General guide for creating accessible content
Discover general principles for making any content you create more accessible. Learn how to add alternative (alt) text to an image, and check how to use accessible fonts, colours, layouts and links in your content.
Almost irrespective of how you are creating content, the following general guidelines will apply to your documents, handouts, notes and presentations.
Using these approaches will enable your content to be used more effectively using assistive technologies such as screen readers.
Ensuring that images have text descriptions (or alt text) that can be read by screen readers is arguably the most important aspect of web accessibility.
As well as providing text that can be read out by a screen reader, it also provides this text in case the image doesn't load properly, and can also be used by search engines to aid discoverability.
Providing good alt text can be quite nuanced, and there is extensive guidance available from WebAIM. Here are some main points to bear in mind:
- It should be succinct: generally one sentence should be enough.
- It should be accurate.
- It should not replicate information in any text associated with it.
- It should not say “Image of….” or similar as a screen reader will identify it as an image.
Giving your documents a structure will make it significantly easier to navigate using a screen reader, and will also allow someone to navigate through it using the tab key on a keyboard if they are not able to use a mouse.
It is very important to do this when producing documents in both Microsoft Word and Google Docs and is done using the Styles and Heading menu. You can tag your text as a Title, Heading, Normal etc. Find out how using the instructions for each platform below.
Additional advantages of styles and headings include
- consistent layout
- enables skim reading of longer documents
- quickly reformat document design
- tables of content and document outlines can be created automatically
You should avoid making the text bigger and using bold to indicate headings and subheadings. Though the text may look like a heading, the underlying code will not be set correctly, and screen reader users will not benefit.
It is important to use built in slide layouts and templates when creating presentation slides in software such as Google Slides and Microsoft PowerPoint. These layouts provide correctly structured headings, lists, and a proper reading order. If the slide layout is modified, the structure of the slide may not be presented accurately to users of assistive technology.
In addition, you should ensure that
- you use an off white background with no distracting patterns, shapes or images
- text is big enough and of sufficient contrast to the background so that it can be easily read
- you include a clear lecture outline or learning objectives at the beginning of the session
- you highlight key points using bold for emphasis
- you use relevant images where appropriate
- you avoid adding text to the 'Blank Slide’ slide template in PowerPoint, or adding extra text boxes
- attendees can download a copy of your slides, ideally before the session
Text is frequently going to convey much of the narrative and information in resources you provide to your audience, so making this as accessible as possible is very important.
It’s best to avoid serif fonts (such as Times New Roman). Sans serif fonts, such as Arial, Calibri, Verdana and Trebuchet are usually clearer to read. Avoid using very stylised fonts as they impede readability.
Avoid italics, capitals or underlining to create emphasis, these can be inaccessible for people with a print disability. Bold text is preferred as a method of emphasising content.
Avoid using colour as the only means of indicating important information. Ensure other methods are used, such as text or icons to reinforce meaning.
Ensure there is a well-defined contrast between text and background. Black on white offers the strongest contrast, but the Office Accessibility Checker will flag up any colour contrast issues in your document. The WebAIM colour contrast checker can help you to test different colour combinations.
Some people may prefer different colour combinations or backgrounds, assistive technology can help readers adapt documents in this way.
Text should be left-aligned, not centred or justified, as this assists readers with a restricted visual field to locate the beginning of the line.
Items you want to present in a list should always be created as numbered or bulleted lists, to aid screen reader users.
Linking to web pages and documents
Links to web pages and other documents should always be descriptive - so avoid click here and use text like Guides to make your device easier to use instead.
Following the principles outlined above will help you to create an accessible presentation or document.
Before distributing or presenting your file, you should use an accessibility checker to ensure the presentation can be understood by all.
Microsoft Office products have a built-in Accessibility Checker.
To access the accessibility checker in Microsoft PowerPoint or Word, click the Review Tab and choose Check Accessibility.
Review the results of the accessibility check. Click on any issues to find out more information, and view step by step guidance to make your presentation more accessible.
Unlike Microsoft products, Google apps don’t have a built-in accessibility checker to review your files.
However, third party extensions like GrackleDocs will check documents for accessibility, and can be trialled free of charge for 30 days. GrackleDocs is used at your own risk.