Reading long, dense text documents can be a daunting task for learners. Well-structured documents help students organize and process content.

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By using headings in your document styles, you can design sections and sub-sections for your documents. Headers can help students navigate and comprehend content, and are essential for screen readers.

Use the built-in heading styles in your word processing software.

Always choose "Heading 1" for level 1 headings, "Heading 2" for section headings, "Heading 3" for subsection headings, and so on. "Normal" is used for paragraphs.

Alternative text for images

Since many documents include images, it is important that the images contain alternative descriptions.

Add the alternative text in your word processing software.

Microsoft Word has two fields for text, Title and Description. Type your alt text in the Description text box so that when you convert Word documents to PDF or HTML the alt text is converted to the new format. Titles are not converted to other formats, so you would have to enter them again in the new format.

Descriptive links

It is critical to make your links descriptive. Every link should describe what the user can expect to find when they select it.

Add descriptive links in your word processing software.


Properly created lists inform screen reader users how many items are in the bulleted list.

Use your word processing software built-in lists.

Table headers

Using tables in your documents can be a great way to help organize complex information for students. To make sure your tables are effective and accessible, however, you should only use them for data, and not for visual layouts. Adding headers to your tables improves how your students navigate tables, especially if they use a screen reader.

Add table headers in your word processing software.

Microsoft Accessibility Checker

This is a good resource to help you identify and repair accessibility issues. From Tools select Check Accessibility.

More on the Accessibility Checker

Make PDF documents accessible

Although keeping your content in the original source file is the best way to ensure the document remains accessible, many instructors prefer to export their documents and presentations as Portable Document Format (PDF) files.

PDF is an open standard file format that presents content consistently. It doesn't matter if you print it or view it on a device. The formatting remains the same.

When exporting a document as PDF, it's important to check the export settings to make sure that the PDF is tagged. A Tagged PDF uses tags and elements—such as blockquote, paragraph, and headings—to add meaning to a page. It aids screen reader users with good content structure. This makes sure the PDF is easy to navigate.

Save documents as tagged PDFs

  1. Start with a text document that is accessible.
  2. Save the document as an accessible PDF.
    • Microsoft Word: Select File and Save As. Select PDF from the File Format menu. Select Best for electronic distribution and accessibility and select Export. To learn more, see Save a Word document as an accessible PDF.

      Don't use Print to PDF.

    • LibreOffice Writer and Impress: Select File and Export as PDF. Select Tagged PDF (add document structure) and Export bookmarks in PDF Options. Select Export.

Create accessible PDFs with Adobe Acrobat

If you have Adobe Acrobat you can create accessible PDFs as well as scan existing PDFs to make sure they are accessible. 

More on creating accessible PDFs with Adobe Acrobat