Creating Accessible Documents

Overview of Accessible Documents

All electronic documents—including word processing documents, PDFs, presentations, publications, and spreadsheets—created or distributed by UM employees must be accessible. Follow a few basic steps to ensure that your document is readable by individuals with disabilities. Accessible documents should contain:

  • "True" Text (not images of text)
  • Headings
  • Alternative text for images
  • Self-describing links
  • Properly formatted lists


Headings and subheadings should be identified using the built-in heading features of the authoring tool. This enables screen reader users to understand how the page is organized and to quickly navigate to content of interest. Most screen readers have features that enable users to jump quickly between headings with a single keystroke.

Alternative text for images

Alternative text describes the content of the images for screen readers. Users unable to see images depend on authors to supplement images with alternative text. If images are purely decorative and contain no informative content, they do not require a description. However, they may still require specific markup so screen readers know to skip them.

Self-describing links

When creating a hyperlink in your document, use text that describes what users will see when they click on it. Never use "Click Here," "Here," or long URLs.

Screen reader users can pull up a list of links on a page and navigate through that list. The link text should be able to stand alone independently of its context. Links like "click here" and "more" are meaningless out of context.


Content organized as a list should be created using the list controls that are provided in document authoring software. Most authoring tools provide one or more controls for adding bulleted or numbered lists. When lists are explicitly created as lists, this helps screen readers understand how the content is organized. When screen reader users enter a list, their screen reader informs them that they're on a list and may also inform them of how many items are in the list.

General document recommendations

  • Documents in their normal "state" are usually the most accessible (assuming that accessibility techniques are followed). So, Word is more easily accessible than a PDF made from the original Word document. A PowerPoint file is more inherently accessible than a PDF created from the PowerPoint.
  • Remediation work (fixing accessibility issues) is best done on the original document. Remediating PDFs created from an original Word, InDesign or PowerPoint takes more time, and is less effective, than fixing the accessibility issues in the original document and program.


Other issues to consider


Tables in documents are useful for communicating relationships between data, especially where those relationship are best expressed in a matrix of rows and columns. Tables should not be used to control layout.

If your data can be presented in a bulleted or numbered list, use a list format instead of a table. If your data is best presented in a table, try to keep the table simple. If the table is complex, consider whether you could divide it into multiple smaller tables with a heading above each.

Be sure to clearly identify column and row headers in your tables.


People who are color-blind or have low vision or other print disabilities may not be able to perceive certain colors. Information should not be conveyed solely through color; text, shapes, patterns, or other visual indicators should be used in addition to color to convey information. Color should provide sufficient contrast.

Information about using color

Color contrast tests