At the time of testing (January 26, 2011), Word 2008 for Mac lacks several features that enable accessible office document authoring, most notably: the ability to add alternative text to image and objects. As a result, some of the other features that might otherwise support accessibility, such as its extensive templates are not as effective. In addition, Word 2008 for Mac does not include an accessibility checking feature.
This guide is intended to be used for 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.
The default file format for Word 2008 for Mac is Office Open XML (DOCX).
In addition, Word 2008 for Mac offers many other word 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 11 (below):
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 Microsoft Word 2008 for Mac (ver.12.0.0 (071130), Mac OS X, Jan. 2011) while creating a DOCX document. Files are also easily saved as other file formats (see Technique 11, below).
This document is provided for information purposes only and is neither a recommendation nor a guarantee of results. If errors are found, please report them to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 10 Check Accessibility, below).
Word 2008 for Mac’s default template for new documents is a blank page. The basic installation also includes blank business card, blank label templates, and other blank office-related documents. These are all accessible by virtue of being blank.
It is possible to create your own accessible templates from scratch in Word 2008 for Mac. As well, you can edit and modify the existing prepackaged 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.
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, Word 2008 for Mac does not offer a mechanism which enables the user to add alternative text descriptions to images or objects. [Tested: January 26, 2011]
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 of 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.
When images and objects are inserted into Word 2008 for Mac documents they default to being an “inline object”. Inline objects keep their position on the page relative to a portion of the text.
A “floating” object keeps its position relative to the page, while text flows around it. As content moves up or down on the page, the object stays where it was placed. To ensure that images and objects remain with the text that references it, always position it as an inline object.
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.
Any documents that are longer than a few paragraphs require structuring to make them more straightforward for readers to understand. One of the easiest ways to do this is to use “True Headings” to create logical divisions between paragraphs. True headings are more than just bolded, enlarged, or centered text; they are structural elements that order and levels provide a meaningful sequence to users of assistive technologies.
As with “True Headings” (see Technique 5), you should attempt to make use of the named styles that are included with the office application (e.g., “emphasis”, “caption”, 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.
When using tables, it is important to ensure that they are clear and appropriately structured. This helps all users to better understand the information in the table and allows assistive technologies (e.g., screen readers) to provide context so that the information within the table can be conveyed in a meaningful way.
When you create lists, it is important to format them as “real lists”. Otherwise, assistive technologies will interpret your list as a series of short separate paragraphs instead of a coherent list of related items.
At this time, it is not possible to modify pre-formatted list styles or to create your own list styles. [Tested: January 26, 2011]
Use Columns feature for placing text in columns. However, because columns can be a challenge for users of some assistive technologies, you should consider whether a column layout is really necessary.
Start a new page by inserting a page break instead of repeated hard returns.
Creating an index or table of contents to outline office document content can provide a means of navigating the meaningful sequence of content.
The best way to generate a table of contents is after applying the predefined heading styles, such as "Heading 1" as described above, to the headings that you want to include in your table of contents. After you apply these styles, you can then create a table of contents.
Numbering the pages of your document helps those reading and editing your document effectively navigate and reference its content. For users of assistive technologies, it provides a valuable point of reference within the document.
In case the document is ever converted into HTML, it should be given a descriptive and meaningful title.
Charts can be used to make data more understandable for some audiences. However, it is important to ensure that your chart is as accessible as possible to all members of your audience.
Here are some other things to keep in mind:
When formatting text, especially when the text is likely to 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 documents 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 ration 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:
Hyperlinks are more effective navigation aids when the user understands the likely result of following the link. Otherwise, users may have to use trial-and-error to find what they need.
To help the user understand the result of selecting a hyperlink, ensure that the link makes sense when read in the context of the text around it. For example, while it would be confusing to use “more information” as a link by itself on a page, it would be fine to use “more information” as a link in the following sentence: “The airport can be reached by taxi or bus (more information).”
To make the address of hyperlink clear when printing, you may wish to include the address in brackets following the descriptive text of the hyperlink.
At this time, Word 2008 for Mac does not offer a mechanism to check for potential accessibility errors in your document prior to publishing. [Tested: January 26th, 2011]
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.
Note: Before saving in other formats, you may want to run the Compatibility Report feature by selecting Compatibility Report… from the Save As dialog. This checks the compatibility of your existing document with the format you have selected save your document as. The results of this check are revealed in the Compatibility Report dialog, where you have explanations of errors and options to fix them. To run this check at any time, go to menu item: View > Toolbox, Compatibility Report.
While Word 2008 for Mac does allow you to save documents in the PDF format, at this time it does not offer an explicit option to save your document in the tagged PDF format. [Tested: January 26th, 2011]
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 by the IDRC.
If you are interested in what features are provided to make using Word 2008 for Mac more accessible to users, documentation is provided in the Help system:
Authors: Jan Richards, Sabrina Ruplall
This document was produced as part of the Accessible Digital Office Document (ADOD) Project. 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.
Updated: 10 Apr 2013