Why is having accessible documents and webpages important?

There are many reasons why you should create accessible materials but the main one is that you’ll be making it possible for everyone to get the most out of the information you are supplying to them. People with vision impairments may use screen readers and other assistive technology (text-to-speech tools, magnifying tools, etc.) to help them navigate and understand the documents you’ve created. If a document or webpage hasn’t been set-up properly, the information will not make sense to the person using the assistive technology and could double or triple the amount of time it takes them to review it.

Find more information on the Federal Disability Laws Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

If you need additional help with making accessible documents, please contact Stacy Leno by calling 218-733-6991, emailing Stacy.Leno at (@), visiting C210 (formerly E2122), or putting in a help request through Help Desk Support.

Key Points for Making Accessible Materials

Use Heading styles to organize your information into sections.

  • Heading 1 (H1) should be used for the main topic of the document or page. Heading 2 (H2) should be used for each major section within the document. Heading 3 (H3) should be used for subsections within the major sections and so on as needed. You can have as many Heading 2s and Heading 3s as you like, but it’s important to use them in the correct order.
  • Each heading name should be:
    • Short, concise, and include key points.
    • Unique and only used once within the document.
    • Written to give people clues about the information that follows them.

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Use Alt Text for images and graphics to describe what’s important about the image.

  • You don’t need to include that it’s an image or picture in the alt text, the screen reader will do that automatically.  You can use words like screen shot or painting, if that will help explain the purpose of the images.
  • If an image or graphic:
    • Contains text, include that in the alt text exactly as it appears in the image.
    • Is decorative and there isn’t a “this is decorative” checkbox when you are creating the alt text, use a null alt text “” (double quote double quote, no spaces) and the screen reader will skip the image.
    • Is too complex to describe in a short sentence, find another way to display the information, like a data table.

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  • Add the name of the website or document you are linking to in the “Text to display” text box.
  • Avoid using phrases like “click here” or “more information” because by themselves, they don’t provide enough information for someone using a screen reader.
  • Screen readers and text-to-speech tools will read the text to display information instead of reading the link URL one character at a time or trying to pronounce the letters as words.

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Create Lists using the built-in features for lists of items or steps.

  • There are three list options – Numbering (ordered) List, Bullets (unordered) List, and Multilevel List (contains sub items). Note: Some programs you’re using may not have the multilevel list option.
    • Use a Numbering List when the sequence of the items is important; use Bullets List when it’s just a group of related items; or use multilevel lists when there is an ”a” and ”b” items under 1.
  • When creating lists, make sure to include a phrase or sentence just before it to describe the purpose of the list so people using screen readers will know what type of information is coming next.

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Create Simple Data Tables using the built-in features.

  • Make sure your table has the header row and header column marked because some assistive technology will repeat them when reading the data.
  • Please don’t use tables for a page or document layout, screen readers and text-to-speech tools will treat it like a data table.

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Use any Accessibility Checkers the program or website may have built into it.

  • Programs like Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and D2L’s HTML Editor all have an accessibility checker.  If there are problems, these programs will walk you through how to fix them.
  • Adobe Acrobat Pro has fuller accessibility tools.  If you’re starting from a Microsoft product, make sure you use the accessibility checker there first, it will cut down on what needs to be fixed in Acrobat Pro.
  • Not all programs and websites are accessible, make sure if you’re directing people to view or use a resource or website that it will be accessible for someone using assistive technology.

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Use Contrasting Colors

When you have contrasting colors, your viewers are able to see the text or images without difficulties. It’s important to have either a dark color font on a light color background or a light color font on a dark color background.

  • Some people are unable to see the difference between certain colors, like red and green or blue and yellow.  It’s important that you don’t use color as the only method of conveying important information.  For example, it shouldn’t be used to tell someone where information can be found, like “Click on the red dates for availability”. Someone with a visual impairment or is color blind may not be able to tell that color from another one you may have used in the document.
  • If you change the colors for the text and/or background from the default colors (black and white), make sure that they have a high contrast ratio. You can use the WebAIM Color Contrast Checker to see if the colors you’ve selected have a high enough contrast to meet the minimum accessibility ratio requirements of 4.5:1.

For more information on the types of color-blindness, please see the WebAIM Visual Disabilities page.

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  • Start small – which files, forms, videos, etc. do you need to use next? What do you need after that? Or which course are you revising next? Do you have a student who needs an accommodation? Start working on what you will need first, then continue with what you will need after that.
  • Use the Accessibility Checkers in whatever programs or software you are using to find and fix the issues you may have. This is the easiest way to fix documents you’ve already created.
  • If you are creating PowerPoint presentations, make sure you use the slide designs and layouts. Don’t insert additional text blocks or images, the built-in layouts have been created to be accessible.
  • If you plan to create a PDF from a document, make sure the original document has gone through the accessibility checker before you make it a PDF. There will be fewer things to fix in the PDF to make it accessible. General accessibility issues in PDFs:
    • File name needs to be added
    • Colors contrast enough
    • Page reading order is correct

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