Making Electronic Documents Accessible

  1. How can I make electronic documents more accessible?
  2. How can I make MS Word documents more accessible?
  3. How can I make MS Word forms accessible?
  4. What accessibility considerations apply to Microsoft Excel documents?
  5. Can PowerPoint presentations be made accessible?
  6. What are the accessibility limitations of PowerPoint?
  7. What are the best-practice recommendations for creating accessible PowerPoint presentations?
  8. Where can I get more information about accessible PowerPoint presentations?

  1. How can I make electronic documents more accessible?
  2. In general, for text in electronic or print documents, 14 point size is considered the minimum acceptable size for large print. If your documents permit and you expect the document to be distributed in print, larger text fonts are recommended.

    Font Types

    A no serif or sans serif font, such as Arial, is recommended because when serifs in fonts are magnified, they do not smooth very well and text looks very blocky.

    Try to avoid background images or watermarks in e-mails often found in e-mail stationary, as these can clutter the screen and make it hard for those using screen magnification products to discern the text from the background.


    According to Freedom Scientific, "When typing acronyms, use all caps, such as USPS instead of usps, so that JAWS will do a better job of reading them properly. When you type e-mail addresses or other words that are joined together without spaces between them, capitalize the first letter of each word. JAWS reads text with mixed case as if it were separate words."

  3. How can I make MS Word documents more accessible?
  4. In general, information presented through MS Word is accessible to people using assistive technologies (e.g., screen readers and screen magnifiers).

    Cautions about Tables

    JAWS identifies rows and columns when reading MS Word tables. However, JAWS does not identify row and column headers by default. These must be set up by the user of the assistive technology and are therefore likely to be set up only by an advanced user who works with the document on a regular basis. Consider presenting the information as a series of lists or using HTML for the presentation of information that includes complex data tables.

    Headings and Document Structure

    Well-organized and -structured documents help all users find information quickly. By taking advantage of lists and headings, the author of an MS Word document can help users who are working with assistive technologies or who have cognitive disabilities. You are encouraged to make effective use of headings and other native Word formatting within Word documents. According to Freedom Scientific, “A JAWS user can switch a document to outline view and very easily get an overview of a document if headings are used well. This also makes it easier to move from one section to another quickly in a document.

  5. How can I make MS Word forms accessible?
  6. To make MS Word forms accessible to people using screen readers and magnifiers

    • include form inputs,
    • include all instructions and input labels in the help text for the form inputs, and
    • lock the form.

    JAWS and other assistive technologies access the help text displayed in the MS Word status bar or the help text entered in the F1 Help dialogue when the status bar character limit must be exceeded. It is important to match the words and meaning of the form labels to the help text.

  7. What accessibility considerations apply to Microsoft Excel documents?
  8. Excel presents unique challenges for users of assistive technologies. The default reading behavior of JAWS is to announce the row and column identifiers for each cell. Cells styled to look like row and column headings are not announced by JAWS as headings. This can lead to confusion for JAWS users attempting to understand the data contained in the worksheet. The following guidelines will provide the best experience for users of assistive technologies:

    • Keep the data presentation as simple as possible. Avoid using complex tables where the header cells apply to more than a single row or column.
    • Avoid using call out boxes or text fields that float over the data. Users of assistive technologies may not be able to access this information.
    • Use clear and understandable column and row headings and titles when generating graphs. These will be read by the assistive technology.
    • Generate graphs and charts as separate worksheets.
    • If you must create a form using Excel (because of the complex nature of the calculations required) lock all the noninput cells to help users of assistive technology.
    • Consider using HTML for complex data presentations or forms requiring complex equations. HTML has much better support for assistive technologies.

    Freedom Scientific recommends these additional tips:

    • Do not use blank cells for formatting purposes. It's better to densely pack the data in the workbook and then use Excel's native formatting techniques.
    • Avoid the use of white space with lots of blank cells or blank rows and columns.
    • Use row and column headers extensively and avoid ambiguity within these headers. Make them clear and self-explanatory.
    • Use descriptive text to explain what is in the spreadsheet or workbook. This can be embedded into the worksheet, and you can create a region called "information" or "instructions" that people can move to easily and read. Telling someone that there are two or three regions in the worksheet and the region names will make it easier for a person to navigate to them. Describing what the row headers and column headers for a particular region represent will go a long way towards making the worksheet easier to use.
    • Name regions and use the Go-To command CTRL+G (or F5) to make it easier to move from place to place within spreadsheets. (Highlight the block of cells, press ALT+I to open the Insert menu, N for Name, and D for Define.)
    • Use monitor cells and JAWS JSI files to make work easier.
  9. Can PowerPoint presentations be made accessible?
  10. PowerPoint presentations are a common form of communication in the workplace, often used for live meeting presentations or to present information and training via e-mail or the Web. Although PowerPoint is a highly visual tool, carefully designed presentations can be made accessible for use by agency staff and members of the public; however, it is highly recommended that content authors create alternative versions in either HTML or MS Word to more easily achieve the desired accessibility.

  11. What are the accessibility limitations of PowerPoint?
  12. PowerPoint has several accessibility limitations.

    • Accessing the content of PowerPoint requires the full version of PowerPoint, which is available only as a component of Microsoft Office, not the PowerPoint viewer that is available in MS Works. If you are creating a document for the general public, you should consider whether your audience will have access to the proper software and prepare an alternative presentation in either HTML or MS Word.
    • Screen readers read the text areas of a presentation in the order that they are created. Using the standard slide layouts ensures that the content will be read in the visual order. Additionally, text areas that are added to a slide after the slide is initially created are not added to the outline view of the presentation and are omitted if the outline is exported to MS Word.
    • Screen readers do not vocalize the numbers in numbered lists. JAWS says "Bullet".
    • Complex graphics may be highly pixilated when viewed using screen magnifiers. Use graphic files that are sized properly before importing them into PowerPoint instead of allowing PowerPoint to resize them. Include detailed descriptions of the graphics in the notes pages.
  13. What are the best-practice recommendations for creating accessible PowerPoint presentations?
  14. The following best practices will help make your PowerPoint presentations accessible:

    • Ensure Universal Access: Create alternative versions of the presentation in accessible HTML or MS Word.
    • Simplify your design:
      • Use a noncluttered design template such as Orbits or Refined.
      • Use easily read sans serif fonts such as Arial or Verdana.
      • Titles of slides should be 48 to 64 point bold, and bullets and text should be 24 to 46 point.
      • Use color and other elements to make the presentation visually interesting, but use care to ensure good contrast between the text color and the background color.
      • Do not convey information with color alone; for example, "The points in red show the priority issues."
    • Use the default layout:
      • If you use the default slide layouts
      • titles and body text will be announced by screen readers as titles and body text, and
      • the content will be available in the presentation outline and available in MS word if the outline is exported.
      • Avoid adding text boxes to a slide layout. These boxes will not be included in the presentation outline and may be read out of visual order by screen readers.
    • Describe graphics and images:
      • Place a detailed description in the notes section. This description will also be available for export to another file format.
      • It may help to name a graphic file in a way that makes sense, such as flower.jpg instead of image1.jpg. Place a detailed description in the notes section.
      • Embed tables and related files:
      • Tables can be created in PowerPoint, but keep them simple so it is easy to associate the column title with the related cell information.
      • To use information from external sources such as Excel or Word, embed the file name into the slide rather than copying and pasting the content of the document. This presents the data in a format that is compatible with a screen reader rather than rendering it as a graphic.
    • Use simple slide transitions:
      • Transition elements can be useful for highlighting changes in information.
      • Complicated transitions can be distracting to people with cognitive disabilities.
      • The use of sound to identify changing slides during a presentation can assist visually impaired presenters and/or audience members.
    • Provide closed captions and audio descriptions for embedded multimedia:
      • Closed captions provide access to content for people with hearing impairments and can improve understanding for people with learning or cognitive disabilities.
      • Audio descriptions provide needed context and information for people with vision impairments.
      • Prepare and distribute hard copy and electronic versions of presentations when the presentation is delivered to an audience:
      • Printed documents make it easier for people to follow your presentation and add notes for later reference.
      • Hard copies should be available in multiple formats.
      • Braille and large print copies are necessary for people with vision impairments.
      • Contact the DARS Braille Unit for questions related to producing braille or large print documents.
      • Electronic copies provide a means of access for people using assistive technologies. HTML and MS Word versions of the presentation can provide better accessibility than PowerPoint.
  15. Where can I get more information about accessible PowerPoint presentations?
  16. Accessible Web Publishing Wizard (Converts ppt to accessible html).

    PPT2HTML Converter.

    TSVBI Guide to creating accessible PPT presentations (Covers multiple versions of PPT)

    National Center on Access in Education, Making Accessible PowerPoint Presentations.

    Back to top

Page Reviewed/Updated: 3/22/2012