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Accessible Word documents

What’s different about an accessible Word document?

To allow a blind reader or a reader with a vision impairment to navigate through a Word document using their computer screen reader, we:

  • apply Word ‘styles’ to all elements of the document

  • write ‘alternative text’ for images and figures

  • optimise layout.

To help readers with a vision impairment who are not using a computer screen reader, we also use the Word styles and manipulate fonts, colours, images and layout to maximise readability.


What is alternative text?

Alternative text (or 'alt text') is written for all images and allows the screen reader to describe the image in a way that is meaningful to the reader. This hidden piece of text is supporting information that is additional to the visual elements.


The purpose of alt text is for a computer screen reader (or other assistive technology) to explain what a sighted person would gain from looking at the image. An example of alt text might be: 'The graph shows that chocolate cake was more popular than lemon cake for birthdays in Sydney, June to December 2017'.

Some complex graphs, large tables and flow charts may need to be changed to allow the addition of meaningful alt text, and appendices are sometimes added to allow detail to be retained. To meet WCAG 2.0 AA requirements, some document elements may need to be rewritten or redrawn, so the accessible version of the Word document can sometimes look a bit different from the original. However, we try to maintain the integrity of the original design when it does not reduce readability.

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