A file folder with papers inside

Regardless of file format, it is important that its meaning can be understood with the use of a screen reader.

Electronic documents and forms are one of the most common ways of conveying and receiving information.  In order for individuals with disabilities to have full access to UB's programs and services, electronic documents must be accessible with the use of assistive technology and presented in a format that is clear and well-organized.

On this page:

General Design Principles

There are a few basic steps you can take to make your documents more easily understood by someone who is using assistive technology such as a screen reader, or for readers who benefit from visual clarity. 

Use headings with a built-in heading feature.

In breaking up information into logical sections, use Heading 1 for the main heading, Heading 2 for the next level, and so on. This will enable a screen reader to detect how the document is organized.

Use lists using the numbering or bulleting tools available.

The screen reader will inform the user that the content is organized through a list, allowing for better comprehension and navigation.

Add alternative text to images.

Alternate text allows for a verbal description of an image through the screen reader.

Identify document language.

Screen readers are multilingual, and can pick up text in various languages.  Identifying the document language helps the screen reader read the document appropriately.

Use tables wisely.

Use columns instead of tables to control document layout.  If a table is being used to convey data, keep the table simple and use headers for columns.  Consider presenting data in several simpler tables instead of a more complex one.

Understand how to export from one format to another.

When converting a document from Microsoft Word to a PDF, do not print to the PDF.  Use the "Save as PDF" feature instead.

Creating Accessible Word Documents

Microsoft Word is generally accessible with the use of a screen reader.  Accessibility will be enhanced when documents are created with general design principles in mind.  Microsoft Word also has a built-in "Check Accessibility" feature that will identify any issues that could present concerns.  For detailed guidance on creating accessible documents and checking for accessibility, consult the Accessible Digital Office Document website.    

Creating Accessible PDFs

A PDF (Portable Document Format) is a file format used to present and exchange documents, regardless of hardware, software or operating system.  The content of a PDF may appear to us as text, but may simply be a picture of information in a file.  This means that the text of PDFs that do not preserve the data in the original file will be invisible to a screen reader.  While accessibility features of PDFs have improved over the years, you may still want to consider having documents available in HTML format in addition to, or instead of, a PDF.  Adobe Acrobat Pro has accessibility features, including an accessibility checker and a "read out loud" option for accessing documents.  More detailed information is available through the Accessible Digital Office Documents Project.  

Detailed Guidance

The Accessible Digital Office Project has created a guide that provides specific information about creating accessible documents in multiple versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as Adobe Acrobat and other products.  The guidance is based upon WCAG 2.0, which is the current industry standard in online accessibility.  This guide is recommended for detailed instruction about how to create an accessible document or review an existing document for accessibility.