Think about format
Documents like PDFs make content harder to find, use and maintain. It can also be difficult for users to customise them for ease of reading, and often they do not work very well with assistive technologies like screen readers.
Keep the language simple
Write in language that’s as simple as possible. Simple language makes your document accessible to people with cognitive impairments and learning disabilities. Research shows that everyone prefers simple language, including specialist audiences, because it allows them to understand information as quickly as possible.
Where you need to use technical terms, abbreviations or acronyms, explain what they mean the first time you use them.
Keep the document simple
- Give the document a meaningful title.
- Keep sentences and paragraphs short.
- Use sentence case. Avoid all caps text and only use oblique/italic in line with brand guidelines.
- Make sure the text is left aligned, not justified.
- Avoid underlining, except for links.
- Make sure any link text clearly describes where the link will go. It should also be understandable on its own, even if you read it out of context. This is important because some screen reader users scan through the links on a page one by one to find what they need.
- Documents with single, continuous columns of text are easier to make accessible than documents with a more complex layout.
- Only use tables for data. Keep tables simple: avoid splitting or merging cells.
- Do not use things like colour or shape alone to get across meaning. This is because instructions like ‘click the big green button’ rely on the user’s ability to see the page.
- If you’re using images or charts, think about how you’ll make the content accessible to people with a visual impairment. Two options are:
- make the same point in the text of the document (so people with visual impairments get the information they need – the image or chart is there as an extra for people who are able to see it)
- give the person converting or uploading the document for you alt text (‘alternative text’) for the image or chart
- It’s also best to avoid images containing text, as it’s not possible to resize the text in the image.
- Avoid footnotes where possible. Provide explanations inline instead.
Give the document a structure
Break up your document to make it more readable. Use bullet points, numbered steps and meaningful subheadings.
Do not use bold to mark up subheadings. Use styles to create a hierarchy of headings: ‘heading 1’, ‘heading 2’ and so on. Also use styles for things like tables and bullet lists. That way, a screen reader will recognise the formatting and read out the content correctly.
Application forms, complex documents and other office formats
If you’re creating another type of office document (for example a spreadsheet or presentation), there’s guidance on how to make it accessible on the Accessible Digital Office Document Project website.
Most application forms can now be built as online forms. Online forms are easier to create, maintain, are less prone to errors and are more environmentally friendly. If you need an online form please email email@example.com.
If you’re creating a document with complex formatting, you can follow the instructions on making accessible PDFs in InDesign (PDF, 1.4MB).