Making documents accessible at source

If you do need to make a PDF, it is often easier to make sure it’s accessible within the source document. Follow our guidelines to make your Office documents accessible:

Titles

A document title is metadata. It displays at the top of the document’s application or in the tab of a web browser.

If someone’s using a screen reader, the title will be the first thing the screen reader recognises. A good clear and descriptive title will help people understand what the document is about.

It’s best to make the file name and document title consistent

To set a document title right-click the file and select: Properties > Details > Title.

Microsoft guidance on changing properties.

Headings

When headings of a document are tagged correctly, a screen reader will know that they are headings. This allows a user to scan through a document easily.

Headings should be set using the Styles feature – not by simply using bold, underline or making the font size bigger as screen readers cannot differentiate this from normal text.

Microsoft guidance on headings.

Instructions

Instructions should not rely on sensory abilities. For example, ‘Click the green button to continue’ relies on someone being able to see clearly.

Links

Links should make sense in isolation. People using screen readers often scan through links without the context of a page.

For example use ‘Visit the council website‘ not ‘To visit the website click here’.

Don’t use the same link text for separate links that go to different places. For example, ‘Read more’ for 3 links that go to 3 different sites.

Images

A user may not be able to see non-text content in a document if they are using a screen reader.

Images (including shapes, icons and charts) should have alternative text (‘Alt Text’) added to explain what the images shows. Do not use images containing text (except logos).

Microsoft guidance on adding alternative text.

Tables

Tables should have a heading row stated.

Tables should have a description explaining what the information shows.

Try to make tables simple in structure. The more complicated a table, the harder it is to make accessible.

Do not copy images of tables into documents.

Bookmarks

Bookmarks should be added to long documents to help users skip through the content.

Microsoft guidance on bookmarks.

Check accessibility

Use the Office accessibility checker before saving and publishing the final version of a document.

General good practice

You should also follow these general good document practices.

Don’t save documents in formats such as .docx or .xlsx. These are ‘closed’ formats, which means they can’t be opened and edited in a wide variety of software applications. Use .doc or .csv instead, which are ‘open’ formats.

File names should:

  • be written entirely in lowercase
  • use hyphens or underscores instead of spaces