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Accessible Documents Best Practices
An accessible digital document is well-structured, providing visual information in a non-visual format. Examples of digital documents are PDFs and Microsoft Office files. There are many more. They exist on a website, sent in an email or shared in various ways. The information on this page is specific to Microsoft Word, but the principles apply to all text documents. Building accessibility into the document from the start is best practice.
Plan, organize and structure
Follow accessible structure best practices. Assistive technology interprets electronic documents based on structure, same it does for web pages. Plan the organization and structure.
Using built-in tools for headers, lists, and tables creates document structure. Use markup properly rather than for visual effects like bolding or adding spaces. The PDF format is the most widely used on the web. Become familiar with the steps required to produce accessible PDFs.
Write in clear language and use descriptive links
Clear simple, jargon-free language is easier for everyone to understand. Links should be clear where they are going. Avoid "read more" and "click here" for link text, but if you have to, include a title attribute in the code.
Give images alt attributes or null alt attributes
Follow accessible image best practices. Provide alternative text that gives context when the images are missing or unviewable. For images that do not convey useful information or are considered decorative, use null alt attributes to allow a screen reader to skip it.
Follow the UCSF Editorial Style Guide
The UCSF Editorial Style Guide, linked from the UCSF Brand Identity Editorial Expression page, standardizes frequently used terms, punctuation, and style. This creates brand consistency for communicators when writing for and about UCSF. It improves clarity and readability across all communications outlets.
Check your work
Always check your work. Use the built-in accessibility checkers when you can.
Accessible PDF documents
Generally, you’ll need to convert or export from another document format to create a PDF. Then you can link to or upload it to your website. It is easier to produce accessible PDFs beginning with an accessible source document. Each new version of MS Word and other software improves accessibility features. When possible use the latest software version.
Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint accessibility checkers
The Microsoft Accessibility Checker flags for potential accessibility issues, like the spelling/grammar checker. Apply suggested solutions so someone with a disability can read and get to your content. Use the Microsoft Accessibility Checkers to find issues and get suggested solutions
Other document formats
When possible, convert other kinds of documents to HTML, as HTML documents are easier to make accessible. The principles that apply to MS Word also apply to all text documents. Plan, organize and structure for best results. Write in clear language, use a hierarchical structure, give images alt tags, use descriptive links and check your work.