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Module 2: Accessible Documents

Photo of students looking at a computer screen together

About This Module

The AEM Center offers this module as a part of an online learning series. Each module is self-paced and self-directed with technical assistance available from AEM Center staff.

Technical Assistance

Contact AEM Center staff through email or Twitter at anytime:

Luis Perez, Technical Assistance Specialist

Cynthia Curry, Director


The AEM Center is only providing the content for these modules. The listed activities are suggested to encourage reflection as you interact with the content.  If you are taking this module for credit, you may be required to submit assignments to your credit provider.  The AEM Center itself will not be collecting assignments for these modules. If your district, state, or other agency is offering credit, please follow instructions provided to you for submitting evidence of participation directly to that agency.

All of the modules in the AEM series are pre-approved for the IAAP Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC) credential. If you currently hold IAAP Certification, you can submit completed activities for CAECs through the International Association of Accessibility Professionals.

Module Introduction

Start by watching a 1-hour webinar recording. The webinar will introduce some of the skills you will learn in this module, including how to:

  • Add alternative text to images and other visuals to make them accessible to screen reader users
  • Use headings, unique slide titles and descriptive hyperlinks to ensure documents are easy to navigate
  • Check for sufficient color contrast in order to make sure the content can be  viewed in a variety of settings 
  • Perform an accessibility check to confirm that your documents follow best practices

Webinar Resources

After watching the webinar, choose a level of mastery based on your goals for this module: 

Entry Level

Time Commitment: 1 hour

Goal: Be able to explain the importance of accessible documents to a colleague.



Select a Microsoft Word document or a PowerPoint presentation that you currently use in your classroom and perform an accessibility check to establish a baseline for the work you will do in the rest of this module. In Microsoft Office 2016, the Accessibility Checker is found in the Review tab of the Ribbon.

Once you have performed your check, take a few minutes to review the tips for remediation the checker provides and make a note of any questions you would like us to address during our virtual office hours. 

If you are following along with Google Docs or Slides, install the free Grackle add-ons to perform a similar check. 

Build Level

Time Commitment: 2 hours

Goal: Apply accessibility best practices when creating a document.


If you are working with a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation, also review the following:


Download the provided Microsoft Word or Google Docs document  and apply the techniques discussed in this module to improve the heading structure, include descriptive hyperlinks that make sense out of context, and add alternative text to the images. When you are done, use the "after" version of the document to check your work.

To explore similar concepts with a presentation, download the provided Microsoft PowerPoint files (or the Google Slides practice document) and apply the techniques discussed in this module to create unique slide titles (similar to headings), set a proper reading order, include descriptive hyperlinks, and add alternative text to images. When you are done,  use the "after" version of the PowerPoint presentation to check your work.

After practicing with the provided documents, perform similar corrections on your own document that you selected for the Entry activity.

Proficient Level

Time Commitment: 3 hours

Goal: Create a document that can pass an accessibility check, demonstrating proficiency with accessibility best practices.



Continue working with your own document or presentaton from the Build level by completing the following accessibility checks:

  • Check the colors for the headings and text in your document or presentation using the Color Contrast Analyzer from the Paciello Group (available for Mac/Windows). Select different color values until the check passes at level AA for regular text. In Microsoft Word, you can use the Styles listed in the Home tab of the Ribbon to customize each heading and text style.  
  • Run the Microsoft Word Accessibility Checker on your document or presentation- note items that need to be fixed and re-run the check after correcting the identified accessibility issues. Remember that the Accessibility Checker is found in the Review tab of the Ribbon. 
  • For Google Docs and Slides, use the free Grackle add-on to perform a similar check. 

Next, select a different document used in your school or district and perform a similar accessibility check, then make the necessary corrections to make it more accessible. If you know the person who created the document, share your findings with that person along with some tips for addressing the identified accessibility issues. 

Optional: Once you have created an accessible source document in Microsoft Word, you can use the free WordToEPUB plugin from the DAISY Consortium (Windows-only at this time) to convert it into an accessible EPUB document. You can learn more about EPUB and its many benefits for accessibility by visiting Getting Started with EPUB.

You should be able to open your new EPUB document in a number of reading apps that support this format:

These apps support a number of features for learners to custmize their reading experience: text resizing, font selection, different background colors and more (visit Personalizing the Reading Experience for more information on these features).  

The free ACE by DAISY app (available for Mac and Windows) can be used to check the accessibility of your exported EPUB document. Just like the Microsoft Office Accessibility Checker, it will not only check your document for accessibility issues, it will also provide helpful guidance on how to address the issues it finds.

Note: If you are taking this module for credit, follow the directions in your introductory email to post your documents for this activity.  

Accessible Educational Materials (AEM)

Print- and technology-based educational materials designed to be usable across the widest range of individual variability.

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Access for all people, including people with disabilities, to web environments.

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Alt Tag (alternative text)

Brief description of a single image designed to be read by a screenreader as an alternative to the image.

View in glossary


Distribution and interchange format standard for digital publications and documents.

View in glossary

Questions from Webinar

How do I show a list of the headings to get a sense how someone with a screen reader navigates long documents?

The Navigation Pane displays a list of the headings that have been added to a document. To open the Navigation Pane, choose the View tab in the Ribbon and make sure Navigation Pane is selected. You will see a list of any headings you have added to your document in the Headings pane (Windows) or the Document Map (Mac). Selecting a heading in the Navigation Pane will scroll to that location in the document. This mimics the way screen reader users can press a keyboard shortcut to open a list of headings in order to navigate around a long document. 

Is it ok to enter a Space for the alternative text for an image that is decorative and should be skipped by screen readers?

Entering Space for the alternative text has been a workaround to account for the fact that Microsoft applications did not have a way to indicate that an image was decorative and should be skipped by a screen reader. Fortunately, in Office 365, Microsoft has added the ability to check a box to indicate an image is used for decoration only and should be skipped. For older versions of Microsoft Word, the use of a Space character to indicate an image is used for decoration could be confusing. Does it mean the image is active and the user should press the space bar? A much better approach, as recommended by accessibility expert David Berman, is to use the word "decorative" for the alternative text when the image is decorative. The word is short and should not slow down screen reader users that much. It is also much clearer than just using Space.