessible documents with headers relies on one rule – designing a simple structure of rows and columns where it is easy to specify which row is your column header or row title. This applies to Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, and other tools.

    Ensuring Your Content Is Accessible On All Screen Readers

    Whenever you are creating a document in a certain format (Word or PDF), think about its structure and how easy it would be for users with disabilities to navigate through it. If the layout of your document is full of graphics, has alternate text that is similar in every image, or has inconsistent spacing and structure, it will certainly be hard for people using assistive technologies to access it.

    As the last tip, always be sure to check your document accessibility and ensure that all items, images, and form fields are optimized well and in reading order. If you are not sure where to find an accessibility checker for your needs, ADA Site Compliance is here to assist you! CONTACT ADA SITE COMPLIANCE today for all your website accessibility needs!

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