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Checklist: Creating Accessible Documents

    Creator: Accessible Libraries

    Date of Update: January 16, 2023

    Overview

    Documents can be both accessible and inaccessible. It all depends on how it is formatted. This checklist will help you make an accessible and readable document for everyone.

    The information in this resource is collected from the “Creating Accessible Documents” webinar and slides, as well as the Summer Short Series – “Accessible Headings,” “Informative Hyperlinks,” “Accessible Lists,” and “Font Attributes.”

    Checklist

    Follow this checklist to begin your journey of creating accessible documents!

    1. Use the Styles Pane to accessibly format your document.
    2. Add headings to your document.
    3. Use accessible font attributes.
    4. Make sure that your Hyperlinks are informative.
    5. Correctly format lists in your document.
    6. Make your tables accessible.
    7. Add alt text and captions to images, gifs, charts, etc.
    8. Define the language of your document and/or chunks of text that are in a different language.
    9. Consider the colour contrast ratio in your document.
    10. Check to ensure your document is accessible!

    You can download a simple version of the checklist to use everyday below:

    Use the Styles Pane to format your document.

    Formatting your document using the Styles Pane creates a more accessible document. Styles are the foundation of an accessible document!

    What is the Style Pane?

    The Styles Pane has document style options, a set of formatting characteristics you can apply to text, tables, and lists in your document.

    Use the styles pane to apply changes to the document’s title, headings, and general text. The changes you can make to the font include adjusting the font size, font type, font colour, line spacing, indents, bold, italics, etc. When you apply a style, you apply a whole group of formats in one simple task, and you can modify the formatting quickly and easily using the Style Pane.

    Styles also help you save time when creating your document. Instead of manually applying changes to the font that is inaccessible to define the title, heading, etc., all you need to do is click on the style option to apply the formatting!

    Avoid using Direct Formatting.

    We recommend that you do not use direct formatting when making changes to the text of your document. Direct formatting is when you use the buttons in the toolbar to modify the font’s style, size, and colour—for example, creating section titles or headers in a document by increasing the font size and bolding the font instead of marking it as a heading in the styles pane.

    Direct formatting creates inaccessible text that a screen reader cannot read properly. Screen reader users will not know when a document has an important feature, such as a Heading.

    There are exceptions, as we suggest you use direct formatting to create any lists in your document.

    How to access the styles options?

    You access the styles pane differently, depending on the word processor you are using. We will cover how to access it in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Pages, and LibreOffice.

    • Microsoft Word:
      • Select the “Styles Pane” from the “Home” ribbon. This opens a column on the right of your document.
      • This column shows “recommended” styles you can apply to your document.
    • Google Docs:
      • Select the styles from the “Styles” dropdown menu in the top toolbar.
    • Pages:
      • In the formatting options on the right side of the page, the styles options are located in the “Paragraph Styles” dropdown menu.
    • LibreOffice:
      • The styles options are in the main toolbar at the top of the page in the “Paragraph Styles” dropdown menu.
      • Selecting “More Styles” will open up a column on the right side of the page with multiple styles.
      • You can add styles to your document using the “Styles” main menu option.

    If you use a different word processor we have not covered, please contact us at info@accessiblelibraries.ca.

    Related Style Pane Resources

    Add headings to your document.

    Organizing your document by headings lets screen reader users easily navigate it. 

    What is a heading?

    A heading is a short phrase describing what the next section is all about. Think of it as the title of the text located underneath it. Headings are one of the most important parts of an accessible document. They are the main way a screen reader will navigate through the document.

    Different heading levels can be added to your document from the “Styles” pane (levels 1 to 9). When adding headings, you nest them according to how you want your information organized. The headings and how they are nested create the structure for your document.

    Note: You should always add headings to your document in hierarchical order. Never skip a heading level. For example, don’t go from heading level 1 to heading level 3.

    Why are headings important in your document?

    In the context of accessibility, headings let readers easily navigate and locate the important aspects of a document.

    Adding headings from the “Styles” pane available in word processors is essential. If you do not apply headings from the “Styles” pane, choosing to format the text manually (adjusting the font size, colour, bolding it, etc.), screen readers will not be able to navigate your document easily or even at all.

    We also recommend having text between all your document headings. It can even be a single sentence. It helps with navigation, especially with screen readers, so they know they haven’t missed any important information as they skip between headings.

    Heading tips and guidelines

    • Follow the rule of hierarchy and do not jump over a level. This will cause the reader to get confused and think they missed something.
      • The heading hierarchy is as follows:
        • Heading 1: top-level sections
        • Heading 2: Next level down
        • Heading 3: Can be used for subsections
        • Headings 4-6: Rarely used
    • Try to have content between each heading, even if it is only a brief sentence.
    • Avoid splitting headings. Having headings that split over two lines or jump without content between them can cause false navigation.
    • Avoid empty spaces between headings.
    • Do not put headings in a textbox.
    • Do not put headings in a table for layout purposes.

    How to Add Headings to your Document?

    First, select the text you would like to style as a heading and click on the heading level (e.g., Heading 1) to which you want to reformat it. Then follow the steps of your preferred word processor.

    • Microsoft Word:
      • In the Styles Pane > Heading Level
    • Google Docs:
      • In the Styles dropdown menu in the toolbar > Heading level
    • Pages:
      • In the Paragraph Styles dropdown menu > Heading level
    • LibreOffice:
      • In the Paragraph Styles dropdown menu > Heading level

    Related Headings Resources

    Use accessible font attributes.

    Apply font attributes to the text of your document in the styles pane.

    What are Font Attributes?

    Font attributes are added to the font or text of your document to change or style it. There are many different font attributes available in word processors. They include:

    • Font size (e.g., 14-point)
    • Font colour (e.g., black)
    • Font type (e.g., Arial)
    • Bold/Italicize/Underline/Strikethrough
    • Line spacing (e.g., single, double, etc.)
    • And more…

    Font attributes can make your document inaccessible, so you must consider carefully how and where to apply them. For example, small font, tight line/word/letter spacing, and poor colour contrast between the text and background make a document nearly impossible to read.

    How can you ensure your font attributes are accessible?

    Here is how you can ensure your font attributes are accessible:

    • Use a larger font size when possible.
    • Align your text left.
    • Don’t use colour alone to convey meaning in your text.
    • Consider how your text contrasts with the background of your document. Black text on white is accessible, but light grey text on a white background has low contrast and is difficult to read.
    • We recommend using sans serif fonts like Arial or Verdana, as they are easier to read.
    • Limit or avoid the use of all caps.

    Use the “Styles” pane to add font attributes to your document, not the direct formatting toolbar. Formatting text from the “Styles” pane will semantically tag the text for screen readers so they recognize and announce that the text is “strong” or “emphasized.”

    How do you add font attributes to your document?

    Here is how to change or adjust font attributes according to your preferred word processor.

    • Word:
      • To bold/italicize text: Home Toolbar > Click “Styles Pane” > Select “strong” or “emphasis” to change a small chunk of text.
      • To change the font size, font type, colour, etc., of all the text associated with a style tag:
        • Select a style (like “Normal” or “Heading 1”) > Click “Modify Style” > A popup appears where you can change the font size, colour, etc.
    • Pages:
      • In the formatting sidebar > Select the dropdown menu “Character Styles” > Choose “Emphasis” to bold, “Italic” to italicize, or “Underline” to underline the font.
      • To change the font type, size, colour, spacing, etc., use the corresponding options in the formatting sidebar.
    • Google Docs:
      • The main toolbar > Select the font attribute option (like font type, size, bold, spacing, colour, etc.) > Format the font.
    • LibreOffice:
      • Select “Tools” > “Options” > “Basic Fonts (Western)” > change the font type and size.

    Related Font Attribute Resources

    A hyperlink is a link that users can click to open a webpage or move to another area in a document. When you add a hyperlink to your document, they are highlighted in a different colour and often underlined.

    What is an Accessible Hyperlink?

    Hyperlinks must be informative, meaning the linked text tells readers where that link will take them. For example, instead of the text “Click Here,” you could use “click here to read about accessible hyperlinks.”

    Informative hyperlinks are beneficial for assistive technology users who navigate using links. Screen readers identify links in the document and then read the linked text. A bunch of “Read more” links is not helpful or informative.

    Note: Try to avoid URLs, as screen readers generally mispronounce these. If you need to use the URL (e.g., the document you are working on will be a physical handout), try to use the shortest version of the URL.

    How to add Hyperlinks to your Document?

    Here are the three main methods to add hyperlinks to your text.

    1. Highlight the text > Insert > Hyperlink
    2. Highlight the text > Right Click > Hyperlink
    3. Highlight the text > Use Ctrl + K (on PC) or Command + K (on Mac).

    Related Hyperlink Resources

    Correctly format lists in your document.

    Lists organize information in your document and are either unordered (Bullets) or ordered (Numbering).

    What are Accessible Lists?

    Correctly formatted lists are important for all users, especially those with print disabilities. Lists organize the information in your documents so that they are easy to read.

    For screen reader users, the information will be presented as a list that can be navigated to and within. Additionally, they are read as a list of items rather than in paragraph form, making content easier to comprehend.

    How to Create Accessible Lists?

    When you make lists in your document, use the direct formatting list options. Don’t make lists with manually typed characters like dashes, numbers, asterisks, or graphics because screen readers will not recognize that formatting as a list.

    You can format the text and characteristics (e.g., line spacing, indent, etc.) in the styles pane.

    Note: We recommend using the ordered list formatting if you have a multi-levelled or nested list.

    How to add Lists to your Document?

    To add lists to your document, choose the instructions of your preferred word processor.

    • Word:
      • In the home toolbar > Select the button “Bullets,” “Numbering,” or “Multilevel Lists.”
    • Pages:
      • In the formatting sidebar > Select an option from the “Bullets & Lists” dropdown menu.
    • Google Docs:
      • In the main toolbar > Select the button “Bullet lists” or “Numbered lists.”
    • LibreOffice:
      • In the formatting toolbar > Select the button “Bullets On/Off” or “Numbering On/Off.”

    Related List Resources

    Make your tables accessible.

    Creating an accessible table is a great way to organize information

    What is an accessible table?

    An accessible table is only for tabular data (i.e., data that can be understood in a table format). They have a logical reading order from left to right and top to bottom and are correctly formatted so a screen reader can easily navigate through the data.

    Accessible tables need to include the following:

    • A formatted Header Row
    • All the cells need to have content/data
    • A description and title

    Note: Often, complex tables can be simplified by breaking them into multiple simple tables with a heading above each. Non-tabular data can be presented in paragraphs, lists, or columns. For example, an Agenda should always be a list, not a table.

    Accessible tables tips and guidelines

    • Don’t create page layouts with tables.
    • Always have a header row.
    • Do not merge or split table cells.
    • Include a caption and title for your table to provide more information and explain what the table is for.
    • Do not use the Draw Table Tool.
    • Ensure that there are no empty cells. Cells without data can be filled with either a dash (-) or N/A.
    • Don’t have blank rows or columns in your table. If you would like your table to have space, adjust the line spacing instead.
    • Do not use colour only to convey meaning (e.g., making the header row darker, without defining that it is the header row).

    How do you create accessible tables?

    To add lists to your document, choose the instructions of your preferred word processor.

    Creating an Accessible Table in Microsoft Word

    There are two ways to insert a table in Word:

    1. Select “Insert” from the main menu > “Table” > Format your table in the popup dialogue box.
    2. In the top “Insert” toolbar > Click on “Table” and define the number of columns and rows you would like your table to have using the grid option.

    Once you have created a table, ensure that “Header Row” is selected for your table.

    To add a caption to your table, select the table using the top left “four arrow’ icon. Once you have selected the table, right-click and select “Insert Caption.”

    To add the title and alt text/long description describing the table, select the table using the top left four arrow icon > right-click > select “Table Properties” > choose the “Alt Text” tab in the popup.

    Creating an Accessible Table in Pages

    There are two options you can use to add a table in Pages:

    1. Select “Insert” from the main menu > “Table” > “Headers,” “Basic,” or “Sums.”
    2. Click on the “Table” option (in the toolbar at the top of the window) and choose an option.

    The “Headers,” “Basic,” or “Sums” options already have headers associated with the table columns.

    Note: The table option “Plain” does not have headers.

    You can then add a title and caption to the table from the toolbar on the right side of the page – tick the “Title” and “Captions” checkboxes located beneath the “Table Options.”  

    You can also use the toolbar on the right side to adjust the table rows and columns.

    Creating an Accessible Table in LibreOffice

    There are two ways to insert a table in LibreOffice:

    1. Select “Table” from the main menu > “Insert Table” > Format your table in the popup dialogue box.
    2. In the top “Insert” toolbar > Click on “Table” and define the number of columns and rows you would like your table to have using the grid option.

    When creating a table using the main menu option, check the “Heading” checkbox.

    To add a caption to your table, select “Insert Caption” from the toolbar at the bottom of the page.

    Related Table Resources

    Add alt text and captions to images, gifs, charts, etc.

    If your document has images, gifs, charts, tables, etc., you must add alternative text or long descriptions. Images are essential to reading, and everyone deserves access to a full reading experience.

    What is Alternative Text?

    Alternative text (alt text) replaces the image with text. A screen reader will pick up the alt text you add to images, charts, etc. All images must have meaningful alt text.

    If your document has captions, ensure you insert them using your word processor’s built-in functions, so they are styled for accessibility.

    How to create good alt text?

    Describe your images and gifs clearly, and concisely. Please provide the relevant context for the image as it relates to your social media post (e.g., consider why you have included the image in your post in the first place).

    Alt text tips and guidelines

    • Write for your audience. You will describe an image intended for children (like an image from a storybook) differently than you would a Stephen King book cover.
    • Use present tense and action verbs.
    • Describe the physical characteristics of people in images.
    • If there is text within an image, write it in the alt text.
    • Descriptions should be objective and free from censorship. People who use screen readers should receive equal access to the information conveyed in images.
    • You do not need to describe decorative images (purely aesthetic images that do not convey any meaning), but we suggest you refrain from using decorative images in your posts.
    • When writing alt text, you do not need to include the phrase “This is an image/graphic of…” because screen readers will announce that it is a graphic.
    • Please do not rely on auto-generated alt text, as it is often incorrect.
    • Your alt text should not include information available in the surrounding text (e.g., do not use image captions as the alt text).

    Some things may be difficult to describe. The goal is to give the reader all the important information in an image.

    How to add alt text to your images.

    To describe visual information, it is important to add alt text to any images, graphs, tables, etc. Once you have added a picture to your document: 

    • Word:
      • Right-click on the image > select “View Alt text…”
      • This opens a column on the right side of the word processor. Add your alt-text in the text box.
      • To add an image caption, right-click on the image > select “Insert Caption.”
      • Note: Word will provide auto-generated alt text, but we suggest you use your image descriptions.
    • Pages:
      • Add the alt text into the description text box, located (once you have added an image) in the right column beneath the “Image” tab.
    • Google Docs:
      • Right-click on the image > select “Alt Text” and add your description.
    • LibreOffice:
      • Right-click on the image > select “Properties” > choose the “Options” tab and add your alt text to the “Description” text box.

    Related Alt Text Resources

    Define the language of your document and/or chunks of text that are in a different language.

    Whenever there is text in another language, it’s important to mark up the language in your document properly.

    What does defining the language of the document do?

    Marking up the language of your document lets screen readers properly pronounce the words and phrases in different languages. If the language is not correctly marked up is impossible to understand when screen readers read it aloud.

    Defining the language as English (Canada) also prevents the Canadian spellings from appearing misspelled.

    How to define your document’s language?

    Here is how you can define the language of your document (or just chunks of text) in your preferred word processor:

    • Word:
      • Select/highlight the text you would like to define the language of.
      • There are two options used to define the language of the highlighted text:
        • Select “Tools” > “Language” > Choose the language option.
        • Click on the “Language” (e.g., “French”) of the current text, listed at the bottom border of Word > Choose the language option.
    • Pages:
      • To change the language of the full document > select “File” > “Advanced” > “Language & Region” > select the language you would like to format your document in.
    • Google Docs:
      • To change the language of the full document > select “File” > “Language” > Choose the language option.
    • LibreOffice:
      • Select “Tools” > “Language” > choose one of the options – “For Selection,” “For Paragraph,” and “For All Text” > Choose language options.
        • Note: If your language option is not in the initial dropdown list, choose “More.” This brings up the “Character” popup, and the language options are located below the list of fonts.

    Related Language Definition Resources

    Consider the colour contrast ratio in your document.

    When creating documents, consider how you use colour. Do not use only colour to convey meaning. Ensure that your document has a sufficient colour contrast ratio.

    What is colour contrast?

    Don’t use only colour to convey information in your post, as persons who are colour-blind may not be able to understand the information.

    Colour contrast refers to the colour contrast between the text and the background it’s displayed on. Too much (or too little) contrast can cause problems. Think about trying to read coloured text with low contrast, for example, grey text on a white background. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines recommend a minimum contrast of 4.5:1.

    How to create accessible colour contrast in your document?

    Use a high colour contrast between your text and background. Persons with low vision may not understand your content if you use colours with low contrast (e.g., gray text on a light blue background).

    Consider how the text contrasts with the background of your post. For example, black text on a white background is accessible, but light grey text on a white background has low contrast and is difficult to read.

    The Word Accessibility Checker will analyze your documents and determine if there were insufficient colour contrast (see below).

    Related Colour Contrast Resources

    Check to ensure your document is accessible!

    Once you have created your accessible document, ensure that it follows this checklist!

    Microsoft Word Accessibility Checker

    If using Word, you can run it through the Accessibility Checker. This easy step will tell you if there are any accessibility errors in your document and help you fix them!

    To use the “Accessibility Checker,” select the “Review” toolbar options > click on “Check Accessibility.” The “Accessibility Inspection Results” will be available in a column on the right side of the page.

    To easily address accessibility errors and warnings, select an issue to open the Recommended Actions list. You can apply a one-click fix by selecting an action or selecting the arrow button next to an action for more options.

    We recommend you check out Microsoft Accessibility Rules for the Accessibility Checker for more information. We will also include this link on the Resources Slides.

    Related Accessibility Checker Resources

    References

    Accessible Libraries (2022, May 18). Creating Accessible Documents Webinar Slides. AccessibleLibraries.ca. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from https://accessiblelibraries.ca/resources/creating-accessible-documents-slides/

    Accessible Libraries (2022, June 2). Creating Accessible Documents Webinar Recording. AccessibleLibraries.ca. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from https://accessiblelibraries.ca/resources/cad-w-video/

    Accessible Libraries (2022, October 13). Summer Short Webinar: Accessible Headings. AccessibleLibraries.ca. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from https://accessiblelibraries.ca/resources/summershort-headings/

    Accessible Libraries (2022, October 13). Summer Short Webinar: Accessible Hyperlinks. AccessibleLibraries.ca. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from https://accessiblelibraries.ca/resources/summershort-hyperlinks/

    Accessible Libraries (2022, October 13). Summer Short Webinar: Accessible Lists. AccessibleLibraries.ca. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from https://accessiblelibraries.ca/resources/summershort-lists/

    Accessible Libraries (2022, October 13). Summer Short Webinar: Font Attributes. AccessibleLibraries.ca. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from https://accessiblelibraries.ca/resources/summershort-font-attributes/

    Microsoft (2022, March 21). Make your Word Documents Accessible to People with Disabilities. AccessibleLibraries.ca. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from https://accessiblelibraries.ca/resources/microsoft-support-make-your-word-documents-accessible-to-people-with-disabilities/

    World Wide Web Consortium (2022, January 19). Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Quick Reference. AccessibleLibraries.ca. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from https://accessiblelibraries.ca/resources/web-content-accessibility-guidelines-wcag-quick-reference/