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How to create accessible documents

When authoring documents using Microsoft Office or Google Apps, there are a few simple principles that are relevant for almost all document types. These principles are meant to improve the readability and accessibility of your documents for individuals using assistive technology to access the internet.

Headings and structure

Headings do not only act as visual cues, but also as an outline as to how a page is structured and how sections relate to one another.

  • Heading 1 is usually the most important heading and is the title of your document.
  • Make sure headings are structured in a logical order that conveys hierarchy. Different levels of subheadings should be underneath main headings, for example a Heading 3 would be nested under a Heading 2. 
  • Skipping heading levels can be confusing and should be avoided.
  • Tip: Create a perfect table of contents automatically using semantically correct heading structure.
Screenshot of Google Docs interface showing different Heading Levels.

Self-describing links

Ensure hyperlinks are self-describing. “Click here” or "learn more" does not provide any useful information to someone using a screen reader, and does not make sense out of context. For best practice, hyperlinks should be descriptive, link to nouns that are specific in context, and try to be placed towards the end of a sentence.

Bad examples 

Alternative text for images

Alternative (alt) text is used to convey meaning and provide context in place of an image, graph and other media. Blind and low vision users rely on the alt text attribute to understand the equivalent meaning of images, figures or other graphics in textual form. Alt text should provide a concise description conveying essential information about the image.

  • Alternative text should be concise and meaningful.
  • Usually around a sentence or two. 
  • Use punctuation, as it can help make information easier to understand.
  • Avoid phrases such as "image of…" or "graphic of…"
  • Consider the context of the surrounding information when writing.

For more guidance on alternative text concepts and how to use correctly, please visit W3C's Images Tutorial. (external link) 

Screenshot of Google Docs. Add alt text by opening the image properties and navigating to 'Alt text' menu option.

Step 1

  • Right click on the image.
  • Select "Alt text..." from the contextual menu.
Screenshot of Google Docs. Second step is to add the alt text in the "Description" field.

Step 2

  • Add your alt text to the "Description" field. 
  • Press "OK" to save.

Note: Entering a description in the "Title" field will show a pop-up tooltip when you hover over the image with your mouse. However, it is recommended to put your image description in the "description" field. 

Adding alternative text in Microsoft PowerPoint varies across different versions and operating systems. Please read the following:

How to use colour

Some people perceive colour differently, therefore colour should never be the only way of conveying information. Use a combination of shapes, colours and text.

Graphs and charts can be difficult to understand, as meaning is often conveyed exclusively through colour. Try printing a chart in black and white. Are you able to perceive the information easily?

The featured example uses a combination of solid and dashed lines to easily distinguish the data.

 Textures, patterns or shapes along with high-contrast colours can help communicate distinct information.


Example graph using dashed and solid lines to easily distinguish data.


Some people have difficulty perceiving or distinguishing text that has little contrast between the foreground and background. Use colour combinations with strong contrast, such as black text on white background. Avoid using light colours for body text. For more tools and resources on colour contrast, please continue reading the Contrast section on the Website Accessibility page.

More on accessibility in G Suite

Note about saving as PDF  

Google Docs and Slides are not able to export as an accessible PDF. We recommend sharing the original document with view-only permissions. Users will be able to download the document in different formats with the view-only link.

If you must save your Google Doc as PDF, it's recommended to download the Google Doc as a Microsoft Word file. Review the document to ensure it retained the heading structure and any alt text you added. Then save as a PDF (best for online distribution and accessibility). 

Accessibility in Microsoft Office 

The concepts above are applicable to most authoring tools, including Microsoft Office. We recommend using the most up-to-date version of Office which features a built-in accessibility checker. (external link) 

Tip sheets

The following print-friendly tip sheets will help you improve the accessibility of Microsoft Office and PDF documents. 

Video training

Watch video tutorials on creating more accessible documents, workbooks and slideshows in Office, created by Microsoft.

Accessible formats conversion tool (SensusAccess)

The Library provides an accessible formats conversion tool (SensusAccess) that can be used to convert "non-selectable" text files into machine-readable or recognized text. This will render your document readable by adaptive software such as text-to-speech applications. Non-selectable text or unrecognized text is an impediment to accessibility.

Note: Available to the Toronto Metropolitan University community only. Login using your TMU credentials.

The main objective of an OCR engine is to recognize the majority of the body text within a document. The following items may get misinterpreted by the OCR engine:

  • Data from graphs and charts that feature text or shapes
  • Low resolution or poor quality documents
  • Hand annotations, underlines, scribbles, blurry or missing text

An OCR tool does not automatically recognize or apply semantic headings or provide alternative text to images.