Using the principles of Universal Design and best practices allows for the creation of content that is simple and intuitive for all users, flexible to accommodate assistive technology and provides accessible information.

Best Practices for All Documents

The following best practices can be applied to many different kinds of content and helps to create simple, structured documents that are easy to follow for all users.

Font Style and Size

  • Fonts: Simple, standard fonts such as Arial and Verdana are recommended for their readability and availability.
  • Font Size: 12 points or larger is recommended for readability.


  • Good contrast is necessary for users with low-vision and color-blindness to view content clearly.
  • Use bold text or styles in place of color for emphasis so that it is “visible” to screen readers, which do not differentiate between different colors of text.

Alternative Text and Captions

  • Alternative text and captions allow users with screen readers to “read” the content of images, graphics and tables.
  • When using images, graphics and tables, be sure they provide meaningful context and not just visual interest to your document.
  • When creating alternative text, try to keep it simple (like a tweet) by asking yourself:
    • Why is this image used?
    • What message is it conveying?
  • It is not necessary to include “Photo/Image of…” in the alternative text since screen readers with discern it is an image.
  • In most software, right clicking an image will bring up the option to add Alt Text or the option will be given when originally embedding the image.
  • Screen readers work better with images formatted to display in-line with text rather than wrapping, or floating text around the image.

Video Content

Headings (Built-in Formatting Styles)

Headings allow for navigation of documents, the creation of a Table of Contents, and allow users to jump to individual headings (sections). They also provide a structure to the document that improves the accessibility for all users while creating a more visual style to the document.

Heading order is vital and should be sequential and relational meaning that it operates in a hierarchical manner. Headings allow content to be relatable within sections and sub-sections making it discernible to those using screen readers.

  • Heading 1 is usually a page title or a main content heading. It is the most important heading, and generally there is just one.
  • Heading 2 is usually a major section heading.
  • Heading 3 is usually a sub-section of Heading 2.
  • Heading 4 is usually a sub-section of Heading 3, and so on, ending with Heading 6.
  • Sequential headings should never be more than one level apart from one another: Heading 2 could be followed by Heading 1 or 3 but not Heading 4


To provide structure and readability by screen readers, use bulleted or numbered lists from the editing toolbar. This way these lists will be automatically ordered rather than through a manual means. Screen readers will recognize the list and present it that way to the user. This also creates a document that is more clearly structured for all users.


To provide structure and readability by screen readers, use columns from the editing toolbar and not using tabs or spaces. Be sure to allow for adequate spacing between columns to allow for easier viewing for those with vision problems.


When creating links, hyperlink action-oriented text to provide a meaningful description of where the link is directing the user.

For example:


Tables should be used to convey tabular data and should never be used for page layout. The following are good practices when creating tables so they are easy to read by all users, including those with screen readers:

  • Label each column with a header.
  • Use only one header row.
  • Never merge or split cells.
  • Try not to leave cells, rows or columns blank.

Word Documents

  • To allow for easy navigation, especially of longer documents, you can create a table of contents from the headings. This allows all users to jump to specific sections of the content.
  • Keeping the layout simple and adding structure with headings creates easy-to-read and navigable documents.
  • When possible, use graphics or images that add meaningful content to the document and not just visual interest. Be sure to include alt text or descriptions of the content of the graphic or image for screen reader users.
  • Use “Outside Borders” as a way to separate and highlight text rather than using text boxes. Text boxes “float” on a document and are difficult to read by a screen reader.
  • Most versions of Word have an “Accessibility Checker” that can test a document for accessibility.


  • Pre-defined slide layouts allow for greater ease of use for screen reader users.
  • Like in Word, text boxes create issues for screen readers and should be avoided.


  • Using Excel’s native formatting techniques allows for simple, readable documents.
  • Simple formatting will allow for better use by screen readers such as using row and column headers that are clear and self-explanatory.
  • Create regions in Excel to provide a description of the region. Creating these regions gives the content some context to those using screen readers.
  • Regions can be used to create documents that are easy to navigate by keyboard or screen reader.


  • Structuring content clearly with consistent labeling creates easy-to-navigate, intuitive content.
  • Predictable navigation such as organizing content in folders or using topic blocks helps those using keyboard commands or screen readers to navigate the course more effectively.
  • Time limits for completing tasks such as quizzes can be customized based on user needs and accommodations.
  • Setting documents to force download allows for greater ease-of-use for those with screen readers.
  • Set internal course links to open in the same window to allow for the use of the “back” button. Open external course links in a new window. This allows for greater ease-of-use by screen readers and those navigating with keyboards.
  • Make sure scanned documents are accessible to screen readers by scanning pages in their entirety, only saving one page of material per file and aligning each page so the scanned item is straight.

WordPress and Web Design

  • Use standard page templates.
  • Skip-links allow screen readers to skip reading things like headers and menu items when a new page is opened.
  • When possible, pages should be navigable by a keyboard.
  • Animated content is difficult for screen readers to interpret and should be avoided.
  • Use accessible themes such Twenty Fourteen and Twenty Thirteen.
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