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Creating accessible content

This guide provides information on the new government accessibility regulations to make websites and online resources accessible to all. This guide will also explain how to appropriately:

  • format headings
  • format lists
  • name hyperlinks
  • use ALT text for images, video, audio and tables / graphs
  • format tables
  • export a Word document to be an accessible PDF
  • format PowerPoint presentations

Appropriately formatting and presenting content can greatly improve how accessible it is and is easy to do.

New government accessibility regulations
From the 23rd September 2019, all public sector bodies have to comply with new government regulations to make websites and online resources accessible to all.

This legislation mandates that:

  • Web pages and open online content must be accessible if they are published on or after 23 September 2018.
  • All intranet content (including the VLE) must be accessible if published on or after 23 September 2019.
  • Recorded video is exempt, if published before 23rd September 2020.
  • Live video is exempt altogether.
  • All existing websites must be accessible and have an accessibility statement by 23 September 2020.
  • All mobile apps must be accessible with accessibility statement by 23 June 2021.

Please see the EU directive for accessibility of public sector websites and mobile applications for further details.

What does this mean for us?
All HYMS staff must ensure that teaching, learning and assessment content made available to students (via Blackboard or any other platform) conforms to this new legislation. These EU standards are based on web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA, which state that:

  • text should be organised with headings
  • images / videos should have ALT text descriptions
  • users can engage with websites through use of keyboard only
  • websites should be designed to work with assistive technologies / other user tools
  • content should be easy to find and customisable to needs of end-user e.g. reflow; reformat / magnify

We are working closely with our partner universities to ensure we meet the key requirements of the legislation and to provide staff with further support and guidance in the creation of accessible content.

How to make content accessible

Appropriately formatting and styling content by following the guidance below will make content easier to read. It will make clear what information is intended to be read as a heading, table, graph, list, hyperlink, or what information an image or video is intending to convey.

It will also enable assistive technologies (such as screen readers) to read content correctly. Content will be easier to customise, reformat and magnify enabling users to access content in a format that meets their needs, learning styles and that’s compatible with their personal devices (mobile phones, tablets etc.)

A screen reader translates on-screen information into speech, which can be heard through earphones or speakers. Screen readers are also capable of providing information in Braille.

Format headings appropriately

Make sure headings are formatted / styled as headings (rather than just text in bold, underlined or in a bigger font).

Format text as a heading in a Word document

In a Word document you can format text as a heading from the home tab (also in Office 365 online).

  1. Highlight the text
  2. Select the home tabscreenshot of the Microsoft Word link to the home tool bar highlighted
  3. Choose a heading style from the styles options from the home tab screenshot of the Microsoft Word drop down list for heading styles

Further guidance regarding modifying Word styles

Format text as a heading in a Google document

Similarly to a Word document, in a Google document:

  1. Highlight the text
  2. Select normal text from the menu barscreenshot of Google tool bar and styles drop down list
  3. Select from a list of heading style options

Further guidance regarding modifying Google styles

Further good practice is to;

  • use bold to emphasis headings rather than underlining or using Italics
  • avoid colours that are distracting or clash
  • make text easier to read by using the font ‘sans serif’
  • make text easier to read by formatting the size to at least 12 points minimum

Fonts that are very elaborate can be difficult to read. Some of the most accessible and most widely available fonts are Arial, Calibri, Century Gothic, Helvetica,Tahoma and Verdana. All these fonts are ‘sans serif’ fonts.

Format lists appropriately

Lists should be formatted as proper bullet points or numbered lists. It is best not to manually create lists by entering characters such as hyphens instead of bullet points.

For manually entered hyphen characters, a screen reader would read ‘hyphen’ for each line, and each entry of ‘hyphen’ would need to be removed manually if someone wished to modify formatting.

It is best practice to make the text of a hyperlink descriptive. It should explain the website / content it’s linking to. A good example is  ‘Introduction to Medicine: Week One (Slides)’ instead of ‘slides’. It is also best to avoid using ‘here’ or ‘click here’. Such wording can be confusing for end users.  

Screen reader software can also read out every link on a page in order and wording such as ‘click here’ or ‘here’ is meaningless out of context. 

  1. Enter the hyperlink address in the text editor
  2. Highlight the text, right click on the mouse and choose link
  3. Enter the text for the link in the title fieldscreenshot of Blackboard fields to fill in for a hyperlink

For further guidance please see the help pages Blackboard editor – working with text and adding files, multimedia and weblinks and Staff guide to creating and managing Blackboard content.

These steps are similar in other online platforms and Word / Google documents.

Use ALT text for images, video, audio and tables / graphs

It is good practice to include ALT text as an alternative way to summarise information that images, video, audio and tables / graphs are intending to convey. Screen readers can also read ALT text.  

Add ALT text for an image in a Word document in Office 365
  1. Select the content
  2. Choose format from the menu bar
  3. Choose the ALT-Text iconscreenshot of Microsoft Word toolbar for format with ALT text icon highlighted
  4. Enter a brief title and description
Add ALT text for an image in Blackboard
  1. Upload an image to the text editor
  2. Enter the description in the ALT text field. There is no need to write ‘picture of…’ or ‘photograph of…’ etc.screenshot of the Blackboard ALT text field to fill in when adding a hyperlink
  3. Click submit 

For further guidance please see the help pages Blackboard editor – working with text and adding files, multimedia and weblinks and Staff guide to creating and managing Blackboard content.

This process for adding ALT text is similar in most online platforms.

Format tables

Tables should be used only when necessary. They can be difficult for screen readers to read and often don’t display correctly on mobile devices.

If you need to use a table it is best practice to;

  • present information to be read from left to right, top to bottom,
  • as with formatting headings above, appropriately identify headings and where appropriate use table headers (select make first row a header and / or make first column a header),
  • in Excel use table styles and select the format as table button.

Export a Word document to be an accessible PDF

If you have structured a Word document appropriately you can create an accessible PDF from your document with headings that link through the document and a bookmarks pane to aid navigation.

  1. Select to save as PDF 
  2. Select options
  3. Select create bookmarks using headings
  4. Check the tick box document structure tags for accessibility

Please also initially refer to the above guidance on correctly formatting Word documents. It is easier to format correctly the original Word document, rather than subsequently needing access to additional PDF editing software. It is also best practice to have the option of making available the original document in an accessible format if required, and only working from one version of content. PDFs can be useful in making information accessible without needing to download content. However it can also be good to include the original format of a document to allow for easier modification, navigation and magnifying of content. Microsoft Word documents can also be easier to view on mobile devices than PDFs. Also consider presenting information directly onto a web page.

Further guidance for creating accessible PDFs

Format PowerPoint presentations

Much of the guidance above can be applied to PowerPoint presentations. Further to the above:

  • Make sure slide contents can be read in the order that you intend and use built-in slide designs
  • Ensure that color is not the only means of conveying information
  • Use sufficient contrast for text and background colors
  • Give every slide a unique title
  • Use a larger font size (18pt or larger), sans serif fonts, and sufficient white space.

Further guidance on creating accessible PowerPoint presentations

A screen reader reads parts of a slide in the order they were added to the slide, which might be very different from the order in which things appear.

For teaching content delivered via PowerPoint presentations, please use the HYMS template. To ensure content is accessible, please be sure to enter text into the title text boxes on every slide. Click on the link above and enter your HYMS email account details to access the slides. From file choose to download a copy to save your own version on your desktop to edit. Please contact help@hyms.ac.uk if you do not have HYMS log in details and need to be sent the template directly.

Test your content

Try accessing your content via assistive technology, a mobile device or by checking it with an accessibility checker tool.

Microsoft Word accessibility tools and resources

Google documents accessibility tools and resources

Use browser extensions like Read Aloud

Adobe PDF also has a reader function (select view, then select Read Out Loud).

NVDA software is also available from the Software Centre on the York University desktop. NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) is a free, open-source, portable screen reader for Microsoft Windows. 

Further support and guidance

The University of York run a regular creating accessible documents workshop for staff. Please click on the following link for further information, and also for further information about digital accessibility at York; https://sites.google.com/york.ac.uk/uoyaccessibility/creating-accessible-documents.

JISC guidance on Web accessibility

Guidance on producing accessible PDF documents

e-accessibility project wiki (UoY login required)

If you have any questions regarding accessibility and any learning and teaching resources, please contact the Learning Enhancement and Support team:


01904 323838

Updated on 01/22/2021

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