Accessible Documents Overview

About a quarter of U.S. adults have a disability. While not all of them impact how an individual interacts with digital documents, designing content to meet all possible needs can be beneficial to all users. A common example that illustrates this point is the "curb-cut effect". Originally created for people in wheelchairs, curb-cuts (dips at the edge of a sidewalk) also benefit people pushing strollers, skateboarders, people wheeling luggage, and others. The same principle applies to creating accessible documents! Whether you're creating or editing documents using Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Adobe, or another tool, the following general guidelines can help you make them accessible to all users.

General Guidelines


Documents should have headings that provide structure and help screen reader users navigate the document.

Most softwares support between six and nine heading levels (Heading 1 - Heading 9). Heading levels should not be skipped, meaning you should go from Heading 1 to Heading 2 to Heading 3, rather than from Heading 1 to Heading 3.

In other words, heading levels should be used as follows:

  • Heading 1: The document title or the main content heading. There should only be one Heading 1 per document.
  • Heading 2: A major section heading. 
  • Heading 3: A subsection of Heading 2. 
  • Heading 4: A subsection of Heading 3, and so on.


Any content in list form, such as bulleted or numbered lists, should be structured using the list formatting buttons on the software you are using. Never use dashes or typed-out numbers to “create your own” lists.

Meaningful Link Text

The text of a link should make sense out of context and clearly convey information about the link destination. See our page about link accessibility for more information.

Alt Text on Images

Alternative text (alt text) is a brief description of the content of an image. It should be added to all images to communicate to users who can’t see. You can read more about how to write effective alt text here.


If you include tables, identify column and row headers. This helps screen readers convey information in the correct order. To learn more about this, visit our accessible tables page.

Document-Specific Accessibility Tools

Check out these specific instructions for some of the most common document editing tools:

Most tools have a built-in accessibility checker that can alert you to common issues or necessary changes. You can also go through the document yourself using a screen reader like JAWS to check that it's accessible.