Document Accessibility for the Web

What is document accessibility?

The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require that all content, including documents, posted on University of Mississippi websites must be accessible, but what does that mean? Providing accessible content allows all users to perceive, operate, and understand what is being presented and they should be able to do this on any device they chose to use. Users with vision or motor disabilities rely on assistive technologies to fully navigate and understand a webpage, so making a document accessible adds in the underlying data to make this possible.

Common Tools

Check out the the checklists, resources, and tutorials that are available for common document creation products at UM:

Making smart document accessibility choices

You can begin creating “born accessible” documents using the accessible design principles below no matter the document type you choose. Most commonly,  “born accessible” refers to Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, or HTML documents.

  • Providing document structure through the use of proper headings and named hyperlinks that allow all users to quickly skim through content to find relevant or important content. Assistive technology does this for blind, low vision, or users with certain motor disabilities. A structured page is also very important for users with reading or attention disabilities.
  • When using images, graphics, or charts, providing alternative text that describes the meaning of the image for those who cannot see the image is imperative. It is also helpful for those who use text-only browsers.
  • Considering the use of color by avoiding color as the only means of conveying information or emphasis. Color contrast is also important part of accessibility.
  • Using standard fonts that are legible and appropriately sized, while limiting the use of decorative and cursive fonts.

There are three main types of documents that are posted on the web. The accessibility features and benefits for each type are reviewed below. If you need help choosing the most accessible type of document for your content, consult our Accessible Document Decision Tree.


HTML is considered the gold standard of accessibility and it is also easy to create, edit, and maintain! A new document can be created directly in HTML even with little to no knowledge of this mark-up language by using the WYSIWYG built into our content management system (WordPress).

WYSIWYG, pronounced [WIZ] + [EE] + [WIG], stands for What You See Is What You Get. Information is typed into a text box and formatted using the controls provided. A WYSIWYG provides heading levels, semantic bullet and number lists, formatting styles, and the ability to add images with alternative text.

Even if you are adapting a document into HTML, it is often as easy as copying and pasting the content and then formatting with accessibility in mind.

Word Processor Formats

In the past, posting a digital document as a .doc or .docx was often avoided because there was a time when we couldn’t be certain that everyone had the software necessary to open these specific file types. Now, with the advent of Microsoft Word Viewer and the development of the Microsoft Suite for Apple operating systems, .doc and .docx files can be shared without any fear of compatibility. Remember, this issue is one of the origins of the popularity of the PDF!

There are many reasons that posting a processor format is recommended over posting a PDF:

  • Microsoft Word has a built in accessibility checker
  • Documents that are “born” accessible maintain all of their accessibility features when posted in their original format
  • Word documents can be adjusted by the user to address issues with font size, readability, and color.
  • If security is a concern, Microsoft has built in features that restrict editing if utilized.

PDF (Portable Document Format) Files

Although PDF files are not favored for accessibility, we understand that sometimes they are necessary when the layout of the document is critical to preserve meaning or printing is a critical component of the process that the document is a part of.

If an inaccessible document is converted to PDF, the only means of making it accessible is by using Adobe Acrobat Pro/DC, using a software specifically created for the purpose of remediating PDFs for accessibility, or by sending the document to a third-party remediation company.

Self-Serve Equidox Software and Training (Free for UM Faculty and Staff)

Due to the complexity and skill level required to use Acrobat for remediation, the University of Mississippi has chosen to make a remediation software called Equidox available. The goal of using this software over Acrobat is to reduce the time and knowledge required to produce accessible PDFs, however there is still a time investment required.  Access to the software and training is available though UM Digital Accessibility Solutions.