Last updated August 15, 2021
Follow these basic steps to increase the accessibility of your Word, PowerPoint and PDF documents.
Basic steps for document accessibility
The core steps needed for accessibility are the same regardless of whether your document is in HTML, Microsoft Word, PDF or another document format:
- Use headings
- Use lists
- Add alternate text to images
- Identify document language
- Use tables correctly
- Understand how to export from one format to another
How to create accessible documents
- Use uniform and hierarchical headings to structure the document.
- Use the simplest table configuration possible. In general, tables are best for data and not layout.
- Use link text that describes the destination.
- Use true bulleted and numbered lists, rather than using the tab key, as screen readers cannot interpret tabs.
- Use the Microsoft Word built-in accessibility checker.
Learn more about accessible Word documents.
- Use the PowerPoint delivered title text boxes found in Insert Slide for all slide titles.
- Use sans serif fonts like Arial, Helvetica or Calibri.
- Avoid packing a lot of content in each slide, minimal is more readable with a lot of white space.
- Use punctuation at the end of each line.
- Create alternative or alt text descriptions for images.
- Use high contrast templates.
- Use colorful borders instead of colorful text.
Learn more about accessible PowerPoint presentations.
- Use uniform and hierarchical headings to structure the document. How to add headings to a Google Doc
- Use simple tables to display data (and not to structure your document or slide)
- Use link text that describes the destination of the link
- Use numbered and bulleted lists. How to add a numbered list or bulleted list
For more detailed information, see Google’s guide on how to make your document or presentation more accessible.
- Start with an accessible document before converting to PDF.
- Follow WebAIM’s guidelines to learn how to create accessible PDFs or Adobe PDF Pro guide for accessibility for step-by-step instructions
- Scanned images of text are not accessible.
- If you must use a scanned document, it should be high visual quality and at least 300dp resolution.
- Text should not be highlighted or underlined, binding shadows should not be present, lines should not be clipped, and text must be readable, even when enlarged.
Use live text
- Add an accurate tag on each text content.
- Avoid all manual formatting and edit the Style Tags’ Export Options
- Use styles to tag:
- Paragraph styles
- Character styles
- Object styles
Control reading order
- Thread stories throughout the InDesign work product. Re-thread any orphaned frames
- Ensure reading order in InDesign
- Control the stacking order in Layers Panel (“Bottom up”)
- Control the order of the articles in Articles Panel(“Top down”)
- Ensure reading order is setup in PDF Tag Tree & Reading Order Panel. Test frequently in PDF.
Captions, graphics, and images
- Add alt text (in Object Export Options)
- “Artifact” as decorative all Graphic Design that holds no imagery information in Object Export Options.
- Anchor them into text thread
- Anchor sidebars into the text thread
- Anchor captions and other frames
- Update “header and foother setup” to “repeat header row” for the top row of the table.
Test your work intermittently
Check your work as you go by making PDFs intermittently as you design to be sure your content is flowing correctly.
For detailed step-by-step instructions for creating accessible InDesign documents see Adobe InDesign Accessibility
For more detailed instructions for particular document formats, select one of the following topics:
Check out these resources to support writing for and about people with disabilities.
- Guidelines for writing about people with disabilities
- Communicating with and about people with disabilities
- Choosing words for talking about disabilities
- Etiquette: Interacting with people with disabilities
Learn about disabilities
- Visual disabilities
- Auditory disabilities
- Motor disabilities
- Cognitive disabilities
- Apparent and nonapparent disabilities
- Insensitive portrayals of disability (video)
- Intersectional disabilities (video)
Credit: Much of the content in this and other guides in the accessibility series was provided by the University of Washington’s terrific Accessible Technology website.