By Janel MacIntyre, Educational Technology Development Specialist, EDC

Carleton has a reputation for being the most accessible university in Canada. Instructors have an important role to play in making course content more accessible for their students and in removing barriers to education. One way to remove those barriers is by creating better-formatted learning materials. By following the five tips below, you can maximize the accessibility of your documents using Microsoft Word’s built-in formatting options and features.

Tip #1: Use alternative (alt) text for images

If your document will be read online and includes images or graphics, you can add accompanying alternative (alt) text descriptions to convey the meaning for individuals with visual impairments. Alt text is shown in place of images on screen readers or other devices that cannot load images. It should clearly and concisely describe the image to provide relevant context.

Learn more about improving accessibility with alt text in Microsoft Word.

Tip #2: Use heading styles

Microsoft Word’s heading styles feature enables your document headings to serve as navigational aids for screen readers or other adaptive devices. By applying heading styles to all headings and subheadings in your document, you can create an accessible, consistent content structure that is easily scrollable for all readers. Heading styles can also be used to generate an automatic table of contents for your document. When formatting heading text, make sure to choose a legible font with at least a 12pt font size.

Learn more about improving accessibility with heading styles in Microsoft Word.

Tip #3: Use descriptive hyperlinks

Individuals using screen readers often rely on hyperlinks when navigating online content. Meaningful hyperlink descriptions should provide relevant context and clearly identify the destination of the link. When using hyperlinks in your documents, avoid text that is vague or undescriptive, such as “click here.” If a document will be read in print format, you can include the full web address, but remove the hyperlink underlining to improve document readability.

Learn more about creating accessible links in Microsoft Word.

Tip #4: Use colour wisely

When adding colour to a document, make sure there is high contrast between the text/images and the background. High contrast enhances readability for all learners. If you are using colour for emphasis in text, ensure that emphasis is indicated in other ways as well (such as bolding or asterisk) for students who cannot perceive colour.

Try the WebAIM Color Contrast Checker to test the accessibility of the foreground and background colours in your document.

Tip #5: Use the accessibility checker

Most Microsoft Office applications include a built-in checker that can automatically detect any accessibility issues in your document. The accessibility checker provides feedback and tips on how to fix any inaccessible formatting elements.

Learn more about checking document accessibility in Microsoft Word.

If you’d like to learn more strategies, tools and techniques for reducing barriers to education and for making your learning materials more accessible for your students, come to the EDC’s workshop on August 20: Accessibility and Inclusive Design.

We’d like to help you make your documents more accessible and ensure Carleton is Canada’s most accessible university!

Additional accessibility resources: