Word Documents

Styles & Structured Headings

The primary accessibility concern for Word documents (.doc, .docx) is ensuring that they are readable for screen reader users. A screen reader is software that converts text content on the screen into synthesized speech.
For screen reader users, a basic .doc file is often the most accessible type of digital file. The key to making the text in a Word doc accessible is structuring the document with styles.

There are two basic approaches to formatting a Word document:

1) You can directly format elements, by highlighting text and selecting typeface, font size, alignment, and other attributes to give the text the appearance you’d like.

2) You can utilize styles. Styles allow you to establish formatting elements that can be applied throughout a document. These styles provide consistency to the document and they can be read by a screen reader.

By using either of the approaches described above, you can make the text look identical:

Heading

Heading

While the visual appearance of these two is the same, the way they will be read by a screen reader is entirely different. The first example is directly formatted. A screen reader will only read the word, “heading.” It will not know that this is in fact a heading, an element of the document layout. The second example uses styles to indicate the heading. A screen reader will recognize this styled Heading, allowing the user can skip from heading to heading in order to scan the document.

Using structured and styled headings benefits all students in that the structure of the document will follow the file, remaining in tact even if a student opens a Word document in another word processing program. Structured headings also allow for the easy creation of a table of contents.

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Alternative Text for Images

If your Word documents include images which covey content, you need to provide alternative text for those images. When a screen reader encounters an image, it will tell the user that an image is on the screen but it cannot tell the user the content of that image. A text version of the visual content must be provided in an Alt Text file. When the screen reader encounters the image, it will read the alt text. The alt text can be a simple and descriptive phrase or sentence. For more complex images, such as charts or graphs, a more thorough long description may be required.

Including alt text benefits all students because if a computer is low to load images, the alt text will appear in place of the image. If students are working with a slow processing computer, they will still be able to understand the image content.

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