Creating Accessible Documents



All electronic documents (word processing documents (syllabi, handouts, etc.), PDFs, presentations, publications, and spreadsheets) must comply with accessibility standards. See UM's EITA Policy and Procedures.


Use the tools and styles in Word (or your preferred software) to make your document accessible instead of simply styling visually (for example using bold and a larger font size for a heading). Learning to use the tools and styles in your word processing software will help you easily meet accessibility standards and also increase your efficeincty with the software generally.

Note: A document with no styling (headings, lists, etc.) will pass an accessibility check in Word. However, that does not mean that it meets accessibility standards.

The Basics

The following are minimum standards for simple documents. Refer to the available resources for additional accessibility solutions to unique circumstances.

The instructions below are for Word, but similar tools are availabe in other word processing software. See Microsoft Word: Creating Accessible Documents (WebAIM).

Layout and Design

  • Avoid clutter. Keep content clear and concise. Aim for a simple, organized, and clear layout.
  • Be sure to set reading order if using columns etc. (for example in a newsletter).
  • Avoid using the space or tab key to line things up, create columns, etc.
  • Tip: Emphasis loses its impact if there is a lot of it.  Be conservative with emphasis. Do not use underline for emphasis.

Font and Text

  • Use a sans serif font.
  • Avoid ALL CAPS as they are difficult to read.
  • Use bold or italics for emphasis (not headings or underline).
  • Reserve underline for hyperlinks.


  • Color contrast:  Be sure color contrast meets ratio standards (Level AA). The WebAIM Color Contrast Checker is a handy way to check your colors.
  • Color for context:  Do not rely on color alone to provide information.


Headings are the main way users (screen reader and visual) navigate electronic documents and websites. Creating a hierarchy in your document using headings is essential.

  • Use correct heading structure (outline).  Beginning with (and then not repeating) H1. Headings must be used in order. Do not skip a heading level.
  • Do no use headings for emphasis.
  • Keep headings succinct. (Example: "Course Requirements" instead of "Requirements for Getting a Passing Grade in this Biology 101 Class")
  • Instead of making imitation headings using bold, larger text, etc., create headings using the heading styles.
  • You can modify heading styles to match the formatting of your document as needed.

Word tool bar with heading tool indicated


  • Style lists using the list tools.
  • Do not use the tab or space key to indent list items.

word tool bar with list tool indicated


  • Images (photographs, graphs, logos, icons, etc.) must have alternative text (alt text) that briefly describes and contextualizes the image.  
  • Right click on the image and go to "Format Picture" to add alt text.

example of alt text window in word


  • Use tables minimally and never use tables for page layout .
  • Lists are preferred over tables when possible.
  • Format tables using the table tools to indicate header row and alt tag/description.
  • do not use tabs or spaces to simulate a table.
  • Do not split cells. The more complex the table, the more difficult it is to make accessible.
  • To set table properties, select the header row, right click, and select "Table Properties". Set the options as indicated below and add alt text as with an image.

table window in word indicatein header row and alt tag


  • Use self-describing hyperlinks (text) instead of a URL. (Example: For undergraduate requirements, see UM Course Catalogs.)
  • Avoid vague links such as “here”, “click here”, “read more”, “PDF”, etc. When many of these links appear on a page, screen reader users cannot distuingush the content of the links.

A Couple Tips

Things to Avoid

Avoid the following in documents:

  • Textbox
  • Word Art
  • Quick parts
  • Drop Cap

Format Painter

The format painter copies formatting from one element and applies it to another. Hover over the tool for brief instructions on how to use it or Google a tutorial.

screen shot indicating format painter tool in Wrod

Online Resources