A few simple steps to help make your Word documents more accessible.
It is not always possible to make all your Word documents accessible to all users so it is important to remember that you should also provide a document tagline that offers to provide the information in an alternative format upon request.
Styles and headings
Use the styles and formatting toolbar in Word when structuring your document as this will make it easier for disabled users to adapt the document to meet their needs and to navigate around the document if using a screen reader.
It is best practice to type word documents in font size 14, and no smaller than font size 12, to assist readers with visual impairments.
Remember that no one font size will suit everyone. However, it should be easy to provide the document in an alternative font size upon request.
It is best to avoid the use of non sans-serif fonts, such as Times New Roman.
The more ornate the font, the fewer the number of individuals who will be able to read it. 'Word Art' is not compatible with some screen readers.
The recommended fonts are:
- Arial (not Arial Narrow)
Capitals, bold, underlining and italics
Avoid the use of Italics and underlining wherever possible.
Continuous text should not be in capitals, although a couple of words in capitals is acceptable.
Wherever possible use bold to emphasise items or create headings as this is the most accessible type of formatting.
Contrast and text colour
For the University it is usually best to use dark ink against a pale background as this is best for users with specific learning differences such as dyslexia, although some users with visual impairments may find a light font on a dark background easier.
It is important that there is sufficient contrast between the font colour and the background colour. For example, black font on a cream or yellow background is a good contrast. Backgrounds should always be plain and ideally an off white/pastel shade.
Some individuals may require printed documents on different coloured paper as this can assist those with dyslexia and other specific learning differences.
Use left alignment.
Do not use justified text as this makes the spaces between words uneven which can make it difficult for some individuals to read. By aligning to the left you ensure the spaces between words are equal.
Double or 1.5 spacing between lines can make a document more accessible.
One line space at least should always be left between paragraphs.
If you are creating a form; the larger you make the response areas the better, as this will make the document more accessible to individuals with physical dexterity impairments.
Avoid glossy paper or laminated documents as these produce glare which can make them inaccessible. Uncoated paper is best.
In addition, make sure the paper is thick enough that print from one side of the paper does not show through to the other side. The Royal National Institute for the Blind recommend paper over 90gsm.
If you are folding the document, to place it in an envelope for example, make sure the fold lines do not cross over text as this makes it unreadable to scanners or screen magnifiers.
To ease accessibility (and usability) ensure all pages are numbered in the same place. Adding in contents and summaries can make longer documents easier to navigate.
Avoid the use of abbreviations which have not been given in full the first time they are used in the document.
Also, avoid the use of particularly long sentences and use words and phrases that best suit your audience.
WebAIM has a guide on writing accessible Word documents.
Request an alternative format
To request this document in an alternative format, such as large print or on coloured paper, please contact Viki Galt, the Head of Disability Information.
BSL users can contact me via Contact Scotland BSL, the on-line British Sign Language interpreting service. Find out more on the Contact Scotland BSL website.