Accessible Digital Documents

icons of commonly used softwareIn this day and age, most of our communications are digital in nature. Whether the information communicated is posted on the web site or is shared through e-mail or social media, it usually starts its life as some digital content created by a word processor or text editor.

All of these digital documents need to be developed and produced with accessibility in mind so that everyone can access the content, even people with disabilities who are using assistive technology (AT).

Digital documents include, but are not limited to:

  • Word processed documents
  • Portable Document File (PDF) documents.
  • Presentational (e.g., PowerPoint) documents.
  • Spreadsheets (e.g., Excel) documents.
  • Web documents (e.g., e-mails, videos, surveys, postings on social media, etc.).

Often documents are converted from one of these formats to another and during the conversion process, accessibility is not always taken into consideration. The final result may be a digital document that cannot be used by all. This is particularly problematic in large organizations, like schools and institutions of higher education, where there are many content producers. It is important for all content producers – especially those creating content that will be sent out to the public – to ensure their document are accessible to all.


The following list of on-line resources was developed with assistance from all of my good friends on the WebAIM Web Accessibility Listserv External link. Thank you!

The National Center on Disabilities and Access to Education – Goals Project External link has developed a new set of resources, or “cheat sheets” to help assist individuals in the quest to create accessible content. GOALS currently has cheat sheets available External link,addressing the following topics:

  • Creating accessible documents in Microsoft Word
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • PDF conversion in Microsoft Word
  • Creating accessible PDF documents in Acrobat X

View the cheat sheets – include Microsoft, Adobe and YouTube products External link

Accessible Digital Office Documents (ADOD) External link, a project by Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) published a resource that provides information about making accessible documents with office products from Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, Corel, and Google. View Accessibility of Office Documents and Office Applications External link External link has published a list of downloadable articles that describe methods for creating accessible digital documents using a variety of office products. View Create Accessible Electronic Documents External link

Microsoft External link has published an extensive resource designed to assist users in making MS-Office documents accessible. View Creating accessible Word documents External link

Berman Accessibility Ribbon for Word External link – The Berman Accessibility Ribbon (version 1.0) is an add-on to Microsoft Word for Windows (versions 2010, 2013, and 2016). (Unfortunately Word for Mac … even the 2016 test release … still lacks the accessibility features of Word for Windows, so the ribbon only works for Word for Windows). View information about Berman Accessibility Ribbon for Word External link

Braille Works 508 Document Compliance External link – Braille Works has developed a (paid service) solution for repair or remediation of your documents so you can meet WCAG and 508 compliance standards. WCAG and Section 508 document compliance can be difficult and navigating these waters is not a job for the inexperienced. Elements of a document such as paragraph structure, tables, charts, lists etc, need to be properly organized and tagged to provide true accessibility. More information about the Braille Works paid solution External link

Cliff Tyllic’s Productivity Tab for Word External link – Accessibility consultant Cliff Tyllic has also developed a plugin for MS Word that “gives you most if not all of the tools that help you create accessible documents and displays none of the tools that would lead you astray.” More information on the Cliff-Knows website External link

Karlen Communications External link has posted a number of resources from tutorials on how JAWS users can use keystrokes to activate MS-Word advanced features; accessible documents design tutorials; as well as, other handouts they have used in their training programs. More information on Karlen Communications accessible documents resources External link

Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities External link has hosted a series of learning modules on making Microsoft Office 2010 documents accessible to people with disabilities.

Adobe has posted Adobe® Acrobat® X Creating Accessible PDF Files from Microsoft® Word External link which is a PDF with step-by-step directions.

Information Technology for Minnesota Government External link has posted resources on accessible digital documents.

MS-Office – Keyboard Shortcuts

Many individuals navigate on their computers without a mouse or pointing device. This may be done with a traditional keyboard, a modified or specialized keyboard or through a combination of switches. Here are some resources listing the keyboard combinations to activate various features or navigate through digital documents created in one of the applications in MS-Office: