Accessibility header - Making your documents accessible

Word Docs PowerPoint PDFs WebCT Websites Resources

Just as we have made great strides to make our buildings accessible, it is time to ensure that our classrooms are accessible. This includes any documentation that is provided to the student in either paper or digital formats. This page includes tips, links and learning objects to help you make your documents accessible to those with disabilities. Once you learn the requirements for making your documents accessible, you'll find that the processes make creating your documents easier.

Some of the basics for designing documents includes:

  • Ensure there is a high contrast between the background of the document and its text.
  • Fonts should be sans serif (meaning without curls), such as arial or helvetica.
  • If you use a background, it should be fairly plain as to not distract or compete for attention with the text. Busy backgrounds can make the text difficult to read.
  • Multimedia products should include captioning or a text-based transcription.
  • Images should be tagged with a descriptor so that visually impaired readers know what the image is. For example, put your mouse on the title image above and read the alt tag or description of the image.

Word Documents

Because Microsoft Word documents are mainly text, they are usually considered accessible. However, when design elements like tables, columns, lists and images are incorporated in the document, it can render it inaccessible. To ensure your Word document is fully accessible, it is recommended that Stylesheets be used when creating the document. Stylesheets provide structure to the document using specific coding. When a student using screenreader software accesses the document, this coding is read by the screenreader and communicated to the student. Stylesheets can also be a time saver for the writer, particularly if you create your own templates.

To learn how to use Stylesheets, watch this video.

For more information on Stylesheets, go to Humbolt State University.


PowerPoint is a visual tool, used to help the presenter gain the attention of the audience and assist in the communication of his/her message. As such, PowerPoint slides should be simple in design - plain backgrounds, not a lot of text, visually stimulating. If you are loading each PowerPoint slide with text, consider creating a handout for your students instead. (Handouts can be posted on the course site, no printing required.) PowerPoint is to give meaning to your words, not take the place of them.

For accessible PowerPoint presentations:

  • High colour contrast between foreground and background
  • The CNIB recommends a minimum of a 16 pt. font, sans serif such as Arial or Helvetica
  • Backgrounds should be plain, use pastel colours and avoid busy patterns
  • Avoid cluttered screens (too many words, images or both) as they are confusing
  • If uploading to a course site, save PowerPoint file as a .pdf


Documents are converted to PDFs. As such, their accessibility is dependent on the document creator. When you correctly structure a Word document (see video above), your PDF should also be accessible. There are just a couple of steps you need to follow. You should ensure that when you "Save As", you choose to "create Accessible (Tagged) PDF file". For more details, see our document Making PDF Documents Accessible.


Although you can upload your Word documents to WebCT, it is recommended that they be converted to a filtered web page first and then uploaded. A screenreader reading a document directly off the Internet requires different coding than a digital document from computer files. It is simple to do:

  • Use Stylesheets to create your Word document (see video above).
  • Save it.
  • Then click on Save As and save it as a filtered web page.
  • Upload the filtered web page to WebCT.

Save documents as filtered web pages


An accessible web site is one that is easy to navigate, well organized and conveys information in a consistent, logical manner. Screenreaders can read the text on the screen, but images, graphs and charts can be meaningless to those with vision problems.

Some website basics:

  • use <alt> tags on images
  • Don't use graphics to communicate information - use text.
  • Multimedia presentations such as videos require captioning or text transcripts
  • Provide summaries of data tables.
  • Keep navigation simple and consistent
  • use contrasting text and background
  • Don't initiate actions that can't be stopped
  • Chunk text - use white space around text for easier reading/
  • Don't use "click here." It is better to describe the link.

There are many tools available to check your website to ensure it is accessible. Sites such as A-Prompt developed by the University of Toronto will check your web page and make suggestions for improvement. It is worth taking the few minutes to ensure your website is accessible to all your students - it is also the law.