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Document Accessibility

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As an organization, APSEA is committed to ensuring all information is produced in a clear and readable format, making it accessible to all individuals. Document accessibility begins when creating the original document.

The following information is based around document creation in Microsoft Word, but these guidelines should be followed when creating documents in any program where possible.

Document Workflow

To ensure your document is as accessible as possible follow this workflow when creating your document.

  1. Create the document in Microsoft Word, using accessibility features.
  2. Export your document to Acrobat PDF (Portable Document Format).
  3. Check your document for accessibility in Acrobat Pro and fix any remaining issues.
  4. Test your document with a screen reader.

Content and Semantic Elements

Document accessibility begins with ensuring proper structure of the content. Screen readers do not know the meaning of text from simple formatting such as size, bold, underlines, or colours instead they rely on semantic elements to allow the user to easily navigate the document.

Ensuring proper document structure not only benefits screen reader users but everyone that uses the document by providing additional ways to navigate the document.


Use heading styles to break up content into smaller sections and make it easier to navigate the document. Headings can be converted to bookmarks when creating a PDF version of the document.

Headings and sub-headings should follow the structure of your document, do not skip heading hierarchical levels.

Most documents should have one Heading Level 1 (H1) and it should be set to the document's title.

Create and Modify Headings

To use headings, select the desired text and choose the appropriate element from the Styles group found on the Home ribbon in Microsoft Word.

Headings in Microsoft Word have predefined formatting, you can change the formatting after selecting the desired heading style with the Font group found in the Home ribbon.

Changing the formatting of the selected heading does not affect the semantic structure of the document.

View/Check Headings

Check the document headings and make sure they follow the logical outline of the content by using the Navigation pane in Microsoft Word.

To open the Navigation pane, go to the View tab in the Microsoft Word ribbon and select the checkbox for Navigation Pane in the Show group.

The Navigation pane will show to the left of your document and can be used to check your headings and to navigate to different sections of the document.

Fonts and Text Size

Sans-serif fonts are recommended for all APSEA documents, avoid serif fonts and overly decorative fonts. APSEA printed material should use the Calibri font for the body of the document and headings.

If the font is not available, it is acceptable to use other sans-serif fonts such as Arial, Helvetica, Tahoma, Verdana, Futura, Univers, and Franklin Gothic.

Text Size and Line Spacing

Documents should have a minimum font size of 12 points for the content of the document body and a font size between 14 points to 24 points for headings to ensure readability and maintain consistency.

Line spacing should be 1.5, a larger amount of line spacing also helps for readability such as 2 for double spaced documents.

Colours and Contrast

Check the contrast between the text colour and the background colour of the document. Low contrast between these colours can make the text hard to read. A minimum contrast ratio of 4.5 to 1 is required for regular text. Small text should have a minimum ratio of 7 to 1.

Never rely on colour alone to convey meaning.

Avoid putting text on top of images.

You can check your colour contrast with the WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind) contrast checker.

Images and Charts

When adding images or charts be sure to add Alt Text to the image, in a clear descriptive way that is easy to understand. Do not make alt text descriptions overly long.

To add or modify the image alt text, you can Right-mouse click on the image and select Edit Alt Text from the menu.

Images and charts should have a text wrap of Inline with text so that they are kept in the natural flow of the document.

Do not rely on colour alone when using charts. Use patterns or descriptions to help differentiate elements of the chart.


When creating lists, use one of the list styles (bullets, or numbering) found in the Paragraph group on the Home ribbon.


Simple tables can be made accessible, while its best to avoid complex tables. Use tables to represent tabular data.

Simple Tables

When using a table to display tabular data, use the Insert Table tool found under the Insert tab in the Tables group.

Tables should have a title and headers that are properly designated. Header rows and columns can be designated under the Table Design tab in the Table Style Options group.

Complex Tables

Avoid using complex tables that include merged cells, nested tables, or multiple headings and other complex layouts.

When possible, break complex tables up into multiple simple tables.

Exporting to PDF

Before converting the document to PDF, check for accessibility issues in Microsoft Word. Under the Review tab, select Check Accessibility in the Accessibility group. Fix any errors that are shown.

From the Acrobat tab, select Create PDF from the Create Adobe PDF group. In the pop-up window, click the Options button. Ensure that the following options are checked:

  • Enable Accessibility and Reflow with tagged Adobe PDF
  • Convert Word Headings to Bookmarks

And then save your document.

Document Title and Language

Document language and title should be set in Microsoft Word before exporting your document to PDF, however these settings do not always transfer over to your PDF file and need to be checked.

Document Title

Open your PDF in Acrobat Pro, from the File menu select Properties. In the pop-up window, go to the Description tab and type the title in the Title field.

Then go to the Initial View tab and under Window Options, select Document Title from the dropdown list for Show.

Document Language

In Acrobat Pro with you document open go to the File menu and select Properties. In the pop-up window, go to the Advanced tab. Under Reading Options select the proper option from the dropdown list for Language.

Checking PDF Accessibility

With the document open in Acrobat Pro, go to the Tools tab and click on Accessibility. You can also access this panel by clicking on the Accessibility icon from the panel on the right.

Click on Accessibility Check (in older versions of Acrobat Pro this may be labeled as Full Check). From the pop-up window click on the button at the bottom labeled Start Checking.

Fix any issues that are reported in the results.

Check Reading Order

The reading order of the document is important not only for screen readers, but it is also used when your document is set to Reflow View. Reading order can be viewed with the Order tab found on the left panel in Acrobat Pro.