6 Tips To Make Word Processing Documents More Accessible

Posted by Mary Jo Barry on Sep 25, 2020 11:39:09 AM
Mary Jo Barry

Accessible Educational Materials Series Part II

Whether you’re part of a school or other organization and you need to get better at creating accessible content, this blog will arm you with a few new strategies to use right away, so you can create more accessible documents.

It doesn’t matter if you’re using Windows (MS Word), Mac (Pages) or cloud-based (Google Docs) word processing applications, you can apply a few best practices when you’re creating documents that will make them super accessible to most people. Applying these best practice guidelines aligns with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principals. Essentially, your goal is to create content that works for - and is useable by - everyone from the start. Instead of trying to fix it later.

Tip 1 - Save As .RTF

Saving a copy of your documents in Rich Text Format (.rtf) if you don’t have a conversion tool will make your document more accessible. So, instead of saving as .docx (in MS Word), .pages (on a Mac), or .gdoc (with Google) – use .rtf – as this is accessible to all. You could use .txt files – as they are very accessible - but they don’t hold formatting.

Rich text format allows you to keep formatting - which means AT programs navigate better - so always go with .rtf if you can. Not only does Saving As .rtf make the document accessible to more kinds of assistive technology, it also makes it accessible to people using different word processing applications.

For example: if I’m working in Word and I save my file as an .rtf instead of a .docx, someone else who’s using Mac Pages can open that .rtf file too. Whereas they would NOT be able to open a Word document (.docx) with Mac Pages.

Please note: You cannot “save or save as” in Google Docs because it’s automatically saved in the cloud, but when you download that file, you can select the format you want to download or share. .rtf is one of those options.

Save As dialogue box displaying format choices for saving documents.

Tip 2 - Apply Formatting

The more you use the formatting features in your word processing application, the better your accessible document will be. In Word, you find these formatting and style features under the Home tab of your toolbar; in Google they are in the default toolbar at the top of your document and in Mac you find them under the formatting button in the upper right hand corner of your document.

Dialogue box in a word document showing formatting options for text--headings, titles, quotes, etc.


When you apply a ‘Heading Style’ to your text instead of just making the font bigger and bold, it creates a “tag” in the code that talks to accessibility software and lets the user of AT know that there’s a hierarchy. That ‘tag’ in the code will also help accessibility software navigate by sections.


When you are listing things and apply one of the many list options available—numbered, bulleted, outline, chapter, etc—you are again creating a ‘tag’ in the code. This helps accessibility software read the list appropriately and navigate the list easily.

Dialogue box in Word displaying List options: numbered lists, bulleted lists, outlines, etc.

Tip 3 - Add Alternate Text (Alt Text) for Images

Pictures are often inaccessible to a person with a visual impairment. Fix this by adding ‘Alt Text’ to images. In all of the aforementioned word processors, click the image to select it and then right-click on the image to choose Format Picture/Layout and Properties to get to the Alt Text feature.

Once you’re there, you can add a title to your image and a description of that image. Doing this creates one of those tags in the code we talked about earlier to make the image plain to all readers of your document.

Alternate text dialogue box showing that you can add Titles and Descriptions to any images you use within a document.

Tip 4 - Label Hyperlinks

When you insert a hyperlink to a piece of text, you will see a field labelled ‘Text To Display’ at the top of the dialogue box. Adding a meaningful word or phrase in this box will have a big impact on accessibility.

Usually, if a person using a screen reader hovers over a link, their screen reader will read all of the link’s characters to them. Using the ‘Text to Display’ feature means you can type in a simple description for that link, so it’s easier for the reader to understand.

Dialogue box in Word showing that you can add a Title to Display so that screenreaders have an easier time when they hover of a link.

Tip 5 - Use Tables Wisely

Tables are a huge barrier for most assistive technology tools. Even the best tool struggles to read a table properly. So, use them sparingly - or even better, don’t use them at all - if you’re trying to make your document super-accessible!

Tip 6 - Use EasyConverter Express for Truly Accessible Documents

While the previous five tips help make your word processing documents MORE accessible, word processing documents are not considered ‘accessible file formats’ and some AT tools still don’t handle word processing documents very well. This is especially true of readers. What you really need is a true conversion tool that creates accessible formats like DAISY, ePUB, Mp3, Large Print and Braille.

The good news is that the work you do in making your word processing documents more accessible by applying the five practices above will pay off when you convert those files to an accessible format. They’ll have headers, lists, labelled hyperlinks and Alt Text so they will already be tagged and navigable.

If you’re looking for a low cost, super-efficient conversion tool, you need Dolphin’s EasyConverter Express!

EasyConverter Express allows you to save to ePub, Large Print, MP3 and Braille formats.

Dolphin’s EasyConverter Express is a Microsoft Word add-on that allows you to save any Word document to Braille, Large Print, Mp3 or ePub. Simply use the button that installs into your Word menu bar to select the format and choose where to save it.

Conversion button shown with drop down menu options for file formats you can convert to.

For legacy digital material that can be opened in Word, it’s the same process. Simply open the document and save it in one of the alternative formats.

Using EasyConverter Express to save all your documents in multiple formats means you can immediately provide alternatives to multiple students who use different types of Assistive Tech. It’s so easy!

You can get EasyConverter Express in the Microsoft Store (Multi-user pricing for schools available!)

Get it from Microsoft


Topics: Education, Organisation, SightLoss, Deafblind, VisualImpairment, AssistiveTechnology, Teachers, AccessibleTechnology, Blind

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