How to make accessible documents

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Document Accessibility

Document accessibility applies to all documents, whether they are posted to a website, a file sharing application, or distributed through email. In general, accessible documents have structural formatting in the form of headings, tables, and lists that allow users to navigate the document. They use descriptive text that describe photos, charts, and graphs to users. When your documents are accessible, everyone can access them, regardless of physical or cognitive abilities.

As a state university, WSU is required to comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act as well as several Minnesota State Statutes. The current minimum accessibility standards for electronic files and digital content are WCAG 2.0 Level A & AA.

Files for the WSU Website

Documents uploaded to the WSU website will be PDF documents, unless the Web Team determines an exception is appropriate. Files will not be uploaded without proof that the file passes the Adobe Accessibility Full Check.

It is best to start with a fully accessible Word document. This is an important step in translating accurate accessibility tags and structures from your document to the PDF file.

We recommend using Adobe Acrobat DC. Just using the Save As or print to PDF option in Word may not create reliably accessible PDF files. Follow these instructions for installing Adobe Acrobat.

When you install Adobe Acrobat DC, an “Acrobat” tab (Fig 1) will be added to the Microsoft Word Ribbon.

Select “Create PDF” to make a copy of the document as a PDF.

Microsoft Word Documents

Common accessibility checks for Word documents:

  • Use heading and paragraph styles in your document
  • Add document properties for title, subject and author
  • All photos, charts and graphics should have alt text descriptions added to them
  • Hyperlinks should contain meaningful text and not just “click here”

Accessibility Checker Cannot Check"

  • Tables that are too complex
  • Image color and contrast or indications based on color choice
  • Missing document properties
  • Correct language settings
  • Proper list formatting

Run the Accessibility Checker

  • On the ribbon, select the Review tab (Fig 2). 
  • Select Check Accessibility
  • Review your results. You will see a list of errors, warnings, and tips with how-to-fix recommendations for each.

Fix Errors with Recommended Actions

We recommend that you use the help tips that are incorporated within the Accessibility Checker to fix any errors.

Under Inspection Results in the right column (Fig 3). You can apply a one-click fix by selecting an action, or select the arrow button next to an action for more options. Below is an example of a fix:

Adobe PDFs

Common Accessibility Checks for PDFs

  • Run Autotag Document
  • Change the Title, Subject and add keywords: File > Properties > Description
  • Run Accessibility Check (see more below)
  • Do not use scanned text in documents, convert to true text
  • Use color careful and use texture when possible in graphs
  • Check the reading order to ensure tags are in correct order

Accessibility Checker

The Full Check tool verifies whether the document conforms to accessibility standards, such as PDF/UA and WCAG 2.0. Instructions for installing Adobe Acrobat

  • Choose "Tools" Tab

Find Accessibility under Protect & Standardize section

  • Open
  • Select Autotag Document to verify it has been tagged
  • Select Accessibility Check
  • Select Attach report to document if you plan to send this document to MarCom to be posted on the WSU website.
  • Select Start Checking
 Note:  When you have a large document, it is better to check one page at a time.  You can select a page range to do so.

Accessibility Checker Results Panel

In the left column the results of the checker appears.

Expand the sections where “issues” were found.

The report displays one of the following statuses for each rule check:

  • Passed: The item is accessible
  • Skipped By User: Rule was not checked because it wasn’t selected in the Accessibility Checker Options dialog box.
  • Needs Manual Check: The Full Check/Accessibility Check feature couldn’t check the item automatically. Verify the item manually.
  • Failed: The item didn’t pass the accessibility check.

The Failed and Needs Manual Check will need to be worked with.

If it has Failed, do a right-click on the issue and select an option:

  • Fix (Have Adobe try and fix it automatically)
  • Skip Rule (If you determine that this is not necessary)
  • Explain (To get more detail about the issue and how to fix)

If it needs a Manual check, do a right-click on the issues to find the options:

  • Pass (Once you have manually checked, select Pass)
  • Fail
  • Skip Rule (If you determine this rule is not needed)
  • Explain (To get more detail about the issue and how to fix)

Example: Logical Reading Order requires a manual check. Make sure your document has proper structure, such as using headings, paragraphs, list items, etc. and that the tags follow the correct reading order. Use the “Read Aloud” feature found in the Ribbon menu to confirm the correct document reading order. Once checked, change status to Pass.

Additional Resources to learn how to make PDFs accessible

Need Help?

This summer we will be helping departments remediate their documents they have on the WSU website. Peggy Welshons from TLT and Elizabeth Berres from Marcom will be available each Thursday in this Zoom (enter zoom room details here) to help with this process. You can also email us at or

Quick Guides for Office 365 Documents

Microsoft Word

  • Use heading styles
  • Use built-in formats for bullet lists, columns, and tables
  • Avoid floating text boxes

Run the Microsoft Word Accessibility Checker to guide you through making it accessible.

Microsoft Excel

  • Specify column headers
  • DO NOT use blank cells for formatting or stylistic appearance

Run the Microsoft Excel Accessibility Checker. It will guide you through making the spreadsheet accessible.

Microsoft Powerpoint

  • Use built-in slide layouts
  • Add alternative text for images
  • DO NOT save as a Web Page

Run the Microsoft Accessibility Checker. It will guide you through making slides accessible. WebAIM provides a tutorial on creating accessible PowerPoint presentation