At the University, we create thousands of documents each day with tools such as Microsoft Office and Google Docs, as well as scan printed documents and convert digital documents to PDFs. But all are accessible only if you make them scannable, searchable, legible, and readable.
When you think about accessibility laws and related University policies, you might think they apply only to website content. But documents created with technologies such as Google Workspace Apps, Microsoft Office software, and Adobe's Acrobat Pro must also be accessible.
Accessible documents are:
- Scannable: Readers can quickly scan a document to find out what it contains.
- Searchable: Readers can use a digital device to search for words in the document.
- Legible: Sighted readers can physically read the text.
- Readable: Readers can easily understand the messages in the document.
Dos and Don'ts
Follow Core Skills, Images, and Text Dos and Don'ts
Use Inline (Not Floating) Objects in MS Word
Use inline objects (such as images) in Microsoft Word documents. The object will be embedded in the text flow, and pushed along as the text grows.
Make sure the object is located in a meaningful place in the text so that the linear reading order of the object and text makes sense.
Don't use floating objects in Microsoft Word documents. Some objects, as well as objects that have text wrap applied, are in a separate "Drawing Layer" that is unavailable to screen readers.
Set the Document Language
Screen readers can read text and follow directions in multiple languages; they can also switch seamlessly from one language to the next. This helps people from a broad range of language backgrounds access the text in your documents.
Set the document language in your word processing software or in Adobe Acrobat.
Don't assume that screen reader software will automatically identify the language of a document.
Create Accessible PDFs
Create your document with a word processing application like Microsoft Word or Google Docs and follow the dos and don'ts above. Then "save as" or "export" it to a portable document file (PDF), and the accessibility traits will carry-over to the PDF.
If you only have a printed document, scan it using a flatbed scanner or photocopier, then convert it to PDF using Adobe Acrobat Pro, which is free for UMN faculty and staff and available to students in many public computer labs.
Add document tags with Adobe Acrobat after you convert word processed or scanned documents, and make sure the tags were inserted in the appropriate order.
Don't assume that a scanned document is accessible. It is only a picture of the original, and computers can't read the information.
Use the accessibility checker in Adobe Acrobat Pro. It helps you find inaccessible parts of the PDF.
Manually check for two issues that Adobe can't evaluate:
- Logical Reading Order: Make sure that the reading order displayed in the Tags panel matches the logical reading order of the document. This check requires human reasoning.
- Contrast: Make sure that the document's content follows the contrast guidelines outlined in WCAG (Links to an external site.) section 1.4.3.
Review the document using a screen reader to identify accessibility issues not flagged by automated checkers.
- Licensing fees are required to use some screen readers, such as JAWS.
- Some screen readers can be used for free, such as Voiceover (Mac) and NVDA (PC). Consult your OIT representative for more information.
- Note: The Read Out Loud function within Adobe Acrobat can give you a sense of what a screen reader will announce when interpreting a PDF file. Note, however, that Adobe states that the Read Out Loud feature is not a screen reader. (For example, it won't correctly interpret tables.) Adobe also states that some operating systems don’t support it. Reviewing a document using this function in place of an actual screen reader is not recommended.
PDF files can also be created using Adobe InDesign (a desktop publishing application). See Creating accessible PDF documents with Adobe® InDesign® CS6.