Program 6: Creating Accessible Word Documents


When creating Word documents, accessibility is often assumed and thus overlooked. However, there are some steps that you can take to make Word documents more accessible for students that use screen readers by making them easier to navigate and by providing information about images. None of additions are going to fundamentally change the document, in fact the average user isn’t even going to notice that anything different. However, these changes will make a big difference for students with disabilities. These can also help with the creation of PDFs because PDFs that are made from scratch often start as Word documents.

Making a word document accessible can also have an effect on PDFs that are created from scratch and by adding these things at the beginning you’re going to reduce the need for retrofitting later and you’re going to have a more universally designed document.

Alright, let’s take a look at these steps and what we can do to make a Word document more accessible.

The first thing you need to do when making a Word document accessible is we need to make sure that our font is set properly and that we’re not using textboxes.

Textboxes can really cause problems for screen readers. They have a hard time with reading them. Also, font wise, we want to make sure that our font is at least 12 point and that it’s a sans serif font. You can see on this a serif is the stylized endings to the letters like on the T, the stylized endings there, the stylized endings on the R. That can be difficult for somebody with dyslexia to work with.

So, we want to change our font to a sans serif font such as Arial or Verdana.

We’ll use Arial here.

Once we have done that, the next step is to use styles to indicate to indicate our headings.

What styles allow you to do is differentiate headings from each other as well as regular text and including styles is like including a bookmark.

It makes it easier for the text reader user to navigate the document. In Word 2007 you find styles up along the ribbon on the home menu.

So, right up across the top here.

And to use styles, it’s very simple.

You find your heading. So, this is our top level heading, this introduction to the ICATER center. We’ll click on that.

We don’t have to highlight the whole thing, we can just click on it, then go up and choose heading one to make that a heading one.

We’ll click on heading one. Then the next thing here,

What is ICATER?, is going to be our next level heading.

So we click on that and then we can go and click on heading two and change that to heading level two.

Our third level, Where is ICATER?, that’s also a second level heading, we can make that a second level heading, and we’ve used this now to go through and indicate what some of our headings are. Now we could also go down here and if we wanted to go any further, we could say ICATER Initiatives is a second level heading, but then Universal Access, one of ICATER’s initiatives is a third level heading.

So, we have now gone through and we have changed our styles there to indicate what those different heading levels are which will be very helpful to a screen reader.

The next step is to add alternative text to graphics.

We’ve talked about this before, so as you know by now alternative text is very important for graphics.

This can be added in the Word stage of the document, but it’s a little tricky to figure out where it can be done.

When you have a graphic, what you need to do is left click on the graphic to activate it, then right click, and this doesn’t make much sense, but it’s hidden under size.

So, if we go and click size, you’ll see one of the tabs is alternative text. We click on that tab we can then enter an alternative text caption, such as an ICATER instructor works with students in the ICATER lab. I might actually want to put something a little bit longer in there such as an ICATER instructor works with five area teachers in the ICATER lab on assistive technology, but for time saving purposes, I’m just going to type that here.

Then we’ll click close and we’ve got our alternative text saved here.

There is one other thing you’ll need to do if you have tables in your document.

If we look down here, we have a table that spans two pages. What we want to happen when we have a table that spans two pages, is we want our column headers to not only exist on one page, but on the other as well. That makes it much easier when the table is divided up like that for a screen reader to operate.

What we need to do, is we need to click in the row that has out column header, we need to click table properties, we need to go to the row tab, and we need to check repeat as header row at the top of each page. We click ok.

We should see that that header row appears on the second page as well as the first page.

This is going to make this much easier for the screen reader to be able to follow along throughout the table as it goes from page to page.

At this point, if you choose, you’re ready to convert the document to the PDF. To do this, you simply need to make sure that the settings are correct. To view and choose settings, you’ll select Acrobat, and then preferences, and then we choose the setting tab. The most important setting here is the enable accessibility and reflow with tagged Adobe PDF. That’s checked as a default. We need to make sure that’s checked. Also, checking create bookmarks will turn your headings into navigable bookmarks for the screen reader, and checking add links will allow any link that you’ve added to be clicked on and to be activated through the PDF, which is also important for your screen reader users or for your individuals with disabilities.

Once these setting are selected, you have an accessible Word document and you’re all set to create a PDF by clicking on create PDF. So we’ll hit Ok first and then we’ll go up here and click create PDF. It’s going to ask you to save it.

Go ahead and click save. And now you have a PDF.

We’ll check our PDF for accessibility.

We’ll go to advanced, accessibility, full check.

We’ll click start checking and we have an accessible PDF where the checker found no problems.

That’s how you’d make a Word document accessible and that’s how you’d convert it to an accessible PDF if you wanted to.

Following these easy steps makes your Word document accessible as well as any ensuing PDFs you might create from that.

Alright, next we’re going to look at how to make your PowerPoint presentations accessible.

Creating Accessible Documents