Episode 6 – Accessible Word and PDF Documents
0-0:13 Orthotonics Accessible as Gravity plays and fades out
0:13 Hello and welcome to Accessagogy a podcast about accessibility and pedagogy. I’m your host Ann Gagné and this podcast is recorded on treaty 13 on the traditional land of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.
0:28 Welcome to episode six! In this episode we are going focus on things that so many people ask about in workplaces, which are questions about accessible documents. In particular, I’m going to discuss some considerations for creating an accessible Word document and I’m also going to discuss just why there are so many PDFs everywhere and why they are often really not great.
0:57 So Word documents. We use a lot of them in higher education. We can see them as ways for subject content to be shared, we can see them as syllabi in courses, we can see them as other resource documents that we may receive as attachments for meetings and emails.
1:19 And often times as soon as a Word document is opened we can tell right away if this is a document that we are going read it’s entirety or skim over or just close it and never open again. This is the same for folk who are using screen readers or not to access the Word documents. We can all quickly determine if this document is accessible whether we know a lot about accessibility or not, because regardless of whether we know a lot about accessibility or not, we know what feels accessible to us. We know what feels accessible to us whether or not we identify has having a disability.
2:06 So in today’s episode I’m sitting down at my computer and opening up an empty Word document to highlight some things that you can consider when you are creating a Word document for any use, for your courses, for a meeting, for your administrator, as an attachment in email all of those things. I know podcasting may not always be the ideal medium to provide a how to for something like this, but I promise I’ll try my best to go step by step and guide you through the considerations.
2:38 I’m also going to preface this with I am a PC person and have never owned a Mac. So I can’t readily tell you where all of the functions are in a Mac because I am not as aware about them but I’m going to link to some resources that help you with that. Ultimately it’s not so much the where you’re supposed to click that’s important in the discussion I want to have here, it’s the awareness of concepts that need to be taken into account when you are creating a document. As with everything in this podcast, if there are aspects of things I am covering here that you would like me to explore further in a subsequent podcast episode please let me know I would be happy to.
3:26 So, okay number one, font size and type. Font size and type of font you use matter. No one wants to receive like an 8 or 10 font document, and yes I know you can resize it yourself but why would make people do that work. So you know have your font be like 12 minimum and use a font that you know that is seen to be readily accessible. So I use Calibri or Arial or Verdana which are all sans serif fonts. Some folk like to use Times New Roman which is a serif font, but often times the reason they want to use that is because there’s something to be said about font recognition, so like being used to seeing a kind of font, when it comes to accessibility as well.
4:23 Number two, heading styles. One of the most important things in a Word document is the proper use of heading styles. Headings tell your reader the order of information and they work visually as well, as for those who tab through documents and use keyboard only to navigate. In the home menu you will see that headings are there under styles and you need to use these styles for each kind of heading in your document. So you would use the title style for your document title, you would use heading 1, heading 2, and so on for any subheadings in your document. Now, you may not like the font type or size in the default styles, when you click on them, but you can definitely change them to what you feel is appropriate. The important part is to make sure that the heading style remains attached to the different levels of headings in your document. Okay.
5:21 Number three, maybe you want or need to add an image to your document. Sometimes it’s a chart or a graph. Maybe it’s an image of an office space that you’re discussing in your meeting. And as I discussed in episode 2 of Accessagogy all of the images that you put into the document need to have an alt text that describes the image that you’ve put in. And so even if you’re using the stock images that you can find in that insert menu in a Word document you still need to check that the automatic alt text for some of those stock images that you have put in are correct for the context that you’re using them in. In order to do this for a PC you would right click on the image and select the view alt text menu. This will show you the alt text box where you can edit the automatic alt text given or put in your own contextual one. You can also use this space to click a little box that’s there that says “mark as decorative” if you have inserted an image in your document just for decorative purposes. So if you want to know a little bit more about alt texts you can still feel free to go back to episode 2 of Accessagogy and review what alt text means, what they are, and how to use them, and how to write them.
6:50 Number three and a half ? I guess. Some of you may work in places where you need to insert a table into your document because maybe people in your place like tables, though I have no idea why because tables are things that kinda need a lot of care to make sure they’re accessible. So if you go into the Insert menu and insert say a three column by three row table you will then be given a series of table styles to choose from if you want; some have different colours different shading. I usually keep mine very simple like black and white. But the important thing to note here is to have a header row at the top and make sure that header row has been identified. And you can also alt text your table which is found again by right clicking on the table and selecting table properties. You will see there that you have alt text tab where you can add alt text and describe your table as well if you want to put that in.
7:56 Number four, if you are adding links to websites in your document, make sure that your link descriptors are clear for your hyperlinks. What that means is that you will not have a bunch of for more information on this great product click here links, or you know where the click here is the target for hyperlink. Why having a bunch of “click here” or “learn more here” type targets for your hyperlinks is a bad idea is that if folk are using different tools to navigate your document and hear things like click here to learn or learn more here and have no way of knowing what website the click here will take them to. Also some people don’t click to get to a website, they just select. I will share a resource in the show notes about this, but another thing that you may want to do is to just look at my show notes to see how I name my hyperlinks that might help you.
9:00 Number five, if you’re using bullets or numbered lists, for example, in your Word document actually use the bullets and numbered lists style that’s on the home menu. Again I’ll put a link in the show notes about to how to do this.
9:20 And then finally, number six, you can use the accessibility checker that’s built in to Word under the Review menu to check if there are any accessibility issues in your document. Remember that this is a checker and not a guarantee that your Word document is accessible.
9:42 Okay so you’ve thought about your Word document accessibility and now you’re super excited because you just want to convert this to a PDF and share it with the world, or at least maybe the chair of your department. So wait a moment. I want to mention that creating an accessible PDF is actually really difficult, and it’s only when you have thought about all these other accessibility considerations in your Word document, that you maybe, just maybe might be able to create a PDF that will be usable for folk. But it’s also important to remember that PDFs are usually larger files, they don’t necessarily render particularly well on some devices like certain phones for example. And if someone is trying to access information that’s in a PDF and they are at a place that has low bandwidth it actually may be more accessible to them to have that information in a Word document so that everything shows up or even on an accessible web page. So I know that for most instructors or staff that may be listening to this podcast, they don’t necessarily have access to creating web pages, so in that case creating a Word document and putting it up in your LMS or sharing it in an email would clearly be the better way to share information. But the other thing is that not everyone has access to Adobe because it’s expensive. And therefore, not everyone has access to any of the tools they may need in order to make their PDF accessible.
11:18 However, if you insist, absolutely insist on creating a PDF because your boss told you to, then here are some things that you need to think about. So when you’re done with your Word document, you go to File, Save As, and in the “save as type” you select pdf. This should save your file as a PDF and will automatically open it.
11:41 Now Adobe has its own accessibility checkers that you can find under Tools. It will tell you if your PDF has been tagged which means that you have all your headers well identified, that your images have alt text, those kinds of things.
11:56 But another thing that I suggest you do, and if you can, is really voice over your PDF to make sure that it has the structure that makes sense. This can be found under the View menu and you select activate read out loud. This will allow you to hear a page or even the whole document depending on what you select. And warning this is often like a big oh my gosh for people you know moment, when they actually hear this for the first time because they realize how their work is being presented to folk who use screen readers. Find a pdf from your college or university you know that they sent to you or that they posted up on a website somewhere and try it. Like try it, just try it, try it, do the voice over and let me know what you hear. I think it would be an interesting thing for you to do.
12:53 So remember that this is not a comprehensive list of things, everything you should think about, but what I’ve noted here, these six things and some considerations about pdfs should really get you well on your way to creating more accessible Word documents.
13:10 So that’s it, that’s episode 6 of Accessagogy with an overview of things to think about when you create accessible Word documents.
13:18 Remember again that this is not a comprehensive list, it’s just things to get you started. Remember as well that I also want this to be a space where you can ask questions and share concepts that you would like me to discuss. So if there’s anything that I mentioned here about documents that you would like me to clarify or more resources that you need, please ask.
13:40 As well if you have any ideas or aspects of your pedagogy that you would like me to address in this podcast, please feel free to send me an email at Accessagogy so that’s acc e ss a gogy at gmail dot com. I will try to include as many suggestions as possible in the podcast because ultimately this podcast is for you. So that’s it, that’s episode 6 of Accessagogy, thanks so much for following along and asking how can I make my space more accessible today? Have a great week!