Essential practices for all documents and presentations
Use the essential technical practices below for all your outputs, including Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, blog posts and emails.
Checklist of practices you need to apply
- Use heading styles
- Text needs to be selectable
- Write meaningful link text
- Use bullets and numbered lists
- Accessible images
- Table structure matters
- Design and layout
- Accessible fonts and styles
These are explained in detail below.
Wording matters too: use plain English to make your text fully accessible. This makes it clearer and so helps busy people (all of us!) to more quickly understand your communication.
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 particular heading, you can edit it. This will then apply the formatting change everywhere the style is used in your document.
Using the headings to generate an automatic table of contents can benefit everyone. In Word, find the Table of Contents option under the References menu.
Heading styles are an essential navigation aid if you need the content read aloud. Blind people or those with low vision may use screen reader software, which can read out all the headings to help them efficiently locate topics of interest.
You need to apply heading styles in the correct order by their number, 'nesting' them sequentially. This is especially important to screen reader users.
Heading hierarchy should follow this order:
- Heading 1: main content heading
- Heading 2
- Heading 3
- Heading 2
- Heading 2
- Heading 3
- Heading 4
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.
3. Write meaningful link text
Your link text (eg a link to a website) needs to describe its destination and make sense out of context.
- Don't write: "Click here to visit the University of Kent home page"
- Write: "Visit the University of Kent home page"
Link text should also be unique on the page unless the links go to the same destination. Don't have multiple "Contact us" links in one page/document that go to the 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. Accessible images
6. Table structure matters
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.
Create a header row:
- Select the top row
- Right-click and choose table properties
- In the Row section choose Repeat as header row at the top of each page
- Deselect Allow row to break across pages.
7. Design and layout
- Left-align text (do not justify or centre-align)
- Number the pages
- Don't use colour alone to show meaning; use text or symbols in addition. For example: red, amber and green could be a cross, question mark and tick
- Colour contrast between text and the background needs to be sufficient. Use the software's built-in accessibility checker (see the Check Accessibility link in the menu if using Word or PowerPoint): this will highlight any colour contrast issues
- Don't use a watermark: it can't be accessed by screen readers and can make text harder to read if behind main text
- Headers and footers are not read by some screen reader software, so essential information will need to be repeated 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 are both harder to read if you have dyslexia
Check you got it right
Here's how to check you've got it right - automated accessibility checkers will not only highlight any remaining issues, they'll give you advice on how to fix them.
Take it further
More resources for accessible documents
- Detailed checklist for creating accessible Word documents (PDF). produced by the Michigan Department for Education).
- If you prefer to watch a video, watch these video tutorials on how to create accessible content produced by CALL Scotland
- Microsoft guides: in-depth accessibility advice for most Office applications
Other Kent guides in this series
Making content accessible means working a little differently, so we want to thank you for using our guides. Here's our explanation of why accessibility matters so much.