Date of Current Version: 04 Feb 2011
Latest Version (HTML): http://inclusivedesign.ca/accessible-office-documents/googlespreadsheet
At the time of testing (September 20, 2010), Google docs: Spreadsheet lacks several features that enable accessible office document authoring, most notably: the ability to add alternative text to images and objects, the ability to indicate changes in natural language, programmatically determined named styles, the ability to anchor floating images and objects, and a separate document title field. As a result, some of the other features that might otherwise support accessibility, such as its extensive templates are not as effective. In addition, Google docs: Spreadsheet does not include an accessibility checking feature.
You should use these techniques when you are using Google docs: Spreadsheet to create documents that are:
If you are creating forms, web pages, applications, or other dynamic and/or interactive content, these techniques will still be useful to you, but you should also consult the W3C-WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) because these are specifically designed to provide guidance for highly dynamic and/or interactive content.
Google docs: Spreadsheet does not have a default file format, as it is a web-based authoring tool.
Google docs: Spreadsheet offers various spreadsheet processor and web format saving options. Most of these have not been checked for accessibility, but some information and/or instructions are available for the following formats in Technique 12:
We have tried to formulate these techniques so that they are useful to all authors, regardless of whether they use a mouse. However, for clarity there are several instances where mouse-only language is used. Below are the mouse-only terms and their keyboard alternatives:
Following these techniques will increase the accessibility of your documents, but it does not guarantee accessibility to any specific disability groups . In cases where more certainty is required, it is recommended that you test the office documents with end users with disabilities, including screen reader users.
The application-specific steps and screenshots in this document were created using Google docs: Spreadsheet (ver.30 09 2010, Internet Explorer ver.7.0.6001/Windows XP, Sept. 2010) while producing files in proprietary format. Files are also easily saved as other file formats (see Technique 12).
At this time, Google doc’s extensive collection of templates should be treated cautiously. The fact that the Google docs: Spreadsheet editor lacks support for accessibility features such as alternative text and named styles also means that the templates created with the editor are also lacking in these areas. [Tested: August 20, 2010]
All office documents start with a template, which can be as simple as a blank standard-sized page or as complex as a nearly complete document with text, graphics and other content. For example, a “Meeting Minutes” template might include headings for information relevant to a business meeting, such as “Actions” above a table with rows to denote time and columns for actions of the meeting.
Because templates provide the starting-point for so many documents, accessibility is critical. If you are unsure whether a template is accessible, you should check a sample document produced when the template is used (see Technique 11).
Google docs: Spreadsheet’s default template for new documents is a blank spreadsheet. The basic installation also includes a wide variety of templates ranging from blank service invoices to blank project management schedules. These are all accessible by virtue of being blank.
It is possible to create your own templates from scratch in Google docs: Spreadsheet. As well, you can edit and modify the existing templates, ensuring their accessibility as you do so and saving them as a new template.
Note: Only use these steps if you have an accessible template available (e.g. that you previously saved). Otherwise, simply open a new (blank) document.
At this time, Google docs: Spreadsheet does not offer an explicit language selection mechanism to indicate the natural language of your spreadsheet or changes in natural language at any point within the content (e.g. a few cells containing text in a different language than the rest of the spreadsheet). Google docs: Spreadsheet defaults the natural language to the language selected for your Google Account. When exporting to other document formats, there is no guarantee that the natural language of your Google Account will be indicated as the natural language of your document. [Tested: September 20th, 2010]
In order for assistive technologies (e.g., screen readers) to be able to present your document accurately, it is important to indicate the natural language of the document. If a different natural language is used for a paragraph or selected text, this also needs to be clearly indicated.
At this time, Google docs: Spreadsheet does not offer a mechanism for adding alternative text or longer descriptions to images and objects where it can be readily accessed by screen reader users. As a result, you will need to ensure that you provide the alternative text and/or longer descriptions in the body of the document, near the images and objects. While this solution is not optimal for screen reader users and will complicate your own accessibility testing, it is necessary under alternative text and descriptions are supported. [Tested: August 20, 2010]
When using images or other graphical objects, such as charts and graphs, it is important to ensure that the information you intend to convey by the image is also conveyed to people who cannot see the image. This can be accomplished by adding concise alternative text to each image. If an image is too complicated to concisely describe in the alternative text alone (artwork, flowcharts, etc.), provide a short text alternative and a longer description as well.
Alternatively, you can include the same information conveyed by the image within the body of the document, providing the images as an alternate to the text. In that case, you do not have to provide alternate text within the image.
As you begin adding content, your spreadsheet will require structuring to bring meaning to the data, make it easier to navigate, and help assistive technologies read it accurately. One of the easiest ways to do this is to ensure that you properly format the cells.
At this time, Google docs: Spreadsheet does not offer named styles functionality. [Tested: September 21, 2010]
You should make use of the named styles that are included with the office application (e.g., “Heading”, “Result”, etc.) before creating your own styles or using the character formatting tools directly. Named styles help your readers understand why something was formatted in a given way, which is especially helpful when there are multiple reasons for the same formatting (e.g., it is common to use italics for emphasis, Latin terms and species names).
For more information on formatting using named styles, see Technique 9.
Note: While office application suites support headings in much the same way, the named styles often differ.
Formatting header and result cells brings order to the spreadsheet and makes it easier for users to navigate effectively. For example, you can format header rows and columns using “Heading” styles to apply bolded, enlarged, and italicized text (among other characteristics). You may also want to format cells containing results of calculations to appear bold and underlined to help distinguish them from the rest of your data.
Ensure your cells are formatted to properly represent your data, including number and text attributes.
Naming the different data ranges within your spreadsheet makes it easier to navigate through the document and find specific information. By associating a meaningful name to a data range, you will be enhancing the readability of your document. These named ranges can be referenced in multiple locations of your document and within calculations and equations.
Spreadsheet applications support various types of charts, which can be used to display your spreadsheet data in meaningful ways for your audience. It is important to ensure that your chart is as accessible as possible to all members of your audience. All basic accessibility considerations that are applied to the rest of your document must also be applied to your charts and the elements within your charts. For example, use shape and color, rather than color alone, to convey information. As well, some further steps should be taken to ensure that the contents are your chart are appropriate labeled to give users reference points that will help to correctly interpret the information.
It will not be possible to access the chart customization features after creating and inserting the chart. For this reason, it is necessary to name and label the chart at the time of creation. [Tested: December 8, 2010]
At this time, Google docs: Spreadsheet does not include an “Insert Table” feature. [Tested: December 8, 2010]
While cell formatting is the most common method of structuring documents, other content structuring features should be used where appropriate:
At this time, Google docs: Spreadsheet makes use of a single document name. Within Google docs, this serves well as a title, but when exporting to ODT, the document name is used to form the file name and the ODT “Title” properties field is left blank. [Tested: August 20, 2010]
In case the document is ever converted into HTML, it should be given a descriptive and meaningful title.
Avoid "floating" elements (other than charts) such as floating images, objects, tables or text boxes.
Similarly, avoid placing drawing objects directly into the document (e.g., as borders, to create a diagram). Instead, create borders with page layout tools and insert complete graphical objects.
When formatting text, especially when the text is likely to be printed, try to:
But can’t users just zoom in? Office applications do typically include accessibility features such as the ability to magnify documents and support for high contrast modes. However, because printing is an important aspect of many workflows and changing font sizes directly will change document details such the pagination, the layout of tables, etc., it is best practice to always format text for a reasonable degree of accessibility.
The visual presentation of text and images of text should have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1. To help you determine the contrast, here are some examples on a white background:
Also, always use a single solid color for a text background rather than a pattern.
In order to determine whether the colors in your document have sufficient contrast, you can consult an online contrast checker, such as:
Color should not be used as the only visual means of conveying information, indicating an action, prompting a response, or distinguishing a visual element. In order to spot where color might be the only visual means of conveying information, you can create a screenshot of the document and then view it with online gray-scale converting tools, such as:
The instructions provided for understanding and operating content should not rely solely on sensory characteristics such as the color or shape of content elements. Here are two examples:
Before you use an image to control the presentation of text (e.g., to ensure a certain font or color combination), consider whether you can achieve the same result by styling “real text”. If this is not possible, as with logos containing stylized text, make sure to provide alternative text for the image following the techniques noted above.
By taking the time to design your content in a consistent way, it will be easier to access, navigate and interpret for all users:
Provide a general description of the spreadsheet contents and instructions on how to navigate the data effectively. The best way to do this is to make a cell at the beginning of the data (e.g., A1) with this information. It will be the first cell accessed by assistive technologies. If you are using this cell for a label or data, you can attach a comment note to the cell containing navigational instructions.
At this time, Google docs: Spreadsheet does not offer a mechanism to check for potential accessibility errors in your document prior to publishing. [Tested: September 20th, 2010]
In order to get some indication of the accessibility of your document or template (see Technique 1), then you may consider saving the file into HTML or PDF in order to perform an accessibility check in one of those formats, as described below.
If you wish to check the accessibility of your document or template (see Technique 1), one option is to save it into HTML format and use one of the web accessibility checkers available online. Such as:
If you saved your document in tagged PDF format, you can use the following tools and steps to evaluate the accessibility of the PDF document:
In some cases, additional steps must be taken in order to ensure accessibility information is preserved when saving/exporting to formats other than the default.
PDF documents are not always accessible. Accessible PDF documents are often called “Tagged PDF” because they include “tags” that encode structural information required for accessibility. To evaluate the accessibility of your PDF document, see Technique 11.
Disclaimer: This list is provided for information purposes only. It is not exhaustive and inclusion of an application or plug-in on the list does not constitute a recommendation or guarantee of results.
If you are interested in what features are provided to make using Google docs: Spreadsheet more accessible to users, documentation is provided through online articles and Help forums:
This document was produced as part of the Accessible Digital Office Document (ADOD) Project (http://inclusivedesign.ca/accessible-office-documents). This project has been developed by the Inclusive Design Research Centre, OCAD University as part of an EnAbling Change Partnership project with the Government of Ontario and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).
Accessible Digital Office Documents (ADOD) Project by Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.