Loyola University Maryland

Accessibility at Loyola


Microsoft Word Documents

Microsoft Word documents are everywhere. Learn the basics of creating an accessible Word document and you'll be contributing to a much more accessible campus.

Many course materials begin as word documents, such as syllabus documents and assignment descriptions. While the practice of making documents accessible for screen readers is vital for those requesting accommodations, we also improve “scannability” for readers who visually review a page looking for cues about main points, location of resources, and key deadlines in their preview reading of a document.

Use “Styles” to Format Text

Key points to review within the Microsoft Word tutorials listed below include the following:

Draw on the following tutorials to adopt or modify an existing style template for your personal use in development of your teaching and learning documents.

Develop Practices to Support Images, Graphics, and Data Tables

Through links provided below, learn about effective practices for embedding “alt text” – alternative, word-based text – that will allow assistive technologies like screen readers to convey descriptions of images and graphics and tables.

  • Supporting Images via Alt Text – to learn more about titles, captions, incorporation of short, apt alt text descriptions, and empty alt text tagging, see the Penn State’s “Image ALT Text in Microsoft Office”.
  • Creating Tables with Proper Headers and Reading Order – to ensure a proper reading order in tables, review the Tables sections within the Portland Community College overview document on “How to Make a Word Document Accessible.”

Keep the LIST Checklist in Mind

The acronym LIST provides a rubric that serves to remind document creators to make Links, Images, Structure, and Tables accessible. The “Is My Document Accessible?” rubric is made available by San Jose State University.


You'll need an application like Adobe Acrobat Pro to create fully accessible PDFs, by using the built-in accessibility checker. Scanned documents are not accessible until you convert them for optical character recognition (which Acrobat also can do for you).

Characteristics of Accessible PDFs

An accessible PDF has:

  • searchable text (recognizable by the computer)
  • interactive form fields (i.e., a user can enter information into the fields, where the tab key lets the user move logically through the form)
  • navigational aids (bookmarks, headings, table of contents, and logical tab order for form fields)
  • specified document language (specify the language to enable people who use screen readers to switch their speech synthesizer to the target language so they'll hear correct pronunciation of the content)
  • title (helps users find the document on their computer)
  • document structure tags (which headings, paragraphs, sections, tables and other page elements; also allows documents to be resized and reflowed for viewing at larger sizes and on mobile devices)
  • logical reading order (governed by the document structure tags)
  • alternative text for non-text elements
  • appropriately formatted tables

The accessibility checker that Acrobat runs will help you make a more accessible document. It helps you find inaccessible parts of the document, but then you need to fix the issues manually.

Converting a Document into a PDF

  • Microsoft Word Documents: Most people create PDFs from a word processing application like Microsoft Word. You create a document in either Word then "save-as" or "export to" a PDF file. The good news is that if you create PDFs this way, simply make your Word document accessible and the accessibility traits will carry-over into the PDF format. Use the six core skills to accessify your documents.
  • PDFs created from a Scan: If you scan a document (using a flatbed scanner or photocopier), the resulting document is simply a picture of the original. Pictures are not inherently accessible because computers can't read the information contained in them.You'll need to convert the picture for optical character recognition in order to make it accessible. Optical character recognition just means that the computer will be able to read the text contained in your scan. You'll need Adobe Acrobat Pro to perform this conversion. Then, you'll need to run Acrobat's built-in accessibility checker.
  • PDFs created from Adobe InDesign: PDF files can also be created using Adobe InDesign - a desktop publishing application. For guidance on using Adobe InDesign to create accessible PDF files, please visit using Adobe InDesign to create accessible PDF files, please visit Creating accessible PDF documents with Adobe® InDesign® CS6.

Document Tags

You will need to use Adobe Acrobat to create tags in your documents after you convert them from the word to PDF. Acrobat's accessibility wizard adds tags in just a few clicks. From there, you just need to make sure the tags were inserted in the appropriate order and hierarchy.