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. Ensure that your document is readable by following these steps: 

  • "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 program. This enables screen reader users to understand how the page is organized and 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 and is necessary for users who are unable to see images. 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 using the descriptive link text alone. 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 the document authoring software. Most authoring tools provide controls for adding bulleted or numbered lists. When lists are explicitly created as lists, this helps screen readers understand how the content is organized and how many items are on the list.

Tables and Colors


Tables in documents are useful for communicating relationships between data, especially when those relationships are best expressed in rows and columns. Tables should not be used to control layout of the document. 

If your data can be presented in a bulleted or numbered list, use a list 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 headings 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.

W3C Use of Color

WebAIM Color Contrast Checker