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Best Practices in Making a Word 2004 Document on a Mac Accessible


Create Structure

The correct way to provide structure within Word documents is to use Word styles. Styles on Word for Mac are available in the Formatting palette.

word 2004  styles

 An advantage of having true structure in Word documents is the structure will also be retained if you export to PDF.  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

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

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


Note:  There is no way to provide alt text for images in Word 2004 on a Mac.

Data Tables and Accessibility Issues

It is challenging to convert tables to become accessible data tables.

Screen readers essentially ignore the fact that the content is inside of a table. The screen reader just reads the content in the literal order that it appears in the code. If the literal order of the content in the code is logical, then your linearized reading (from left to right) order is logical.

Some designers go crazy with layout tables. They create all kinds of unnecessary rows and columns, using spanned rows and columns in every which way, until the table hardly looks like a table at all anymore. All of this may be invisible to sighted users, but blind users will "see" it all. Their screen readers will inform them of the number of rows and columns in the table. When they try to navigate from one area to the other within the table, they may become disoriented. The rule of thumb here is, the simpler the better.

 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.

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

Information on this page provided with permission by WebAIM.

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