Make documents and text accessible

Create text and documents that meet accessibility standards. It makes your content easier for everyone to access, it's the right thing to do, and it's the law.

Use the essential practices below for all your outputs, including Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, blog posts and emails.

1. Use heading styles

Headings make text stand out and help people scan your document - but don't create them manually by using bold, underlining or making text bigger! 

Use the heading styles offered by the software you're using - in Word the Styles are in the Home menu. 

  • If you don't like the design of a heading, edit it
  • This applies the formatting everywhere the style is used in your document
  • Create an automated table of contents from headings in Word: find Table of Contents in the References menu.

Headings are an essential navigation aid for blind or low vision people, who may use screen reader software to read out headings and quickly find topics of interest.

Apply heading styles in the correct order by their number, 'nesting' them sequentially.

  • Title
  • Heading 1: main content heading 
    • Heading 2
      • Heading 3
    • Heading 2
    • Heading 2

2. Text needs to be selectable

This will make sure it's accessible by screen reader software. To check, see if you can select, copy and paste your text into another location.

Link text (text that links to a web address) should describe its destination. It needs to make sense when read out of context.

Link text should be unique on the page - unless the links go to the same destination. Don't have multiple 'Contact us' links going to contact details for different teams.

Imagine using screen reader software to listen to all the links read aloud, out of context from their surrounding text. Do they make sense?

4. Use bullets and numbered lists

Use the bullet and numbered list functionality offered by the software. Don't add spaces or dashes manually. This disadvantages visually impaired users who rely on using screen reader software, as the software won't recognise it as a list.

5. Images

If the image conveys information not otherwise available, you need to add appropriate alternative text (alt text) if possible, or a full text alternative.

  • Complex graphics: infographics or flow charts etc can't be described adequately through the 'alt text'. Provide a full text alternative.
  • Purely decorative images: mark as decorative if you can (for web content enter two speech marks "" in the 'alt text' field). Don't leave it blank as a screen reader will read out its filename; not helpful!.
  • Social media: most socials have an accessibility option with alt text for posts. You can also describe the image in the post or as a caption.

Writing alt text is subjective: see our full guide to making images accessible

6. Table structure matters!

Does it need to be table? 

Make sure you're not using a table for layout purposes. Could the information be presented using headings, sub-headings and bullet points?

Keep it simple, and use a header row

Screen reader software reads a table from top to bottom and left to right. It can't interpret tables with no headings or with complex structures. Keep the structure simple: don't split cells, merge cells or use nested tables.

How to create a header row in Microsoft Word:

  • Select the top row
  • Right-click and choose table properties
  • Choose Repeat as header row at the top of each page
  • Deselect Allow row to break across pages.

7. Design and layout

Structure and colour matter, especially to dyslexic readers people with colour blindness. Remember, these are both invisible and pretty common, and you don't know who is affected and who isn't.

  • Left-align text (do not justify or centre)
  • Number pages in long documents
  • Don't use colour alone to show meaning; use text or symbols in addition
  • Don't use a watermark: it's invisible to screen readers and makes text harder to read
  • Check for sufficient colour contrast between text and background. In Microsoft use the 'Check Accessibility' menu. This tool checks contrast of text on a background image, or try these colour contrast checkers
  • Headers and footers aren't read by some screen reader software, so you'll need to include essential information elsewhere (such as on the cover page).

8. Accessible fonts and styles

  • Minimum font size 12 (bigger for presentations)
  • Use non-serif fonts (such as Arial or Helvetica)
  • Avoid underlining text unless it's a link
  • Avoid italics or all capitals (they're harder to read if you have dyslexia)
  • Use bold sparingly: it slows down reading and can look 'shouty'
  • Social media hashtags should be in #CamelCase #MoreReadable #lessreadable (and give text alternatives for images: see point 5!)

9. Write in plain English

Adopting a plain English writing style will transform your communication and make it much more accessible to all. Inherent in plain English is keeping audience needs at the forefront of your mind when writing, and then editing your wording to be as concise as possible. 

It's a practice that you get better at the more you do it. Our plain English checklist tells you all you need to know.

Help everyone understand your message - your audience will thank you!

10. Check its accessibility

Here's how to check you've done enough - accessibility checking tools for documents and websites will highlight any remaining issues and offer advice on how to fix them.

Thank you!

Making content accessible means working a little differently, so we want to thank you for using our guides.

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