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Tips for Creating Accessible Online Documents

When a document you created is added into Blackboard or into a web page, that document must be accessible to people with disabilities. There are simple techniques you can use to improve the accessibility of your documents as you create them. This resource will provide you with tips and resources so you can learn to use these techniques.

This guide offers tips for Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and PDF documents.


Microsoft Word

Use these best practices to greatly improve the accessibility of Word documents for individuals with disabilities. Another benefit is that accessibility improvements made in the Word document will remain when converted to PDF or HTML.

Use Word 2010 Accessibility Checker

Word 2010 has a built-in tool that checks your document for accessibility problems. The Accessibility Checker makes it much easier to identify and repair accessibility issues. To use the tool, select File > Info > Check for Issues > Check Accessibility.


Use built-in Styles to identify Heading 1, Heading 2, etc. This provides structure that is used to navigate through the document when using assistive technology.


Use built-in features for creating bulleted and numbered lists. This provides navigational structure that is important to those using assistive technology.


Add alt text to images.  (In Office 2010 and 2011 use Description field, not Title field. See Figure 1.)

Screenshot from Microsoft Word

Data Tables

Explicitly identify the header row. Go to Table Properties > Row tab > select the checkbox “Repeat as header row at the top of each page”. (See Figure 2.) This provides structure for navigating the table.

Screenshot from Microsoft Word

Charts and Graphs

These often require longer text descriptions than simple images. Adding alt text to them in Word is not turned on by default.

Convert Word to PDF

To export from Word to tagged PDF, follow these steps:

  • In Word 2010 (Windows), select “Save as PDF”. (NOTE: Word 2011 for Mac does not produce a tagged PDF, so the PDF is not accessible.)
  • In Word 2003 and 2007 (Windows), use the Adobe PDFMaker Plugin (found in the Adobe menu or toolbar, if available. It ships with Adobe Acrobat).
  • When saving, select Options and be sure that “Document structure tags for accessibility” is checked. (NOTE: This is checked by default, but will be unchecked if you select “Minimize size” and will need to be re-checked.)
  • Convert Word to PDF

Convert Word to HTML

To export from Word to HTML, follow these steps:

  • In Word 2007 and 2010 (Windows), select “Save as Web Page, Filtered”. The resulting file will retain the accessible features entered into the Word document except for data tables. Convert Word to HTML
  • Cautions on Converting Word to HTML: From the Penn State site: “Although Microsoft products include a function to convert content to HTML, the implementation is not regarded as standards-compliant.” Cautions on Converting Word to HTML
  • One option: Free Tool Converts Word to HTML From their site: “Word to clean HTML is a free converter tool for documents produced by Microsoft Word and similar office software. Word to clean HTML strips out invalid or proprietary tags, leaving clean HTML behind for use in web pages and ebooks.”


Microsoft PowerPoint

When you create a presentation for students to view online, whether you plan to post a PowerPoint file (.PPT or .PPTX) or another format such as PDF, there are steps you can take to make your PowerPoint file as accessible as possible. Three important ones:

  • Use PowerPoint 2010 Accessibility Checker. PowerPoint 2010 has a built-in tool that checks your document for accessibility problems. The Accessibility Checker makes it much easier to identify and repair accessibility issues. To use the tool, select File > Info > Check for Issues > Check Accessibility.
  • Use built-in slide layout templates. Using them correctly will ensure that the resulting file will have proper structure for headings and lists, correct reading order, etc.
  • Include alt text for images unless they are decorative.


Microsoft Excel

These files are generally accessible. Use the following best practices to improve the accessibility of Excel files for individuals with disabilities.



Accessibility can be added to existing PDF documents in Adobe Acrobat Pro. However, whenever possible, it is best to add accessibility within the original source document, such as a Word file. That way, if the document must be revised later, the accessibility improvements remain. That is not the case if you make accessibility changes only in the PDF.



The Web Accessibility Committee expresses our gratitude to these authors whose work has been referenced in this document:


Additional Resources

Word and PowerPoint

PDF documents

  • Purdue University’s Office of the Vice President for Ethics and Compliance has purchased several books written by Karen McCall, an expert in creating accessible PDFs, in order to assist the University community in creating such documents.  These resource books, listed below, are available for a one-week check out at the Hicks Undergraduate Library reference collection area:
    • Accessible and Usable PDF Documents: Techniques for Document Authors, Third Edition
    • Logical Document Structure Handbook: Microsoft Word 2010
    • Logical Document Structure Handbook: Microsoft Word 2007
    • Document Structure Handbook: PowerPoint 2010
    • Document Structure Handbook: PowerPoint 2007

    Her books on document structure explain why, and how, to include structure in files that will be converted to PDF documents. Structure is used by persons with disabilities to navigate documents.

    To find any of these books, library staff suggest searching under the author name, Karen McCall. 

  • To purchase any of these books or to view other PDF resources, visit Karen McCall’s web site.


Prepared by

Purdue University Web Accessibility Committee