Day 91: Accessible Word Docs

Yesterday I learned that documents like Word and PowerPoint are considered non-web documents under Section 508. However, WCAG (minus 4 success criteria) should still be applied to these files to ensure accessibility.

I’ve done several trainings, workshops, and one-on-one training sessions to educate others about digital document accessibility, but I always feel like I learn something new when I take other people’s courses and workshops. Plus, this is the perfect preparation for me to give another workshop about accessible digital documents.

Things I accomplished

  • Practiced my Accessible Digital Documents talk for tomorrow.
  • Worked through 60% of Deque’s MS Word Accessibility class.

What I reviewed today

Adding structure and semantics to Word docs to increases its accessibility and usability. Structures and semantic elements to focus on when creating a Word document:

  • headings
  • table of contents
  • language
  • headers & footers
  • floating objects
  • footnotes and endnotes
  • abbreviations and acronyms
  • columns
  • links
  • superscripts & subscripts
  • page numbers

Styles should not be used to convey important meaning. This includes using bold, italics, strike-through, and highlighting.

What I learned from it

Turns out my knowledge of Word doc accessibility was challenged a bit. I’d heard that Word documents offered specific accessibility perks compared to other formats like PDF, when used appropriately. However, Deque proved that wrong. Word docs and PDFs each present accessibility challenges to VoiceOver users. Their point being that creating online content within HTML is the most accessible, which I did know already.

I tested a .docx file on Mac by opening it up in Pages. Semantics still remained. However, testing that same file on my iPhone with Previewer, those same semantics didn’t carry over.

Something else I learned that had to overwrite old thinking was that all text formatting is not read (by default) by screen readers. I knew styling was ignored, but I didn’t know screen readers went as far as ignoring bold, italics, strike-through, and highlighting, unless otherwise changed in the user settings. The best way to draw attention to key points and important items is to literally include those words in the text. As a perk, that method can draw attention for sighted users with reading or cognitive disabilities.

On the topic of text styling, I learned that drop cap letters are read weird by screen readers. The drop cap letter is read separately from the rest of the letters of the word.

Special characters are not all understood by screen readers either. Including explanation alongside those characters increase their accessibility.

Use Text Effects, instead of Word Art, which is an object that is out of the flow of the document. This increases accessibility of pretty text for screen readers. Use caution with Text Effects, though, because it could decrease accessibility for people with low vision.