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Digital Education and Information
College of Education and Human Development

How do I make text documents accessible?

Making a document accessible requires that a hierarchical structure and organization is used. Screen reading software will then be able to accurately convert the text to speech or display the text in a larger format. Screen reading software does not “read” images or visual elements in a document unless they have a descriptive tag attached to them, all visual elements should be tagged so students don’t miss any of them.

Make accessibility a habit when creating all of your documents. This will save time and benefit your students.

How to make documents accessible

  • Choose to use PDF or MS Word documents, or HTML text (e.g., Moodle page) whenever possible as these formats can easily be made accessible.
  • Use “styles” in Word documents to indicate an information hierarchy (Title, Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, etc.).  To do this, apply the Heading 1 style to your initial heading, Heading 2 to subheadings, and so on.  This ensures the document reading order and structure are preserved when using a screen reader.
  • When creating visual elements (charts, graphs, images), include an alternate text description as well as a caption when possible.
  • Try to avoid using red and green as people who are colorblind cannot differentiate these colors. Colors in general should not be used as the only method to convey information.
  • Use high contrast between text and its background, especially when creating a presentation (e.g., lecture slides).
  • When putting a slide deck together (PowerPoint, Keynote, etc.), do not include too much information on any one slide.
  • There are no special tools needed to make a document accessible. Both MS Office and Adobe Acrobat Pro offer accessibility checking tools that will identify issues that require attention.
  • Plan for a little extra time as you prepare documents for your courses. Use this time to make each document accessible.

University of Minnesota Accessibility Resources

University of Minnesota Disability Resource Center

Adobe Acrobat Pro Accessible PDF Tutorial

Create Accessible Microsoft Documents Tutorial

Chronicle of Higher Education: How to Create Accessible Documents

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