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How to create accessible documents in Office 365

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Accessible practices for digital document creation.

What is an accessible document?

An accessible document is fully usable by persons with and without disabilities. Making your documents accessible allows users to navigate them in different ways.

For example, a blind user may use a screen reader or a braille display. A person with a motor impairment may use a keyboard rather than a mouse. Other users may need to adjust the font size or spacing to compensate for vision loss or cognitive disabilities.

Meeting accessibility standards

Accessibility of digital content (including web pages and documents) is evaluated according to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Following this guide does not ensure full compliance with these guidelines, but it is a good start!

Writing content

Using plain language ensures that everyone, including persons with cognitive disabilities, can understand the content of documents and use the information effectively. Documents should be clear, concise, and well organized.

Document structure

Headings

A good heading structure makes it easier to navigate and locate content, especially for users of screen readers. It is crucial to use built-in heading styles for all headings.

Apply a consecutive, logical heading order where higher level headings provide context to lower level headings. Do not skip heading levels. For example:

Avoid these common heading errors:

Tables

Tables may be difficult to navigate or edit for users of screen readers. Design tables to be as simple as possible.

Links to websites

Link text should make sense even when read out of context, for example in a list of links.

Other special elements

Use the software’s built-in functions to create elements which should be treated differently from normal body text. These include:

Avoid using text boxes. These are typically ignored by screen readers and are inaccessible to keyboard users.

Formatting

Colours

Text must have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 against the background. Black text on a white background is always a safe choice.

The same principles apply to meaningful non-text elements such as icons and charts, but the requirement is relaxed to 3:1. For example, adjacent slices in a pie chart should be easy to distinguish from each other.

Fonts

Choose fonts and styles that are easy to read rather than decorative.

Do not rely solely on visual formatting to convey information. For example, avoid phrases like “priority tasks in bold”, “changes highlighted in yellow”, or “see the left sidebar for details”.

Non-text elements

Visual elements such as photos, icons, diagrams, and tables should include alternative text (“alt text”) that briefly answers the question “What information is the image conveying?”.

A good starting point for writing alt text is to imagine that you are describing the image to a person over the phone.

Short alternative text

Keep your descriptions as brief as possible (at most 65 characters). Ignore details that don’t relate to the document. For example, a picture of a group of students appears in a document about hiring summer students.

Avoid these common alt text errors:

Long text description

Sometimes the short alt-text isn’t enough to describe the visual element. In these cases, you should also provide a long description. Include this in the visible text if possible.

Examples:

For more examples, see the W3C’s tutorial on Complex Images.

Video, audio, and multimedia

Embedded audio or video requires a transcript. Videos should be captioned and audio-described. The player controls — start, pause and stop — must be accessible.

Additional resources

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