Microsoft Word 365 Accessibility

Accessible Documents with Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word includes options for adding accessibility information to documents to support access by individuals with disabilities. This information also ensures that Microsoft Word documents converted into other formats (e.g., tagged PDF, ePub, DAISY, etc.) maintain this level of accessibility. The best practices for Microsoft Word accessibility include attention to:

  • Headings & Structure 
  • Images
  • Links
  • Tables 
  • Color 
  • Accessibility Checker 
  • Exporting to Other Formats 

Structure 

Page structure provides visual references to help readers scan the content. Microsoft Word Accessibility can be improved by adding the following:

  • Headings
  • Lists 

Headings 

Headings can provide an organizational and navigational framework for a document’s content, communicating both the informational hierarchy and relationship between different sections. Headings also provide a simple mechanism for an individual using assistive technologies to “jump” from one heading to the next when navigating the document.

Microsoft Word Styles Pane shows all heading styles.
  1. From the Home tab, choose the Styles Pane. This will open the list of heading and other styles for use in the document. 
  2. Place focus on the appropriate content and choose the relevant heading style.
  3. Headings can be marked with the following 
    • Mac keyboard shortcuts:
      1. +Option+1 applies the Heading 1 style
      2. COMMAND +Option+2 applies the Heading 2 style
      3. COMMAND +Option+3 applies the Heading 3 style
    • Windows keyboard shortcuts:
      1. CTRL + ALT + 1 applies the Heading 1 style
      2. CTRL + ALT + 2 applies the Heading 2 style
      3. CTRL + ALT + 3 applies the Heading 3 style

Important considerations

Technical guidelines:
  • Headings should follow a logical structure that identifies content based on the organizational content and hierarchy of information in the document.
  • Avoid skipping heading levels – modify the style of the heading if you prefer a specific font or appearance.
Formatting guidelines:

For additional guidance on formatting, please review the information on Structure.

  • Headings should be short and succinct
  • To change the appearance of a heading, read Modify a Style for more information or follow the directions below:
    1. Highlight the heading.
    2. Use the font and formatting tools to change the appearance.
    3. Right-click the heading style.
    4. Select Update Heading to Match Selection. This option will automatically update all of the heading styles in the document to the desired format. 
In Microsoft Word, highlight the heading and format it as desired, then right-click the heading style and select Update Heading #  to Match Selection.
  • The default Heading 1 and Heading 3 styles lack sufficient color contrast.
In Microsoft Word, the default Heading 1 and Heading 3 font is light blue.  User darker text color for better contrast.

Lists

Lists provide a structured order to a group of connected or sequential content. A numbered or bulleted list may present the same information more effectively than simple data tables with fewer steps.

In Microsoft Word, use the built-in lists buttons to create an accessible list; these include Bullets, Numbering, and Multilevel List.

Lists in Microsoft Word

In Microsoft Word, select the grouped items, then select the appropriate list style.
  1. Highlight the grouped list of items.
  2. In the Home tab, select the appropriate list style (i.e, numbered list or bulleted list).

Important considerations

For additional guidance on formatting lists, please review the information on Structure.

List guidelines:
  • Remove any lists manually created, such as those using dashes or asterisk characters. Manual lists are not “true” lists.
  • Avoid using indentation to provide a visual list in lieu of the list style button.
  • Ordered or numbered lists are used to present a group of items (words, phrases, sentences) that follow a sequence
  • Unordered or bulleted lists are used for a group of items without a sequence
  • Lists should contain at least two or more list items, unless being used to create an outline.
  • Nested lists are acceptable, such as a numbered list that contains a nested bulleted list.

Images

Images that support the content require a text description (also called “alt text”) that communicates the purpose and/or content of the image. This information is presented to the individual using assistive technologies, allowing them to hear the description of the image. Image descriptions should be short and communicate the main purpose of the image. Images that are considered decorative can be marked as such and are ignored by assistive technologies.

If a longer description of the image is necessary to fully explain its content, consider inserting a more detailed description of the image within the document text that precedes and/or follows the image.

Adding Alt Text

In Microsoft Word, right-click the image and select Edit Alt Text.
In the Microsoft Word Alt Text window, write description in the alt text field.  In this case, the alt text is, “Two construction workers shaking hands.”
  1. Select and right-click the image.
  2. Select Edit Alt Text…
  3. Provide a brief and concise description and “X” or close the window. 

Marking a Decorative Image

In Microsoft Word, right-click the image and select Edit Alt Text.
In the Microsoft Word Alt Text window, select Mark as decorative for decorative images.
  1. Select the image. Right-click the image.
  2. Select Edit Alt Text…
  3. Select Mark as decorative and “X” or close the window. 

Important considerations

For additional guidance on writing effective text descriptions (i.e., alt text), please review the information on Images.

Technical guidelines
  • “Behind Text” or “In Front of Text” is not recommended due to how this format setting can obscure text and make the content difficult or impossible to read.
  • For older versions of Microsoft Word, leave the Title field bank, and only use the Description field for alt text.
Formatting guidelines
  • A text description should convey the purpose or content of the image in approximately 120 characters or less. Avoid repeating the same information as contained in the surrounding text.
  • If the image is complex, consider providing additional information in the surrounding text of the document while providing a shortened text description. 
  • Do not include the file format in the alt text (Example: .JPEG, .PNG)
  • Do not include “picture of” or “image of” in the alt text. 
  • For older versions of Microsoft Word, leave the Title field bank, and only use the Description field for alt text.

Hyperlinks

Documents containing hyperlinks to websites or other online resources can be improved by including hyperlink text that is understood by the reader. Using the full URL as the hyperlink text may not make sense to the reader, particularly if it is long. 

In Microsoft Word, right-click the hyperlink, then select Hyperlink, then Edit Hyperlink.
In the Microsoft Word Edit Hyperlink window, write text for the link in the Text to Display box, before selecting OK.
  1. Place the cursor anywhere on the desired hyperlink. Right-click the hyperlink.
  2. Select Hyperlink, then Edit Hyperlink.
  3. Under Text to Display, write the descriptive text for the hyperlink, keeping the text name short and descriptive. 
  4. Select OK.

Important considerations

Use link text that is descriptive and or informs the person as to the link’s destination. For additional guidance on formatting and why descriptive text is important for hyperlinks, please review the information on Links.

Tables 

Tables in Microsoft Word should be used for data and not layout purposes. An accessible table includes the following:

  • At least one header (row and/or column).
  • Alt Text description summarizing the table

Apply At Least One Header

To mark a header row for a data table:

  1. Select the table to reveal Table Design. (Note: this tab will only appear if the table is selected.) 
  2. In the far left-hand section, determine the required header type:
    • Header row: check the box Header Row.
    • Column header: check the box First Column.
In the Microsoft Word Table Design ribbon, to create a header row, ensure the Header Row box is checked.
  1. Highlight the header row of your table. Right-click the table. Select Table Properties.
    • In the Row tab, check the box Repeat as header row at the top of each page.
    • In the Alt Text tab, write a short, one sentence description of what the table information presents.
  2. Select OK
In Microsoft Word, after highlighting the header row, right-click and select Table Properties.
In the Microsoft Word Table Properties window, select the Row tab, then select Repeat as header row at the top of each page.

Alt Text description summarizing the table

In Microsoft Word, after highlighting the header row, right-click and select Table Properties.
In the Microsoft Word Table Properties window, select the Alt Text tab, then write the alt text the Description field.
  1. Right-click the table. Select Table Properties.
    • In the Row tab, check the box Repeat as header row at the top of each page.
    • In the Alt Text tab, write a short, one sentence description of what the table information presents.
  2. Select OK

Color 

Color can be an effective method to communicate ideas and draw attention to information. Ensuring there is sufficient contrast as well as using color in combination with other formatting can support a diverse campus community, including individuals with visual disabilities.

The Microsoft Word Text Highlight Color and Font Color buttons, found in the Home ribbon.

Contrast

When choosing colors to present text information in documents, choose color options that provide a contrast ratio of:

  • 4.5:1 for regular text
  • 3:1 for 18 point font and larger, or 14 point font and bold

In general, pastel colors or the “light” version of a particular color do not provide sufficient contrast against a white background.

Contrast ratios may be evaluated using tools such as:

Color and Formatting

When using color to indicate a specific condition or state, include some formatting attribute to also provide a distinguishing characteristic. For example, if a list of vocabulary words were identified only in red text, this could present difficulties for an individual who had some type of color-blindness.

Options to support accessibility can include a combination of color AND formatting, such as:

  • Red text with Bold formatting
  • Using an asterisk, brackets, or other annotation symbols in addition to color
Acronyms in Microsoft Word text, formatted for emphasis and accessibility, using parentheses, asterisks, bolded, and red font.

For more information on using color or these tools, please review the information on Color.

Accessibility Checker 

Microsoft Word features an accessibility checker that can assist in identifying accessibility issues. 

In Microsoft Word, select Review from the top ribbon, then the Check Accessibility button.
  1. On the ribbon, select Review.
  2. Select Check Accessibility.
  3. The Accessibility checker will appear on the right-hand side.
The Microsoft Word Accessibility report, showing accessibility errors.

Errors, Warnings, and Tips

The Accessibility Checker presents the results in a pane on the right-hand side of the interface. It organizes the results into three categories: Errors, Warnings, and Tips.

  • Errors – Must Fix
    Errors are issues which indicate content that contains an accessibility issue and is extremely challenging, if not impossible, to read or understand.

Note the following cannot be completely resolved – these results will continuously appear:

  • Warnings – Most Likely Will Need to Address
    Warnings indicate that the content may be challenging for individuals with disabilities to read or understand. Resolving some Warning may require the author to consider a different visual or organizational layout.
  • Tips – Very Helpful
    Tips are pointers intended to help you improve the user experience of your audience by streamlining and organizing your content in certain ways. Tips provide additional guidance and will appear depending on the content.

The Accessibility Checker is a good starting point towards identifying potential accessibility issues in a document. Microsoft continually updates the Accessibility Checker rules and so newer versions of Microsoft products may result in a different list of accessibility results. Using the Accessibility Checker can help identify some of the more significant accessibility issues present in a document.

Exporting to Other Formats 

Including accessible authoring practices into Microsoft Word documents allows for versions exported as other formats to retain most, if not all, accessibility features.

Important

Never choose a “Print” to PDF option in Office, or in any other program. A screen reader user may still be able to access the text of a PDF created in this way, but heading structure, alternative text, and any other tag structure will be lost.

Create PDF with MS Word 

Mac


For Mac users, read Microsoft Word’s Support for converting to PDF on your Mac for additional guidance. 

  1. In File, select Save As…
    In the Mac version of Microsoft Word, select file from the top ribbon, then Save As...
  1. Select PDF
  2. Select the radio button, Best for electronic distribution and accessibility (uses Microsoft online service).
    In the Save As window on the Mac Word, select PDF, ensure button, “Best for…” is checked, then select the Export button.
  3. Select Export.

Create PDF with Acrobat

It is easier to create an accessible MS Word document rather than trying to fix accessibility issues in a PDF document. 

In Word, use the Acrobat plug-in to create a PDF.  Select "Best for electronic distribution...", then Export.
  1. Use the Acrobat plug-in in the ribbon. Select the Acrobat tab.
  2. Select Create PDF.  
  3.  If using a Mac with Acrobat Adobe installed, select Best for electronic distribution and accessibility (uses Microsoft online service).
  4. Select Export.

PowerPoint Accessibility

Microsoft PowerPoint includes options for adding accessibility information to slides to support access by individuals with disabilities. This information also ensures that Microsoft PowerPoint files maintain a level of accessibility when converted into other formats (e.g., tagged PDF). The best practices for Microsoft PowerPoint accessibility include:

  • Structure
  • Images
  • Links
  • Tables
  • Accessibility Checker 
  • Exporting to Other Formats

Structure

In Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, the structure of the content can provide an organizational and navigational framework for individuals to understand the informational hierarchy and relationship between different sections of content. These structural elements can help determine the organization and logical reading order of the presentation for an individual using assistive technologies.

Slide Title 

The Slide Title is used to provide a heading for the slide’s content. Slide titles should be unique and descriptive to help users navigate to specific content on the slides. 

View and edit all titles quickly:

  1. Select View.
  2. Select Outline View.
  3. Edit the titles according.
The PowerPoint Outline View, slides should have unique titles.

If slide titles that are the same, provide a numerical reference to differentiate the first slide from subsequent slides. For example, if there are two consecutive slides that cover the same topic, “Muscle Atrophy”, consider using  “Muscle Atrophy 1” and  “Muscle Atrophy 2”.

Slide Layout 

Using preset slide layouts will automatically control the reading order and structure of content placed on the slide.

To choose a slide layout:

  1. To locate Slide Layout, select Home > select New Slide.
  2. Choose the slide layout that meets your needs.
PowerPoint built-in slide layouts, such as Title Slide, Section header, Title and body, etc.

For more information, read Microsoft’s support page Apply a slide layout.  

Managing Reading Order

If text boxes are separately created from the preset slide layouts, this information may not be in the correct reading order. If content is manually placed onto a blank slide, you will need to assess and manage the reading order using the Arrange button. 

PowerPoint Arrange button.

To review and fix reading order:

  1. Select Home > Arrange > Selection Pane 
  2. Reading order begins at the bottom of the list. First highlight the “Title” and use the Up Arrow to view the reading order on the slide. 
PowerPoint Selection Pane, showing the reading order of the slides, from bottom to top.

List

Use the built-in list styles to provide users additional guidance. 

Do the grouped items convey a process or have a logical sequence? Use the number list style.

Is this grouped list of items in no particular order? Use the bullet list style. 

Two PowerPoint built-in list styles buttons, Bullets and Numbering
  1. Select Home.
  2. Select either the bullet or number list style. 
In PowerPoint, highlight the text, then select button for the appropriate list style.

Images

Images that support the content require a text description (also called “alternate text”) to communicate the purpose and/or content of the image. Image descriptions should be short and communicate the main purpose of the image. If a longer description of the image is necessary to fully explain its content, consider alternate strategies outlined on the Images page.

To add the alternate text:

  1. Right-click the image.
  2. Select Edit Alt Text…
  3. In the Alt Text window, write a descriptive text. 
In the PowerPoint Alt Text window, write the alt text in the box.  In this case, the alt text is, “Man listening.”

For images that are not supplementary to the content, consider using the check box Mark as decorative.

In the PowerPoint Alt Text window, select Mark as decorative.

Important considerations

For additional guidance on writing effective text descriptions (i.e., alt text), please review the information on Images.

Formatting guidelines
  • A text description should convey the purpose or content of the image in approximately 120 characters or less. Avoid repeating the same information as contained in the surrounding text.
  • If the image is complex, consider providing additional information in the surrounding text of the document while providing a shortened text description. 
  • Do not include the file format in the alt text (Example: .JPEG, .PNG)
  • Do not include “picture of” or “image of” in the alt text. 
  • For older versions of PowerPoint, leave the Title field bank, and only use the Description field for alt text.

Hyperlinks

Documents containing hyperlinks to websites or other online resources can be improved by including hyperlink text that is understood by the reader. For instance, using the full hyperlink URL may not make sense to the reader without some context. 

In PowerPoint, highlight the desired hyperlink text, then select the Link button from the upper ribbon.
In the PowerPoint Insert Hyperlink window, type or paste the URL in the Address field, then select OK.
  1. Highlight the short descriptive phase or words that will become the descriptive hyperlink.
  2. Select the Link button in the menu.
  3. In the Address field, add the desired URL.
  4. Select OK.

For additional guidance, please refer to Links.

If the PowerPoint presentation is intended to also serve as a handout with resource hyperlinks, content authors may want to create a reference slide at the end that lists the full URL of the hyperlink. 

PowerPoint slide showing resource hyperlinks, with the full URLs visible.

Tables

When possible, use a simple table structure for tabular data. Using tables with split cells, merged cells, or nested tables can lead to issues with assistive technologies recognizing the appropriate column and row header information in a data table. 

Avoid using a table to manage layout. Instead, use a Slide Layout that orients content into the appropriate visual layout as desired. 

Tables should include the following:

  • At least one header (the row and/or column).
  • Alt Text description summarizing the table

Specify the Header

To mark a header row for a data table:

  1. Select the table to reveal Table Design. (Note: this tab will only appear if the table is selected.) 
  2. In the far left-hand section, determine the required header type:
    • Header row: check the box Header Row.
    • Column header: check the box First Column.
In PowerPoint, select the table to reveal the Table Design tab, then check the boxes for Header Row.

Add Alt Text

In the PowerPoint Alt Text window, write the alt text in the box.  In this case, the alt text is, “Sunflower growth (cm) based on fertilizer type.”

  1. Right-click on any of the white perimeter squares.
  2. Select Edit Alt text…
  3. Write descriptive Alt Text in the Alt Text field. 

For additional guidance, please read Complex Graphs and Layouts. 

Color

Color can be an effective method to communicate ideas and draw attention to information. Insufficient color and contrast can limit the ability of others to perceive and understand the presentation.

PowerPoint offers a variety of slide themes, but not all of these will provide sufficient contrast. To edit Slide Theme colors:

  1. Select Design > expand the Color Palette Menu to reveal available color combinations.
  2. Select Colors to review the pre-built color palettes or select Customize Colors…to create a slides that have appropriate color contrast.
In PowerPoint,expand the Color Palette menu to reveal built-in color combinations.

Select one with accessible contrast, or select Customize Colors… to manually select the colors. Alternatively, you can use other methods in Microsoft PowerPoint to remove or change the current theme in your presentation.

Accessibility Checker

Evaluate your PowerPoint accessibility using the Accessibility Checker. Please read Microsoft’s support to learn how to improve accessibility with the Accessibility Checker.

PowerPoint Check Accessibility button.

Errors, Warnings, and Tips

The Accessibility Checker presents the results in a pane on the right-hand side of the interface. It organizes the results into three categories: Errors, Warnings, and Tips.

  • Errors – Must Fix
    Errors are issues which indicate content that contains an accessibility issue and is extremely challenging, if not impossible, to read or understand.

Note the following cannot be completely resolved – these results will continuously appear:

  • Warnings – Most Likely Will Need to Address
    Warnings indicate that the content may be challenging for individuals with disabilities to read or understand. Resolving some Warning may require the author to consider a different visual or organizational layout.
  • Tips – Very Helpful
    Tips are pointers intended to help you improve the user experience of your audience by streamlining and organizing your content in certain ways. Tips provide additional guidance and will appear depending on the content.

The Accessibility Checker is a good starting point towards identifying potential accessibility issues in a document. Microsoft continually updates the Accessibility Checker rules and so newer versions of Microsoft products may result in a different list of accessibility results. Using the Accessibility Checker can help identify some of the more significant accessibility issues present in a document.

To check accessibility:

In PowerPoint, select the Review tab from the upper ribbon, then select the Check Accessibility button.

  1. Select Review.
  2. Select Check Accessibility
PowerPoint accessibility report, showing Errors, Warnings, and Tips.

Exporting to Other Formats 

Important

Never choose a “Print” to PDF option in Office, or in any other program. A screen reader user may still be able to access the text of a PDF created in this way, but heading structure, alternative text, and any other tag structure will be lost.

Creating a PDF 

Mac

Create PDF with PowerPoint using “Save As”

Users of PowerPoint for Mac should be cautioned that exporting to PDF will not yield an accessible, tagged PDF document, it must be remediated using Acrobat Pro.

Create PDF with Acrobat

  1. Use the Acrobat plug-in in the ribbon. Select the Acrobat tab.
  2. Select Create PDF.  
Create PDF button.
Acrobat Create PDF dialog box; select Yes.
  1. Adobe Acrobat will automatically open and present your content in PDF format. 

Windows

Create PDF with PowerPoint using “Save As”

  1. Select File > Save As 
  2. Select PDF > More options…
    In the Windows version of PowerPoint, select file, then Save As.  Choose PDF from the file format menu, then More Options.
    Alt Text: In the Windows version of PowerPoint, select file, then Save As.  Choose PDF from the file format menu, then More Options.
  3. In the Save As dialog, select Options.
    In the PowerPoint Save As window, select the Options button.
  1. Verify in Options dialog that Document structure tags for accessibility is selected. Select OK.
In the PowerPoint Options window, check the box for “Document structure tags for accessibility”.

Create PDF with Acrobat

PowerPoint Create PDF button.
  1. Use the Acrobat plug-in in the ribbon. Select the Acrobat tab.
  2. Select Create PDF.  

Windows

  1. Specify your flyer dimensions via the Design tab, select Slide Size > Custom Slide Size
  2. Determine the Width and Height in inches & select OK.
    Standard paper size:
    • Width: 8 in
    • Height 11 in
In the Windows version of PowerPoint, the Slide Size window will appear.  Adjust the Width and Length, and Orientation.

The Microsoft Powerpoint dialog will appear. Select Ensure Fit to avoid cropping out content from the slide size frame. 

A Microsoft PowerPoint dialog will appear, select “Ensure Fit”.

  1. Select Arrange to manage reading order. Apply accessibility principles such as alt text, descriptive hyperlinks,

Creating a Lecture Video of Your PPT presentation

Here are some guidelines for creating and posting PowerPoint lecture presentations. 

  1. Create a transcript to read from or prepare an outline of points to help you create concise videos.

    An audio recording needs a transcript to allow individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to access your content.

    The transcript is a text equivalent of the audio recording and should include not only the spoken information, but also identify any speakers or other sound effects as part of the recording. A transcript may be useful in its own right as a learning tool for students, who can read the text and search for keywords.
  1. When screencasting, provide a brief description of on-screen content and actions. This provides concept reinforcement and allows students to easily follow along whether they rely on listening or prefer to listen to just the audio to study. Read more about audio description.
  2. Provide your students an accessible version of your presentation and transcript (if available). 
Provide accessible PPT above the accompanying video lecture.

Google Docs Accessibility

Google Docs includes options for adding accessibility information to documents to support access by individuals with disabilities. The best practices for Google Docs accessibility includes attention to:

  • Headings & Structure 
  • Images
  • HyperlinksLinks
  • Tables 
  • Color 
  • Accessibility Checker 
  • Exporting to Other Formats 

Headings & Structure

Page structure provides visual references to help readers scan and organize the content.

Headings 

Google Docs Headings option

Headings can provide an organizational and navigational framework for a document’s content, communicating both the informational hierarchy and relationship between different sections. Headings also provide a simple mechanism for an individual using assistive technologies to “jump” from one heading to the next when navigating the document.

In the toolbar select the drop-down menu Styles button to reveal all headings. 

Google Docs heading styles menu includes Title, Subtitle, Headings 1-4, and Options.

To make an item a heading in Google Docs, select the Styles drop-down menu, located to the left of the font drop-down menu. 

Headings can be marked with the following 

  1. Mac keyboard shortcuts:
    • +Option+1 applies the Heading 1 style
    • COMMAND +Option+2 applies the Heading 2 style
    • COMMAND +Option+3 applies the Heading 3 style
  2. Windows keyboard shortcuts:
    • CTRL + ALT + 1 applies the Heading 1 style
    • CTRL + ALT + 2 applies the Heading 2 style
    • CTRL + ALT + 3 applies the Heading 3 style

Important considerations

  • Headings should follow a logical structure that identifies content based on the organizational content and hierarchy of information in the document.
  • Avoid skipping heading levels – modify the style of the heading if you prefer a specific font or appearance. 

Lists

Lists provide a structured order to a group of connected or sequential content. A numbered or bulleted list may present the same information more effectively than simple data tables with fewer steps.

Google Docs List style options for Bullet Lists and Numbered Lists.
In Google Docs, highlight the text to be made into a list, then select the desired list style.
  1. Highlight the grouped list of items.
  2. In the toolbar, select the appropriate list style (i.e, numbered list or bulleted list)

Images

Images that support the content require a text description (also called “alt text”) that communicates the purpose and/or content of the image. This information is presented to the individual using assistive technologies, allowing them to hear the description of the image. Image descriptions should be short and communicate the main purpose of the image. Images that are considered decorative can be marked as such and are ignored by assistive technologies.

If a longer description of the image is necessary to fully explain its content, consider inserting a more detailed description of the image within the document text that precedes and/or follows the image.

Adding Alt Text

Select “Alt text” in Google Docs to edit Alt text.
  1. Select and right-click the image.
  2. Select Alt Text.
  3. In the Description field, provide a brief and concise description and select OK.
    In the Google Docs Alt Text window, write the alt text in the Description box.  In this case the alt text is, “Two construction workers shaking hands.”

Important considerations

For additional guidance on writing effective text descriptions (i.e., alt text), please review the information on Images.

Technical guidelines
  • Refrain from placing information in the “Title” field. 
  • Text wrapping guidance
Formatting guidelines
  • A text description should convey the purpose or content of the image in approximately 120 characters or less. Avoid repeating the same information as contained in the surrounding text.
  • If the image is complex, consider providing additional information in the surrounding text of the document while providing a shortened text description. 
  • Do not include the file format in the alt text (Example: .JPEG, .PNG)
  • Do not include “picture of” or “image of” in the alt text. 

Hyperlinks

Documents containing hyperlinks to websites or other online resources can be improved by including hyperlink text that is understood by the reader. Using the full URL as the hyperlink text may not make sense to the reader, particularly if it is long. 

Google Docs Insert Link button.
  1. Place the cursor anywhere on the desired hyperlink. Right-click the hyperlink.
  2. Select Link
  3. Under Text to Display, write the descriptive text for the hyperlink, keeping the text name short and descriptive. 
  4. Select Apply.

Color 

Color can be an effective method to communicate ideas and draw attention to information. Ensuring there is sufficient contrast as well as using color in combination with other formatting can support a diverse campus community, including individuals with visual disabilities.

Google Docs Text color and Highlight color buttons.

Contrast

When choosing colors to present text information in documents, choose color options that provide a contrast ratio of:

  • 4.5:1 for regular text
  • 3:1 for 18 point font and larger, or 14 point font and bold

In general, pastel colors or the “light” version of a particular color do not provide sufficient contrast against a white background.

Contrast ratios may be evaluated using tools such as:

Color and Formatting

When using color to indicate a specific condition or state, include some formatting attribute to also provide a distinguishing characteristic. For example, if a list of vocabulary words were identified only in red text, this could present difficulties for an individual who had some type of color-blindness.

Options to support accessibility can include a combination of color AND formatting, such as:

  • Red text with Bold formatting
  • Using an asterisk, brackets, or other annotation symbols in addition to color
Add asterisk on colored text to enhance readability.

For more information on using color or these tools, please review the information on Color.

Exporting to Other Formats 

Google Docs to PDF

At this time Google Docs are not able to produce accessible PDF versions. If you export your Google Docs file as a PDF document, the accessibility information will not be included in the resulting PDF version. 

Alternatively, your Google Docs can be downloaded and uploaded into Microsoft Word. 

Google Docs File drop-down menu, showing the option to download as a Microsoft Word document.

In the toolbar menu, select File > Download > Microsoft Word (.docx).  

In Microsoft Word, run the Accessibility Checker, and address any accessibility issues before exporting to a PDF.  

Google Slides Accessibility

Google Slides is a popular tool for creating slide show presentations. Below are some topics that support accessibility in Google Slides. 

  • Headings & Structure 
  • Images
  • Hyperlinks
  • Exporting to PowerPoint

Structure 

The structure of the content can provide an organizational and navigational framework for individuals to understand the informational hierarchy and relationship between different sections of content. These structural elements can help determine the organization and logical reading order of the presentation for an individual using assistive technologies. Google Slides provides three features, which assist with content structure: Slide Themes, Slide Layouts, and Slide Title.

More information can be found on the Structure page.

Slide Title 

The Slide Title is used to provide a heading for the slide’s content. Slide titles should be unique and descriptive to help users navigate to specific content on the slides. 

In Google Slides, each slide title should be unique.

Slide Layout 

The Slide Layout provides templates with content regions in a predefined layout. Using a predefined slide layout will help ensure that the slide has the correct heading structure, numbered and bulleted list styles, and reading order.

In the toolbar, select Layout. Select the desired layout. 

Google Slides option to select a Layout.
In the Google Slides Layout gallery, select a desired layout.

Managing Reading Order

Google Slides Arrange button.

If creating separate text boxes that are not part of a preset layout, any of this content may not be in the correct reading order. When placing content manually onto a blank slide, you will need to assess and manage the reading order using the Arrange button in the toolbar.

In Google Slides, select Arrange, then Order, to open the reading order options.
  1. Tab through the slide to see the reading order.
  2. To change the reading order, select on Arrange > Order.
    1. Send Backward will raise the element to a higher reading order (ex., from 3 to 2).
    2. Bring Forward will lower the element to a lower reading order (ex., from 3 to 4).
  3. Test the reading order with the Tab key again.

Although most Slide Layouts and Slide Themes contain slide titles – you may see a blank slide. To provide logical reading order, please note that every slide should have a Slide Title.

Images

Images that support the content require a text description (also called “alternate text”) to communicate the purpose and/or content of the image. Image descriptions should be short and communicate the main purpose of the image. If a longer description of the image is necessary to fully explain its content, consider alternate strategies outlined on the Images page.

To add the alternate text:

  1. Select the image. Right-click.
  2. Select Alt text.
  3. In the Alt Text window, write the alt text in the Description field. 
  4. Selec OK
In Google Slides, select the image and right-click, then select Alt text from the menu.  The Alt Text window will open.  Write the alt text in the Description box.

For additional guidance on writing effective text descriptions (i.e., alt text), please review the Images page.

Hyperlinks

Documents containing hyperlinks to websites or other online resources can be improved by including hyperlink text that is understood by the reader. For instance, using the full hyperlink URL may not make sense to the reader without some context. 

  1. Highlight the descriptive word or phrase that will become the hyperlink.
  2. Select Insert Link button in the rich content editor.
  3. Write the hyperlink in the Link field and select Apply. 
In Google Slides, select the desired link text, then select the Insert Link button, and place the URL in the Link box.

Exporting to Other Formats 

Export to PowerPoint

If you plan to distribute your presentation to others as an MS PowerPoint, download the Google Slides as a PowerPoint Presentation and then run the Accessibility Checker from within PowerPoint. This can help identify any potential accessibility issues and prompt you for corrections.

Download Google Slides as a PowerPoint Presentation. 

  1. Select File.
  2. Select Download.
  3. Select Microsoft PowerPoint (.pptx) 
To download in a different format in Google Slides, select File, then Download.

STEM Concept

Assessment Barriers

Online assessments need to ensure that math equations in students’ responses are accessible to assistive technology (AT) software applications. Students who rely on assistive technology might need to submit assessments in alternate formats. 

 Tests & Quizzes

When a test or quiz is created in an online environment, it is important that all elements are labeled and the directions are clear.

Checkboxes and radio buttons in the response area need to indicate when a selection is checked or not checked.

When open answer fields are provided in online tests, the response area should ensure that screen readers can access what students are entering as they compose their answers, as well as the ability to read back to them the completed entry. When the entry field allows math expressions to be entered, then an accessible math entry technique should be available. The math entry process should allow at least two accessible entry techniques, which may include an accessible navigable math entry palette, the use of easily discoverable keyboard shortcuts, direct braille entry via a refreshable braille display, and/or commonly used qwerty code entry conventions, such as AsciiMath or LaTeX input.   

In the case of traditional “paper and pencil” tests, students with handwriting issues (e.g., dysgraphia, CP, upper mobility impairment) may not be able to legibly write math equations on paper. In such cases, human scribes may need to be provided. Alternatively, the student might need to complete the test using an accessible computer entry method, which may include an onscreen math palette that works with standard or adapted mice (e.g., track ball, head mouse, eye gaze), or speech input enabled math editors like MathTalk  or EquatIO.

 Papers and Lab Reports

While mathematics classes rarely have the equivalent of research papers, some proofs may require extensive literary elaboration along with mathematical formulas. On the other hand, research papers in the sciences are very common and may require the student to create hundreds of math expressions as well as various types of graphs.

Lab reports for physics labs and chemistry are another case where the student will need to create a large number of math expressions. Chemical equations are very similar in the way that linear math expressions are laid out and also require the student to use an editing tool to create chemical formulas.

 Homework

There is an inherent communication problem that arises around the ability of sighted teachers and blind students to use the same formats.

Blind students may be used to doing math on a braille notetaker, but that doesn’t provide the teacher with a format that results in displayed math notation.

Recommended Software: MathType 

MathType is a software designed to help type and hand-write mathematical notation to include quality math equations in documents and digital content easily. MathType is available for desktop, web (Google Docs), and Microsoft Word on iPad.

Some key features include:

  • Save frequently used equations and symbols in customizable toolbars
  • Setup personal keyboard shortcuts
  • Copy or convert to LaTeX
  • Automatic spacing that conforms to international mathematics typesetting conventions
  • Integrated with Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Apple Pages
  • Edit all formulas created with Microsoft Equation 3.0, as well as Microsoft’s OMML equation editor
  • Export and import MathML, making it easy to integrate into many publishing workflows using XML
  • Save or export equations as images for applications that support only images
  • Choose font, color, and size according to your preferences or style guide
  • Use any standard keyboard input method to input non-Latin based characters & accepts international keyboards
  • Directly integrates with Word and Duxbury Braille Translator (DBT) to create documents with mathematical braille

Additional MathType Resources: 

MathPlayer

When creating math expressions in MathType with Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, MathPlayer will allow you to immediately hear how a math expression will be read without having to use a screen reader. This is especially useful when someone is just beginning to use MathType, because there may be more than one way of authoring a math expression which may look right visually, but not necessarily convey the same semantics and thus produce different speech. MathPlayer is also needed if you are going to try to read the Word or PowerPoint document later with the NVDA screen reader. MathPlayer also provides for speech output when MathType has been used to export an HTML document containing MathML expressions.

One thing to note is that although MathPlayer runs in either the 64-bit or 32-bit Windows Operating System, it does not support the 64-bit version of Word. There are only a few instances where users will have the 64-bit version of Office installed on their PC (the 32-bit version is suggested for most users regardless of what Windows operating system is used), so this is unlikely to be an issue. Nonetheless, MathPlayer is not essential to the math production process and won’t impact the ability to use MathType in cases where the 64-bit version of Office has been installed.

Desmos

desmos logo

 Desmos is an advanced graphing calculator implemented as a web application and a mobile application written in JavaScript.

Graphs can be created ahead of time and embedded directly into Canvas. 

Pandoc

Pandoc logo 

While not needed to author STEM materials in their native formats, Pandoc is a useful application in circumstances where one desires to write content in one format and then export to another end product format. Pandoc is a free-to-use line-command tool that supports accessible math input and output formats including LaTeX, MathML, and MathJax. The strength of Pandoc is that it is very versatile and can be built into a very precise automated conversion process. On the other hand, it has a steep learning curve and will require a significant time investment to perfect the conversion process. It may, however, be a time-saving solution in the long run in some instances – for example, when math faculty create an extensive amount of content using LaTeX.

InftyReader

InftyReader logo

InftyReader is an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) application that recognizes and translates scientific documents (including math symbols) into LaTeX, MathML and XHTML.

WordToEpub

Daisy Consortium logo

Using Microsoft Word and WordToEPUB, you can convert documents to the latest EPUB 3 format. EPUB is a wonderful format for reading publications on laptops, tablets, and smartphones, and it includes features such as rich navigation and great accessibility. The EPUB files created with this tool can be used in a wide variety of reading apps on any platform, with the ability to personalize visual features such as colors, font, text size, and layout. Many reading apps have other useful features such as read aloud, the ability to add comments and bookmarks, and support for electronic braille.

GrindEQ

GrindEQ logo

GrindEQ converts MathType to OML or LaTex to Word (Word equation editor).

This program is ideal for converting equations from MathML to OML equations. This program is best suited for creating EPUB files using WordToEPUB. 

Central Access Reader

CAR logo

Central Access Reader (CAR) is a free, open-source, text-to-speech application designed specifically for students with print-related disabilities. CAR reads Word docs and pasted text using the voice installed on your computer. CAR has an intuitive interface and many customizable features.

 Thorium

Thorium logo

Thorium is an accessible EPUB reader that can interact with math content that has been created from OML objects using the WordToEPUB toolbar.

MathML & the student experience 

Using MathML provides not only equal access to math content for students with disabilities but provides all students access to rich math content with support for enhanced learning delivery modes.

Equations authored in MathML can be displayed onscreen with highlighting that moves in sync with synthetic speech, providing students with multi-modal visual and aural learning support. MathML also provides the capacity to allow students to visually and aurally “walk through” various parts of an extended equation at their own pace. These capabilities will aid all students as they learn math concepts.

MathML, a standardized digital design feature, provides unrestricted comparable access to math for people with – and without – disabilities. Finally, the universal design features of math content authored with MathML will provide enhanced learning benefits to all students.

MathML is intended to facilitate the use and re-use of mathematical and scientific content on the Web and for other applications such as computer algebra systems, print typesetting, and voice synthesis. MathML can be used to encode both the presentation of mathematical notation for high-quality visual display and mathematical content, and for applications where the semantics play more of a key role, such as scientific software or voice synthesis.

Determine when to use the Rich Content Editor

When possible, use the rich content editor for instructional content. 

For example, use Canvas math equation editor for instructional content. Instructors should use Canvas’ math editor for instructional lectures and tutorials.

Header usage and organizing the content into shorter portions helps students navigate different aspects of the equation. It is extremely helpful to provide textual descriptions explaining the content and context of equations before and after a math problem. Providing detailed explanations before and after a math problem helps reinforce and summarize important concepts. 

Below is an example of how one would introduce and organize math content on a Canvas page.

Canvas page that provides additional textual description of how to solve a mathematical equation step-by-step.

Use an accessible MS Word doc for problem sets

For large problem sets that require students to interact with equations, create an accessible MS Word document.

Mathematical Content

Microsoft Word documents that contain math equations using the MathType Equation Editor can be converted into other formats while retaining the accessibility functionality of the mathematical content. At this time, MS Word documents must be saved as DOCX and use the MathType Equation Editor to input the math equations. 

Alternatively, you can input equations using LaTeX, but these equations will need to be converted to MathType Equations before the document can be used with assistive technologies or submitted to the SCRIBE platform.

MathType window in Microsoft Word.
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