What is an accessible document?

An accessible document is a document that can be read and understood by as wide an audience as possible including, for example, people with disabilities and low literacy levels. The document must also work well with assistive technology such as screen readers.

It is important to create documents that are accessible because some people may otherwise miss important information.

To create an accessible document, apply the key principles below relating to language, headings, font, images, colour, tables and text boxes.

As a general rule, you need to first create an accessible source document before creating an accessible PDF. Making a PDF accessible without an accessible source document can be difficult and time-consuming.

If you are using Microsoft Word to create your source document, use the in built accessibility checker if available, before saving the Word document as a PDF. Some PDF conversion software also offer tools to check accessibility.

For more information on how to prepare an accessible document - see the Tasmanian Government Communications web page on Accessibility (external link).

Plain language

  • It is good practice to write in plain language with short, simple sentences.
  • Avoid jargon and abbreviations where possible.

Heading styles

  • Create headings using a proper heading structure or heading styles as these assist screen reader users to navigate a document.
  • Avoid simply enlarging text as this provides no semantic assistance.
  • If using colour, ensure there is sufficient colour contrast between the text and background to assist people with colour blindness.

Standard font

  • Use standard font types to ensure textual information is displayed as intended.
  • Arial and Calibri are recommended as these standard sans serif fonts provide optimal visibility on screen and print.
  • Standard serif fonts such as Times New Roman and Garamond are also acceptable.
  • Non-standard fonts are automatically substituted by PDF viewing software if the non-standard font is unavailable on another person's computer, which can affect the information conveyed by the document.

Image descriptions

  • All images need alternative text descriptions to provide information and meaning about the image for people with visual impairment using screen readers.
  • If a document includes a decorative image that has no information value, the alternative text description should state the image is for decorative purposes only.
  • Background images should be avoided.

Use of colour

  • Do not rely on colour to convey information as this is problematic for people with colour blindness or vision impairment. Colour also varies from monitor to monitor, which can affect the information conveyed by the document.
  • If colour is required to convey information, provide supplemental information for people with colour blindness or vision impairment.
  • Background colours should be avoided.

Use of tables

  • Tables should only be used to present data.
  • Tables should not be used for formatting or layout.
  • Tables require headings to identify the data in the table as these are essential for users of screen readers to navigate and understand the data.

Use of text boxes

  • Avoid using text boxes or inserts which may confuse the reading order of a document for those relying on screen readers.
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