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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Creating Accessible Documents in Word Processing and Presentation Software

Learn how to make your documents and presenations accessible to a wider audience.

Introduction

In this section, we will give you an overview of how you can use native features in MS Word to organize your content and make finding information easier for your readers. Going beyond the basic good practices we’ve already discussed (like choosing appropriate, readable fonts), we want to start by talking about document structure and using semantic formatting for your text.

Document Structure Overview

A document with good structure is easy to navigate for both sighted users and users with disabilities who may be using assistive technology (like a screen reader) to navigate your document. A poorly, inaccessibly structured document is difficult for people using assistive technology to read and might be impossible for them to skim.

Semantic elements in Word – like headings, the insert table tool, or properly inserted hyperlinks – enable assistive technology to determine the structure of the information you are presenting.

For instance, headings are used to break up your content and make skimming information easier. 

  • People using screen readers can listen to all the headings in a document to find out how a document is organized and what key concepts it covers. 
  • This allows users with screen readers to get an overview of a document and choose which section they want to read, much in the same way a sighted user might skim a text to preview section names or key concepts written in larger font, bold text, or call-out boxes.

The most important thing to remember is that assistive technology cannot infer meaning from visual formatting alone – if you make your own headings by using bold text and a bigger font size, a screen reader won’t announce it as a heading and a user won’t be able to skip to that section using a screen reader. It’s essential to use the built-in features in Word to style your text so that they are accessible to all your readers. 

Hands-On Practice with Microsoft Word

Tutorials for Accessible Word Processing

Video Tutorial: Word Accessibility Checker