Annual Report of the Information Commissioner 2016

How to make accessible documents

To make a document accessible does not require specific software, it simply requires you to take into account certain considerations (like font size and colour contrast) when developing your document. This will make documents easier to read and understand by the public – particularly members of the public who use assistive technologies like screen reader software.

The following guidance is provided to help make documents easier to use, access and understand:

Give documents a structure using heading styles.

A good heading structure is probably the most important accessibility consideration in most Microsoft Word documents.

Many people do not use true heading styles in Microsoft Word. For example, when creating a heading, they simply change the font, increase the font size, and make it bold. The problem with this is that screen readers navigate through the headings function and do not recognise the body text as a heading. So essentially, it does not recognise any structure in the text. In Microsoft Word, the correct way to provide structure is to use ‘Word styles’ found under the ‘Home’ tab.

Use pre-set bullet points, numbering and tables

Use pre-set formats such as bullet points, numbering and tables to format and structure your document. This structure will then be carried over into other formats such as PDF, making it easier to navigate.

Provide a table of contents for longer documents

For documents over 10 pages, provide a table of contents. This will make specific information easier to find. Additionally, by using the previously mentioned heading styles, it makes creating a table of contents far easier.

Provide Alternative (Alt) Text

When images are unavailable (for example, if the device is not capable of displaying the image or if the person has visual difficulties), equivalent information must be supplied. Alt Text should serve the same purpose and convey the same meaning as the image. It should be provided for all images.

Fill out document properties

Fill out document properties (author, title, subject and keywords). A link should also be provided back to the website in the comments field if there is not a link in the body of the document.

Save or export to PDF

Save or export your document to PDF. Do this by using the ‘Save As’ option and selecting ‘PDF’ in the ‘Save as type’ drop down section. Do not use the print-to-PDF function.

Turn on accessibility features

Ensure accessibility features such as tagging are turned on when saving.

Check accessibility

If possible, use PDF editing software that supports accessibility to check the accessibility of your PDF file.


Word 2016 includes an accessibility checker that allows you to check for accessibility problems. To run the accessibility checker, select: File > Info > Check for Issues > Check Accessibility.

In long documents provide information in chapters or sections

For very long documents and reports, consider breaking the document into chapters or sections. This allows people to download and read only the relevant sections.

Learn more

Adobe provides guidance on ‘Preparing Microsoft Word documents to create accessible PDF files’

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) provides PDF techniques for WCAG 2.0.

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