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Best Practices in Making a Word 2003 Document Accessible


Create Structure

Watch a closed-captioned movie that demonstrates how to create structure in Microsoft Word 2003

The correct way to provide structure within Word documents is to use Word styles. The drop-down styles list in Word allows you to create true headings, as well as apply any previously-created custom style.

Word  headings

There are a couple of advantages of having true structure in Word documents. First, if you export the file to HTML, it will retain the structure, making it accessible to screen readers. Second, the structure will also be retained if you export to PDF. In both cases, the added structure increases the readability of the document for people using screen readers.

Most people use word processors incorrectly. Rather than use true headings, they simply enlarge the font size and make it bold. If you do this, the document has no real structure that can be discerned by a screen reader.

Pages should be structured in a hierarchical manner, with 1st degree headings ( <h1> ) being the most important (usually page titles or heading), then 2nd degree headings ( <h2> - usually major section headings), down to 3rd degree headings (sub-sections of the <h2> ), and so on. Technically, lower degree headings should be contained within headings of the next highest degree.

Font Selection

Watch a closed-captioned movie that demonstrates accessible font selection principles in Microsoft Word 2003 [opens a new window]

In terms of font accessibility, there are a number of principles to keep in mind:

  1. Use real text rather than text within graphics.
  2. Select basic, simple, easily-readable fonts.
  3. Use a limited number of fonts.
  4. Ensure sufficient contrast between the text and the background.
  5. Avoid small font sizes.
  6. Limit the use of font variations such as bold, italics, and ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.
  7. Don't rely only on the appearance of the font (color, shape, font variation, placement, etc.) to convey meaning.
  8. Avoid blinking or moving text.

Don't Convey Meaning with Color

Watch a closed-captioned movie that demonstrates why you should not convey meaning with color in Microsoft Word 2003

The use of color can enhance comprehension, but do not use color alone to convey information. That information may not be available to a person who is colorblind and will be unavailable to screen reader users.


Map with  colored lines indicating different routes .......... Map where  routes are not in color

Provide Alternative Text for Images

Watch a closed-captioned movie that demonstrates how to provide alternative text for images in Microsoft Word 2003 [opens a new window]

You will need to add alternative text for all of your images. To provide alternative text, Right-click on the image, then select Format Picture .

cut image  from doc

A dialogue box will appear. Select the Web tab, then add the appropriate alternative text.

Word alt  text box

More on alternative text.

Data Tables and Accessibility Issues

Watch a closed-captioned movie that demonstrates the accessibility issues that arise from the use of data tables in Microsoft Word 2003

For the most part, Word documents can be converted into accessible HTML, but there is an exception. Tables cannot be converted to accessible data tables through the Filtered Web page format. That is, there is no way to assign the table header or <th> tag to a table cell within Word.

There is an option within Word that creates the appearance of a table header. This can be found by right-clicking the table and selecting Table Properties. This opens a new window. Under the Row tab, there is a box labeled "Repeat as header on the top of each page." Checking that box would suggest that all of the cells in the row will be exported as table header tags, but they won't.

Word  table properties window

Instead the cells will all be contained in a <thead> tag. The <thead>, <tfoot>, and <tbody> are used to divide the tables into the the three main parts of a data table. There is no problem with the <thead> tag, but it does not replace the need for the <th> tag.  More on accessible tables.

A Word of Caution

If you create complex documents, with embedded charts, tables, or other elements, the conversion process will probably not create a file that is completely accessible to screen readers. The embedded elements will likely be ignored by the screen reader because they are unreadable. In these instances, you should provide a text description of the elements within the context of the document itself.

BeachBoard Ready

Once you have included structure in your Word document and have made accommodations for font, color, images, and tables, you can save your Word document and upload it to BeachBoard.


Saving Your Word File as HTML

Watch a closed-captioned movie that demonstrates how to save a Microsoft Word 2003 document as HTML

If you save the file as HTML, your structure and alt text will be retained in the final document. To save as HTML, select File > Save as Web Page.

Save As  screenshot

If you have Office XP or later, you have two options for exporting to HTML:

  • Save as Web Page
  • Save as Web Page, Filtered

Save As  Filtered HMTL screenshot

The advantage of the first option is that your page will look almost exactly like the printed document. The advantage of the second option is that it will have much less junk HTML. The file size in the second option is significantly smaller, and it still retains most, if not all, of the look and feel of the original document.

In terms of accessibility, both options are acceptable, as long as the source file was created with structure and with alternative text for images and the document does not contain any data tables.

If you have any questions, or would like assistance, please  Contact ITSS.

Information on this page provided with permission by WebAIM.

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