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How to create accessible documents

Google Docs

Apply the accessible design principles to your Google Docs and:

  • Use the commenting and suggesting features instead of writing notes within the text of your document or presentation.
  • Share the Google Doc link with the appropriate Viewer, Commenter, or Editor permissions. Avoid exporting as a PDF from Google Docs.

Note about saving as PDF from Google Docs 

Google Docs and Slides are not able to export as an accessible PDF. We recommend sharing the original Google Workspace 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). 

Microsoft Word

Apply the accessible design principles to your Microsoft Word document and:

  • Use the built-in Accessibility Checker (external link)  to review and identify accessibility issues with your content. The Accessibility Checker can be used in most Microsoft 365 tools.
  • When exporting your document to a PDF, ensure the following option is selected:
    • Windows: 
      In the Save As dialog box, select Options. Select the Document structure tags for accessibility checkbox, and then select OK.
    • Mac:
      When selecting PDF in the export dialog, select the Best for electronic distribution and accessibility (uses Microsoft online service) option. 

You can also watch a video tutorial on creating accessible Microsoft Word documents. (external link) 

Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel

Apply the accessible design principles around images, links, colour and contrast, keeping it simple, and:

  • Name each sheet with a unique, informative nameSheet names help to understand the contents of a workbook and to navigate through it.
    • Double click on the sheet tab, type in an appropriate name, and then press Enter.
  • Delete blank sheets, empty columns, and rows. Removing unused sheets, and columns can help simplify your spreadsheet. 
  • Freeze row and/or column headers so they are always visible when you scroll through the worksheet. Select the row and/or columns, and then go to View, and then select one of the Freeze options.
  • Use multiple sheets within a document for different types of data, and organize them logically.
  • Avoid merging cells, as it may cause confusion when navigating with screen readers.

You can also watch video tutorials on creating accessible Microsoft Excel workbooks. (external link) 

Google Slides and Microsoft PowerPoint

Please refer to to the following guide on creating accessible slideshows:

PDF documents

The level of accessibility in a PDF file usually depends on the accessibility of the original document.

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.

Limitations of SensusAccess

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.