If you missed our introduction to Accessibility for digital content, you can read it here: Accessibility.

Firstly, consider why you are using MS Word. Assignments or brand guidelines may specify the formatting (i.e., font, size, line spacing, etc.) to be used.

Toward the end of last week’s blog, there were a few text tips to start you thinking about current practices:

  • Use a sans-serif font, i.e., Arial, Helvetica, Calibri
  • Avoid ‘fancy’ fonts, they’re hard to read
  • Text should be minimum size 12 in Word Documents
  • Line spacing should be 1.5
  • Left aligned text is easier to read
  • Consider contrast and use colour with care, i.e., colour of text on background (https://contrastchecker.com/)
  • Use an accessibility checker

Whilst the above tips are great for getting started using text, this weeks’ blog looks more in depth at MS Word and how you can begin to incorporate accessibility best practices in to your routine so a wider audience can use the content you create in digital form. Here, we cover document navigation and image accessibility.

Navigation of documents

Don’t just start typing and formatting text to make the document look good. Consider the structure of the document being created. Use Headings and Document Styles to create navigation. What is the benefit of creating navigation?

Think of a newspaper.

Headings and subheadings allow audiences to skim text to determine which content they want or need. Generally, headings are larger titles to denote overall topics (i.e., Classifieds) whilst subheadings denote a subsection (i.e., Services, Household, etc.).

Headings and subheadings are great to break up text and hold the audiences’ attention. This works well for people without sight problems.

For people living with visual impairment and whom use assistive technologies (such as screen readers), headings/subheadings are a very important consideration. Screen readers are software applications (i.e., JAWS or screen readers available via Windows 10 or MAC Voiceover) that read and speak text to people living with visual impairment and/or learning difficulties.  

Start thinking about documents in book terms.

Books contain an index which allows users to select a chapter they wish to read and with page numbers, users can quickly access the required chapter.

Without page numbers or an index as a guide, it takes much page turning and reading to arrive at the required information (if it exists). In this Linear format, it’s a timely exercise with no guarantee any of the information is relevant. If you just start typing and don’t use headings and styles, you’ve created a linear document without navigation.

Styles panel from MS Word 2016

To use Styles, click on the Home Ribbon and use the Styles section. Highlight headings with your mouse and select Heading 1 or Heading 2.

Be consistent in your use of styles.

Each style can be configured or formatted how you wish but it’s important to apply them.

Additional styles can be added by using the New Style icon at the bottom left of the Styles panel.

An additional benefit to the creator of the document, if you change the formatting of headings via styles, it updates automatically throughout the document.

Using styles can be a great time saver for creators and users of this content.

Images and pictorial data

Screen readers cannot ‘read’ images or pictorial data as these are not text-based. People living with visual impairment are disadvantaged with this content type.

Whilst a picture says a thousand words and statistics can be conveyed much quicker as an info-graphic or chart, this method of conveying information will disadvantage some members of the audience. One suggestion is to use ALT text.

ALT text is an attribute held in the image information and can be included in MS Word (and other applications). Why use ALT text?

Screen readers can’t read imagery, but they can read the ALT text attached to an image. ALT text should describe the image to assist the audiences understanding how this information fits into the overall content.

In MS Word, to include ALT Text on an image, insert an image, right-click the image and click Format Picture.

Example of right-clicking on an image for pop up menu options
Format Picture panel example showing ALT Text options

This opens the Format Picture panel on the right hand of the screen. Here, there is a drop down for ALT text and this is where you can add the alternative text (or long description) of your image or pictorial data.

This needs to be done for each image within MS Word documents. Sometimes the images used may be decorative, i.e., they’re non-essential to the information being conveyed. If this is the case, decorative images can be hidden from the screen reader by leaving the ALT text attribute blank.

Needless to say, when using images, do consider copyright, copyright in Education and creative commons, these have been covered previously on the Digi-Know blog.

Next week’s blog will continue looking at accessibility in MS Word when using Tables, meaningful hypertext links, use of space, floating objects, text boxes and how to add in and use the accessibility checker in MS Word.


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