You are now in the main content area

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 with disabilities.

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 one hundred characters or less.
  • 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

Step 1

  • Right click on the image.
  • Select "Alt text..." from the contextual menu.
Screenshot of Google Docs. Add alt text by opening the image properties and navigating to 'Alt text' menu option.

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. 

Screenshot of Google Docs. Second step is to add the alt text in the "Description" field.

Step 1

  • Right click on the image.
  • Select "Alt text..." from the contextual menu. 
Screenshot of Google Slides. Select image and open contextual menu, select "Alt text" from menu.

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.

Screenshot of Google Slides. Enter alt text in "Description" field of Alt text dialog.

Complex images and graphs

For complex images such as graphs or infographics that require a longer description, it's recommended to use the speaker notes section to provide an alternative description. Use the "Title" field to indicate the title of the complex image. Use the "Description" field to refer people to the speaker notes for the image's alt text.

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.

Contrast

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.

Microsoft Office & Acrobat tip-sheets

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

Microsoft Office video training

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

OCR tool for scanned documents

The Ryerson Library provides an optical character recognition (OCR) online tool 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 Ryerson community only. Login using your my.ryerson ID and password.

  1. Access the Online OCR Tool
  2. Upload your document
  3. If your document contains multiple pages, check "Yes, the file is a multi-page document"
  4. Select the format of the returned file (PDF or DOC)
  5. Press Submit

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.