Accessible Documents

Creating documents that are accessible is easier than imagined.  Microsoft Office offers an accessibility checker to help verify the headings are set, images have alternative text to explain the image, and the colors are set to aid those with low vision.  People who are blind, have low vision, or are colorblind might miss out on the meaning conveyed simply by particular colors.  This tool is available in MS-Word, MS-PowerPoint, MS-Outlook, OneNote, and Excel.  Simply use the tool after creating your document to see if the documents is usable to everyone. 

Additionally, students and faculty have access to assistive technology Read & Write Gold (for Mac and PC) which integrates with familiar applications (i.e. Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, Safari, and Adobe Reader) giving access to features for reading, writing, and research support from within programs used every day.

  • Reading Features
  • Reading Support Features
  • Writing and Self-Editing Features
  • Study Skills and Research Features
  • Web Apps

To install to Read & Write Gold (for Mac and PC), Navigate to MyMarist/IT Services/Assistive Technologies to download the application.  (Sign-in required)

Microsoft Office

MS-Office has many features built-in that help people with different abilities to read and author documents.  Use the easy  MS-Office  Accessibility Checker tool to quickly review all of your MS-Office build course content.  

An image of the "Check Accessibility" button from the office toolbar.

To make your content accessible, there are four pertinent standards to meet: 

  1. Add Alternative Text to images and visuals
  2. Add meaningful hyperlink text and ScreenTips
  3. Use built-in headings and styles.
  4. Ensure that color is not the only means of conveying information.

This MS-Word document is built to be a sample and introduce you to an accessible Word Document: "Intro to Accessible Documents".  


Alternative Text: 

Alternative text describes an image. Include alternative text with all visuals no matter where they reside (MS-Word, MS-Powerpoint, iLearn Lessons pages, websites, etc).  For example,  each image should have an alternative description that explains the image.  The image could be a picture of a chart, a picture of a famous piece of art, or a math formula. Just add a short and concise description beginning with the phrase, "This is an image of... " 

Depending on your documents, use the following links to learn how to add alt text to visuals in your MS-Word documents:

Add Descriptive Hyperlinks:

People who use screen readers sometimes scan a list of links. Links should convey clear and accurate information about the destination. For example, instead of linking to the text "Click here", include the full title of the destination page. 

Use the Built-in Headings and Styles 

Organize the content in your documents using headings in the logical order. Use Heading 1, Heading 2, and then Heading 3, (rather than Heading 3, Heading 1, and then Heading 2). And, organize the information in your documents into small chunks. Ideally, each heading would include only a few paragraphs.  Even on this web page, headings have been used to organize the content. 

For example:

Heading 1 

Normal Text 

Heading 2

Heading 3

See the MS-Word sample document for ideas on using headings. 

This is an image of a color wheel and its contrasting color.

Color and Contrast

Use the Accessibility Checker, to analyze the document and find insufficient color contrast. The tool now checks the documents for text color against page color, table cell backgrounds, and much more.   Microsoft recommends using the Colour Contrast Analyser, a free downloadable application to check for color contracts




Unlock your visual content for every learner. When your slides are accessible, you unlock your content to everyone and people with differing abilities can read and use your slides. PowerPoint presentations tend to be highly visual, and people who are blind or have low vision can understand them more easily if you create your slides with accessibility in mind.

Use the MS-Office Accessibility Checker tool to quickly review your Power Points as well. 

An image that links to the MS-Office vidoe

Accessible PDF Files

According to, "an accessible PDF is a PDF document that can be read and accessed by people with disabilities, primarily for the vision-impaired that may use assistive technology to read the file through text-to-speech or a Braille printout."  An accessible PDF may look exactly like an inaccessible PDF and there are a few steps you can use to be sure, your documents are accessible. 

1) Try selecting text

If you are not able to select or highlight parts of the text, such as a few words or a sentence, it means that what looks like the text is actually just an image, and is not accessible.

2) Check the Acrobat Tags

Open the PDF document in Adobe Acrobat Pro or Acrobat DC and from the left-hand navigation open the "Tags panel" on the Navigation pane on the left. If the PDF document is not accessible, you’ll notice that there are no tags (or just one tag) available in the Tags panel.  The document should be opened in its original format (such as MS-Word) and the issues should be corrected. 

Below is an example of an accessible PDF.

Materials and content on these pages are used with permission from DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology)  at the University of Washington, under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 License