Universal Access IconBy Kim Loenhart, Educational Technology Support, EDC

Many instructors and TAs upload Word documents in cuLearn to provide instructions to students for assignments or lessons. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), 2005, requires instructors to ensure that documents are written to prevent barriers to access for people with disabilities. Luckily, optimizing your Word documents for better accessibility is not as difficult as you might think.

Here are 5 tips for helping remove barriers in Word documents:

  • Use meaningful titles and headings to cluster related content together. Headings help divide a document into units of meaning and establish a hierarchy of ideas. Meaningful headings and subheadings can provide the reader with content and navigational cues to organize and make sense of the document’s message. Make use of MS Word’s Styles tags to maximize accessibility for your students.
  • Include extra white space to help group content and reduce visual clutter. White space helps the reader to understand where sections and ideas begin and end. Additionally, white space reduces visual clutter and cuts down on the cognitive processing time a reader has to use to access the message.
  • Write hyperlink text that describes the content of the targeted content When you use hyperlinks in your Word document, indicate the page content in the hyperlink name. So, rather than writing, “For more information, click here”, write, “For more information, visit Carleton University’s “Creating Accessible Word Documents” page.
  • Avoid using textboxes in Word. Screen readers cannot read inside of a textbox, so any content inside the box will be hidden for some readers. Use white space and paragraphing to visually separate text instead of textboxes.
  • Include image alternatives in your document. Screen readers cannot interpret images in the same way that our eyes can. Yet, images are often used to convey extra meaning for readers. To ensure that students who use screen readers can make sense of any images, you need to provide alternative text descriptions. Alternative text for images needs to indicate the purpose and content of the image succinctly and clearly.

These are just a few of the many ways you can make your Word documents more accessible. If you’d like to learn more about AODA and removing barriers to access, consider attending our upcoming workshops at the EDC.

Click the workshop name below for more information or to register:

You can also find more information about accessibility at the following sites: