Document accessibility MS Word & PDF

Will Huthnance
Senior Web Specialist

So what does web accessibility mean?

"the inclusive practice of making websites usable by people of all abilities and disabilities... ...all users can have equal access to information and functionality" - Wikipedia

So why does accessibility concern us and the organisations we work for?

There are several legal reasons...


Human Rights Act
Requires non-discrimination in access to public places and facilities... (e.g. government websites)

In 2003 a cabinet paper was published that made it mandatory for government agencies to adopt web standards... and perform self-assessments of their websites against the web standards to measure their level of compliance.

The 2003 mandate stated...

"Discriminating against people online is the same as doing so anywhere else. Government websites are public property - all New Zealanders using the Internet should be able to access them as of right..."

•  •  •  •  •  •  Agriculture and Forestry Culture and Heritage Defense Economic Development Social Development Women's Affairs •  •  •  •  •  Education Environment Fisheries Foreign Affairs and Trade Transport •  •  •  •  •  Health Justice Māori Development Pacific Island Affairs Research, Science and Technology

•  •  •  Building and Housing Conservation Corrections •  •  •  •  Labour Prime Minister and Cabinet Internal Affairs Inland Revenue

•  •  •  •  •  •  Archives New Zealand Crown Law Office New Zealand Defence Force Land Information New Zealand Serious Fraud Office State Services Commission •  •  •  •  •  Education Review Office The Treasury New Zealand Police New Zealand Security Intelligence Service National Library of New Zealand •  •  •  •  Statistics New Zealand Government Communications Security Bureau Parliamentary Counsel Office New Zealand Customs Service

These public service agencies were mandated to comply with the web standards.

Then in 2008 the NZ government ratified a major UN Convention. The NZ govt were one of the original authors of the convention.


Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The convention specifically addressed website accessibility...

Parties should take appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to information and communications technology...

Aside from legal obligations, what other considerations do we need to consider when it comes to website and document accessibility?

Accessibility also leads to the openness of information, stronger democracy, and it demonstrates social good.

Web and document accessibility also directly affects the disabled community by allowing increased access to information. Accessible information delivered through the Internet,could be the most liberating force this community has benefited from in recent history.

It allows many disabled people to do online banking...

To conduct research and participate in online learning...

To shop online...

To participate in social media.

And an opportunity to earn an income from the web.

Can anyone guess what this number represents?

This is the number of New Zealanders who have identified themselves as disabled - 2006 Statistics New Zealand Disability Survey People were not considered to have a disability if an assistive device (such as glasses) completely eliminated their limitation. The disability must have lasted or be expected to last for six months or more. It represents approx 17% of the NZ population.

So in terms of documents, if we do not publish accessible web documents it directly affects people who are blind and who have vision impairments...

This is approximately 81,000 New Zealanders

or equivalent to the population of Palmerston North.

Website accessibility benefits
Improves agency search-ability - search engines like Google prefer accessible websites
Technology agnostic - accessible websites have a better chance of working on different screen sizes, browsers and types of devices e.g. smart phones Avoid litigation. Accessible websites cover legislative obligations Accessible websites demonstrate social responsibility

It allows for people who do not have access to broadband It helps agencies prepare for future technologies

There are 65 standards that comprise the New Zealand Government web standards.


NZ 4.2.2:
Content in document formats other than HTML
This standard directly affects the publication of documents on websites.

We strongly suggest that all documents are published in HTML as this is the most accessible format.

The web standards were amended in 2010 as the pressure on web teams to publish everything in HTML became nonpragmatic. This was largely due to the high volume of documents being created.


The web standards now allow for the publication non HTML documents, as long as they have been designed to be accessible. So in this case we are referring to MS Word and PDF.

How do I create an accessible MS Word file?

Structured Content

Creating structure in a MS Word file is the integral factor that makes it accessible.

When creating a PDF from MS Word, it is the structured content in the Word document that is converted to tags in the PDF file. These tags allow screen readers to navigate and read the PDF file.

structured content


This document shows the tags generated in a PDF that allow readers to navigate and read the document.

Requirements for good structure
Use Styles

Don't create random font sizes and effects. Use the default syles in MS Word as they will create structure in the document.

Requirements for good structure
Use Alternative text for non text content
Screen readers generally only read text, so for meaningful nontext content, you will need to create alt text so a person using a screen reader can understand the content.

Use Alternative text for non text content

Requirements for good structure

The image cannot be displayed. Your computer may not have enough memory to open the image, or the image may have been corrupted. Restart your computer, and then open the file again. If the red x still appears, you may have to delete the image and then insert it again.

A useful way to write alternative text is to imagine you are describing the image/non-text content to an elderly relative over the telephone.

Requirements for good structure
Screen readers can have trouble accessing the content in tables, particularly if they are complex.

•  provide a description for complex tables •  construct so it reads from left to right

Requirements for good structure
•  don't use the tab key to create tables

Use the MS Word functionality to create a table.

Requirements for good structure
•  don't nest tables •  use % for table size - allows the table to resize •  add captions before table to provide extra information

Requirements for good structure
•  tables with column headings in the top row must have the top row formatted as a header row

Requirements for good structure

"click here" or "click on this link for more info"

Requirements for good structure
•  The text to the link should tell the reader what they are going to find e.g. "more information about sea lions" •  Position the most important link first as this makes it easier for readers to find the link.

Requirements for good structure
Use numbered and bulleted lists
•  Bullets are good for presenting important points as they are visually easier to read than paragraphs. •  Numbered lists should be used when providing a set of instructions. •  Both formats cater to partially sight-impaired readers and those who have cognitive impairments as bullets make it easier for these people to read content.

Requirements for good structure
In consideration for partially sight-impaired readers and those who have cognitive impairments, be aware of your documents font size.

Ensure that font size is sufficient, usually around 12 points or more

Requirements for good structure
Provide sufficient contrast
A white background with black text is the best colour contrast.

Don't use different heading with similar colours close to each other as they may not offer sufficient colour contrast.

Requirements for good structure
Don't rely exclusively on colour to convey meaning

The graph above would be difficult for some colour blind users to interpret. Provide symbols or labels in addition to colour to help readers.

Requirements for good structure
For long documents use a table of contents

If the MS Word document is constructed with Styles, it is very easy to create a table of contents.

Requirements for good structure
Foreign text
Highlight text, select Tools/Language/Set Language...

If you use foreign text, you need to specify the language as this helps screen readers pronounce the text correctly.

Requirements for good structure
Use simple language
A common criticism of government language is over complexity. Remember, New Zealand has varying levels of literacy and for many people, English is their second langauge.

Requirements for good structure
Text heavy paragraphs can be difficult to read. Try to break up paragraphs to increase the amount of white space between them. Do not use the Enter key, instead use the Line spacing functionality.

Requirements for good structure
Test Boxes - Don't Use
MS Word treats text boxes as floating objects so when the document is converted into PDF, screen readers may know the order in which they should read the content. Test boxes are mainly used for visual presentation purposes. Use a table instead to avoid this potential problem.

Requirements for good structure
Spell Check
It's surprising the number of documents that are published with typos. Screen readers may mispronounce the errors so spell check to avoid this problem situation.

Example: badly structured document

Example: badly structured document
There are no bullets to highlight important points The paragraphs lack spacing between them, which gives a cluttered, busy effect.

Style not used for heading

Instruction which need to be followed in order have not been numbered

The graphics lack white space between the text and them - this can cause the graphics to not get recognised in the conversion process

Style not used for heading

Example: well structured document
H1 style added

Bullets added

H2 style added

White space added between paragraphs and around the image

Numbered bullets added

Converting Word to PDF

There is a variety of software that can create PDF's from MS Word. Most will not take the structure from MS Word and convert it into tags in the PDF file. Not doing so will make the PDF file inaccessible.

Use Adobe Acrobat Pro. To date, this software is the most effective in creating accessible PDF files from structured MS Word files. Adobe Acrobat Pro also provides an advanced accessibility checker that is very important when checking the accessibly of the PDF. Adobe Acrobat Pro also provides advanced accessibility functionality that allows the user to correct problem areas associated with document inaccessibility.

So assuming you have Adobe Acrobat installed on your pc, you need to set up the conversion settings so that the structure from the MS Word document will be added to the PDF document. You do this by adjusting the preferences (MS Word 2008) or conversion setting (MS Word 2003).

Use Adobe Acrobat plug-in for MS Word

Converting Word to PDF
1.  On the Settings Tab 2.  Select the checkboxes: Bookmarks, Links and Enable Accessibility and reflow

Converting Word to PDF
Should you need to password protect your PDF file you need to...
1.  select the Security Tab 2.  check enable text access for screen reader devices for visually impaired

Converting Word to PDF
On the Word Tab 1.  Select the checkboxes: Convert cross references, 2.  Convert footnote and endnote links and Enable advanced tagging

Converting Word to PDF
On the Bookmarks Tab
1.  Select the check box: Convert Word Headings to Bookmarks 2.  Set the proper indent levels

Converting Word to PDF
Save the file as Adobe PDF

Please remember...
•  100% accessibility is not guaranteed •  best practice techniques will improve the accessibility

Converting Word to PDF
If you create a structured MS Word document and then scan the document into PDF format or select Print to Adobe PDF, your PDF document will be inaccessible. This is because these two processes strip out the structured content. Effectively, the PDF document will be like an image with no alternative text, making it completely inaccessible for screen readers. This reinforces the importance of using Adobe Acrobat Pro to ensure the structured content created in MS Word will be converted into tags in the PDF document.

•  create accessible documents to: o  limit legal risk o  demonstrate social responsibility o  promote openness and ultimately democracy •  17% of New Zealanders identify with some kind of disability

•  structure determines accessibility •  add accessibility at the start - more efficient

•  when publishing documents on the web: o  HTML is the preferred format o  alternatively publish in two different accessible formats

•  To create an accessible MS Word file: o  use styles o  write alternative text for non text content o  keep tables simple or provide a caption o  use bullets and numbering

•  To create an accessible MS Word file: o  use a minimum 12 point font size o  careful with colour contrast, don't rely on colour to convey meaning o  use a table of contents for long documents o  mark foreign text

•  To create an accessible MS Word file: o  use simple language o  avoid dense paragraphs o  don't use text boxes o  spell check

•  To create an accessible MS Word file: o  ensure sufficient white space around graphics o  Use Adobe Acrobat Pro o  don't scan your document or "print to PDF"

On some occasions, the structured content from the MS Word document will not have been successfully transferred to the PDF file. So once you have created your PDF file, you will need to run a full accessibility check using Adobe Acrobat Pro to check for possible problems.

Adobe Acrobat Pro also offers functionality to correct accessibility errors found from the check. The error correction process can be complex and time consuming and is it not the focus of this presentation. The following slides provide a general overview of the accessibility correction process but a separate presentation that covers the process in more detail will be released in the coming months.

Open your PDF document in Adobe Acrobat Pro and run a Full Check...

You can select the level of accessibility the check will conduct. We recommend selecting all options to ensure a thorough check

You will generate a report

This will list the accessibility issues within the document.

General areas of concern will be...
Set the tab order by checking Use Document Structure

General areas of concern will be...
Specify the Language: File/Properties/Advanced/Reading Options

General areas of concern will be...
Alternative Text •  if the PDF has some non-text content without alternative text, we recommend you return to your MS Word document and edit it. Ideally, the MS Word should be the definitive source document. Once corrected, convert the MS Word document back into a PDF.

•  Sometimes the accessibility checker will fail to recognise alternative text from the MS Word document so use the TouchUp reading order tool in Acrobat Pro to add the alternative text.

TouchUp Reading Order
•  is also used to correct unrecognised content •  and to remove non essential content specify as background

•  determine the hierarchy of information in the document •  they influence the way information is presented to screen readers •  you may need to move tags around to ensure the document is read correctly by a screen reader

For more information about document accessibility and the New Zealand Government Web Standards contact:
Web Enablement Team, Government Information Services, Knowledge, Information, Research and Technology Department of Internal Affairs — Te Tari Taiwhenua

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