Accessible Documents, Presentations, and Emails

Microsoft Office Word Documents

  • Use sans serif fonts whenever possible (e.g. Arial, Calibri, Tahoma, Verdana)  14 point font for body text is recommended.
  • Increase line spacing beyond single point.  Depending on the document, 115% to 200% may be useful.
  • Add padding (white space) below each paragraph.
  • It is best to avoid large blocks of italic, colored text, underlined text, decorative fonts and capitalized letters.  These formatting choices make text difficult to read.
  • Justified text (alignment on both the left and right margins) is currently not recommended because it can cause large space gaps.
  • Avoid the following color combinations of text and backgrounds: red/green, blue/orange, yellow/orange, green/blue, yellow/purple.
  • Don’t use color alone to convey meaning.
  • Add alternate text (alt. text) for all images, charts, graphs, SmartArt, ect.  To do so:
    • Insert the image.
    • Right click on the image and then select “Format Picture” from the context menu.
    • Select the Alt Text section and then add a title and description for the image.
  • Use styles (i.e., heading tage) in long documents
    • Use short titles for headings
    • Ensure heading styles are in the correct order (i.e., heading 1, heading 2, ect.)
  • Use hyperlink text that is meaningful
    • e.g. Use ‘click here to go to the Grinnell College home page’ as opposed to ‘click here’
    • In Word for Mac edit the hyperlink and then add a “Screen Tip”.  This is the alt text for the link.


  • Use sans serif fonts whenever possible (e.g. Arial, Calibri, Tahoma, Verdana) and if you plan to project the document, be certain the font size is sufficient to be readable from all areas of the room. 
  • Utilize default auto layouts in PowerPoint that best fit the purpose of your slide content.  Avoid using text boxes.  Screen readers cannot read text within text boxes.  You can check your content and reading order by viewing the PowerPoint presentation in Outline View.
  • Use effective color contrast between background and text in PowerPoint presentations.  Avoid these color combinations: red/blue, red/green, dark green/black, blue/black, shades of gray.
  • Don’t use color alone to convey meaning.
  • Add alternate text description (alt. text) for all images, charts, graphs, SmartArt, ect.  To do so…
    • Insert the image.
    • Right click on the image and then select “Format Picture” from the context menu.
    • Select the Alt Text section and then add a title and description for the image.
  • Use hyperlink text that is meaningful. (e.g. Use ‘click here to go to the Grinnell College home page’ as opposed to ‘click here’.)
  • Add text transcript in ‘Notes’ section for any audio or video used in slides.
  • Ensure that audio and video files automatically play as soon as the user advances to the next slide.
  • If your slide includes multiple elements (e.g. images combined with graphs), use the Arrange tool to order elements in a sequence that will be intelligible to a screen reader user.
  • Animations and slide transitions may cause screen readers to re-read slides.
  • Automatic slide transitions may not give users enough time to read slide content.

Using the Microsoft Office 2010 & 2013 Built-In Accessibility Checker (Windows)

Accessibility Checker alerts you to accessibility issues, similar to a spell checker for misspelled words.

  • To access this feature for Office documents, click on the File tab.
  • In Office 2010, under Prepare for Sharing, an alert will appear if Accessibility Checker has detected any potential issues.
  • To view and repair the issues in your file, click on Check for Issues (under Inspect Document in 2013), and then click Check Accessibility.
  • You are returned to your file where the Accessibility Checker task pane is open, showing the inspection results.
  • Click on the specific issue to seeAdditional Information and steps you can take to fix or revise the content.

Accessible Emails

Use a descriptive subject line

The subject line is the first text people will read, or have read to them by a screen reader.  It should be meaningful, descriptive, concise and shouldn’t repeat the sender name.  More so than many of us, people with vision impairments rely on subject lines to determine whether an email is relevant to their needs.

Hierarchy of Information

Placing important information higher in an email and following a predictable flow is always a good idea.  Keep it short and to the point.  While sighted users can visually scan or skip over non-relevant content, those using screen readers must listen to the entire content of an email, one email at a time.  Use the inverted pyramid; Most Important, Less Important, Least Important.


Formatting Styles

Using built-in formatting styles could be the most important step in making emails accessible.  Built-in formatting styles provide a logical reading order that serves as a navigation guide for persons using assistive technologies.  Adding structure to emails is similar to other Microsoft Word documents.

  • In the Format Text tab, with your cursor in the body of the email, choose the Styles menu.
  • Organize headings in a logical order, Heading 1, Heading 2 and then Heading 3.
  • Use bulleted or numbered list, icons available on the menu bar, instead of asterisks or dashes which a screen reader will not recognize as a list.


Sans-serif fonts are easy to read, Arial, Tahoma or Verdana work well.  Use larger font sizes to accommodate visually impaired users.  Anything below 14 point on a browser screen requires some effort to read.


For those with color vision deficiencies, complex color schemes in an email can be confusing or painful.  Simple black and white emails are best.  If a different font color is necessary, choose a color that will provide a good contrast with the background, like dark blue or dark green.  A template with a shaded background will make it harder to ensure your email has proper contrast.

Clickable Links

It is important to convey the purpose of links using link text.  This text informs the reader as to what will display when the link is followed and are often used for document navigation purposes by screen reading devices. 

  • Place the cursor where the hyperlink will appear, or simply highlight the text in the email to become a link.
  • In the Insert tab, click on Hyperlink and a dialog box will open
  • In the Text to Display box, type in the name or phrase that briefly describes the link destination.  If text is highlighted, this box will already be filled.
  • Enter a URL, a location within the same document, an email address, or even link to another document.
  • If choosing a URL, type it into the Address box.  Click OK.


Sending messages containing large decorative images should be avoided as a general practice.  Images should not contain embedded text, as it will not be read by screen readers.  Any small images within the email should also contain alternative text “Alt text” describing the image.

  • After inserting an image, right click on the image, pickWrap Text, then choose In Line with Text from the context menu.  Selecting In Line with Text will ensure that the image will be seen by screen reading software.
  •  To add Alt text to a Picture or Clip Art: Right click on the image, select Format Picture, click the Layout & Properties icon, select Alt Text.  Add title and description for image.

Accessible PDFs

Best Practices for Accessible Scanned Electronic Reading:

  • Starting with the best possible source document will positively impact the entire process of copying and scanning.  Whenever possible, AVOID source documents that have:
    • highlighting (other than the color yellow)
    • underlining
    • margin notes
    • creases on pages
  • Visually inspect EACH page AFTER you copy it, this will allow you to immediately re-copy any poor quality pages.  Check for cut-off text, shadows in the margins and missing page numbers.  Page numbers and headers/footers are important!
  • If at all possible, use custom size settings and scan one page at a time, producing a 1-page rather than a 2-page spread.
  • Scan in black and white for text only and gray-scale for text with images.  Be cautious about scanning in color as it produces very large files.
  • Press down on the spine of the book while scanning to avoid shadows in the margins.
  • Make sure glass on copier or flatbed is clean.
  • Make sure pages are squared, not slanted.  Pages that copied slanted will not OCR properly.  (OCR or Optical Character Recognition is the software process that converts in the image file to digital text.)
  • In Adobe Professional, delete any unnecessary facing pages that were captured in scanning process.  Rotate any pages that are sideways or upside down.
  • PDF documents should include “selectable text”. In Adobe Professional, OCR documents to recognize text in image-only PDF’s.

To test your PDF documents for accessibility, complete the following steps (in Adobe Reader or Acrobat):

  1. Click on the ‘View’ pull-down menu >Read out Loud>Activate Read Out Loud, followed by the ‘View’ pull-down menu >Read Out Loud>This Page Only.
  2. If the document reads aloud, but the text is read out of order, adding “tags” to the document may help.  In Adobe Acrobat, choose “Advanced”>Accessibility>Add Tags to Document.  (This command adequately tags most standard layouts so text-to-speech software reads the PDF in the correct order, but cannot always correctly interpret the structure and reading order of complete page elements.)


All this information (and more) can be found on the Disability Resources & Accommodations GrinnellShare WebsiteCampaign Manager has an Accessible Email Guide as well. There is also the Accessible Email Testing website as well.