UACES Facebook Web Site Accessibility for Documents

Web Site Accessibility for Documents

When a visually impaired person "reads" an online document, a screen reader type of software is usually used.  This software provides an audio rendering of the document.  Small steps when creating documents, whether in Word or Publisher, can go far when creating accessible PDF documents.  There are three main items to remember when creating a document:

  • Provide Alt text for images
  • Provide an adequate Title property for the document
  • Provide Header rows in table where applicable

Provide alternate text for any image on the document, also known as ALT text.

When an image is encountered on a page, the software will use the alternate tag as a description of the image for the person viewing and reading the document.   Here is an example of two different images.  Using just the ALT tag as the description, which provides more information?

Two people looking at plant

Image One

This image has the description of "two people looking at plant."

Photo: An example of a photo used in a web page.

A man and a woman looking at a plant by the downspout of a gutter.

Image Two

This image has the description of "A man and a woman looking at a plant by the downspout of a gutter.."

Photo: An example of a photo used in a web page.


To optimize the web site experience for the visually impaired user, do not use the word "image" in the description. 

The alt tag can be placed on an image while the document is being created in either Microsoft Word or Publisher.  Select the image to make it active, then right-click the image and select the "Format Picture" property.  In the Alt text box, provide the explanation for each image.  If an image is simply a decorative image in a document, do not enter anything for the alt text; it will be corrected when the PDF version is entered.  Unfortunately, Word and Publisher don't allow users to tag an image as a decorative image, but Adobe PDF does. 

Provide adequate title information

Adding Title property to document

The second recommendation is to provide an adequate Title property to the document.

The title of the document is read by the screen reader. To supply the title of the document for accessibility purposes, select the File option of the document.  In Microsoft Word, under  Properties, add the text for the title to the right of the "Title" box.  In this example, the title of the document will be "Agenda for making a newsletter accessible."

Photo: Adding the Title element to a Word or Publisher document provides a title for a screen reader used by the visually impaired..



The third recommendation is to make sure a table has appropriate row headers.

Tables contain rows and columns of data, and sometimes are quite large.  A table is very useful to a visual person, but special attention needs to be given to ensure the table is useful to everyone. The first row of this table is called a header row; it provides information that is useful to each row of the table, no matter how long the table might be.   The first column of every row in the table below describes the title of the article found elsewhere in the newsletter.  The second column of every row describes a page number.  Visually, this table could be easily understood without the header row.  To the visually impaired reader, the screen reader audio uses the table header as it reads each and every row, like this: 

"Row two, Article column:  Flooding Damage...Row two, Page Number column: 2"

"Row three, Article column:  June Gardening by Janet Carson....Row three, Page Number column: 4"

"Row three, Article column:  Propagating Woody Plants....Row three, Page Number column: 6"

 Article Page Number
 Flooding Damage 2
 June Gardening by Janet Carson 4
 Propagating Woody Plants 6

Without the top row as a description, the data in the table would not be as useful, especially if there were several rows in the table.

Which software is best for creating accessible documents?

This table is an attempt to show the pros and cons of using different types of software to create an accessible PDF.  Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be one product that works completely when converting to PDF.  Additional issues will be added as discovered.


 Task MS Publisher MS Word
Table Header No

Yes - click on table, select Design, select "Header Row".

Table Summary No

Yes - click on table, right-click, select Table Properties and select Alt Text tab.  Enter Title and Description of Table.  However, at this time it does not transfer to Adobe PDF.

ALT Text for Images Yes Yes.  Select image.  Right-click and select "Format Picture."  Select Alt text box and type in text describing the image.
Decorative Images No No
Accessibility Checker? No Yes.  Select File, Check for Issues, Check Accessibility.

Checking colors for contrast

The WebAIM Color Contrast Checker is useful in determining if a color provides adequate contrast with text.  Not sure of the color codes?  This page provides HTML color codes needed for all colors.