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Accessible Documents

It is easier and more cost effective to plan to make documents accessible at the beginning of any project. The way that your document is structured is important to accessibility. Making a correctly formatted document using a word processing software product is a first step.  This document must consist of correct word processing techniques.  Ensuring clean document coding will make it easier to create large print, Braille, and electronic documents that will be used by persons with assistive technology.

For example, a correctly coded document that uses Microsoft word to generate a table of contents for regular print can easily be reformatted to generate a table of contents for large print or Braille.  Use of page numbering, header styles, hard page returns, make the job easier.

Do's and Don'ts for Word Processing

Most sighted people use visual cues like bold or indented text to tell the difference between titles, subtitles, or columns of text. People using assistive technology, like a screen reader, rely on correct coding to determine the document structure. For example, if you bold and center a chapter title, it will be meaningless to a screen reader.  However, if you use Heading 1, the screen reader readily knows it is the chapter title.  You can then style your header levels for the visual cues for sighted people.

You also need to be aware of the read order.  Screen readers read left to right and top to bottom unless the code dictates otherwise.

The list below provides some key do's and don'ts for word processing:

  • Use tabs, indents, and hanging indents.  The practice of adding spaces with the spacebar will cause problems when reformatting for large print or Braille.
  • Use hard page breaks. Using the enter key to add lines will require work to reformat for large print or Braille.
  • Use the automatic page numbering tool.  This will make it easier to reformat for large print or Braille.
  • Use Heading Levels to communicate document structure (e.g. chapters - heading 1, chapter subtopics - heading 2, sections - heading 3). Avoid all caps for Heading Levels. Also, italics may be difficult for low vision readers.
  • If the document is to be used on the web or have internal hyperlinks, avoid underlined text for text which is not a link.
  • Use style codes to generate passages of text.
  • Don't use the enter key to end each line.  Use the enter key to begin a new paragraph, list items, or heading.
  • Avoid using columns.  While correctly coded columns can be read by screen readers, they can be a nightmare for persons using screen magnification software or devices.
  • Use tables for data. Identify the row header using the table formatting tool. Tables for presentation will be accessible within a word processing document or html if correctly coded, but not accessible in a pdf file.
  • Avoid using the "text box" feature if using word 2003 or older. (word 2003 changes text box text into a graphic

General Information

Information on Creating Accessible PDF Files, Forms, and Tables

Testing for Accessibility

W3C provides resource information on testing for electronic accessibility and more. For information, go to W3Cs Web Accessibility Initiative at: http://www.w3.org/WAI/
Evaluating Web Sites for Accessibility is a multi-page resource suite that outlines different approaches for evaluating Web sites for accessibility:
http://www.w3.org/WAI/eval/