It’s no secret that I love Microsoft products both inside and outside the classroom- I’m even a Microsoft Office Master Specialist! Over the years, I have learned a lot about how to make accessible documents in Word, and today will be sharing what I have learned. For more on my accommodations for print materials in the classroom, read this.
Use sans-serif fonts when creating documents. This means ditching Times New Roman and similar fonts, and choosing to use Arial or other clear to read fonts for assignments. For students who have trouble distinguishing letters, Comic Sans is also a great choice, because each letter looks different and is weighted. For another alternative, try OpenDyslexic.
Should I use bold text?
Every student is different, but personally I like having bold Arial font for my assignments, as I find it easy to read. Since I use a similar bold font on my various electronics, I just find it easier for print materials to also use bold font. Some readers may not like it because the letters can appear to run into each other.
I consider large print to be size 22 pt font, which is my preferred font size. For my math classes, I request size 36 font so that I can distinguish numbers and symbols easily. For scale, the average class assignment without accessibility settings is size 10 font.
Add extra space for writing
When enlarging text, make sure to leave space for students to write as well. No one likes suddenly running out of room because the text took up so much room on the page. As for line spacing, I use single spacing without any issues for my assignments.
I tint the backgrounds of my documents a light blue or light yellow color for improved readability. If I’m printing the document, I’ll change the background to white and print on colored paper (read more about choosing a printer here). For more on colored backgrounds and the readability of text (and a funny story about colorblindness), read this.
When creating tables, make sure that words are not jumbled or cut off on the page. Normally, I request that each table column be displayed on one page, and then I lay out the pieces of paper next to each other to display the entire table. Try not to have words that extend onto another line, instead make them fit onto one line.
I request that pictures be enlarged at least 250%. For images that are of lower quality and don’t enlarge well, or that have poor contrast, I receive them digitally in a separate folder. Read more about high resolution images here.
Image descriptions are extremely helpful for when readers can’t tell the difference between a picture of George Washington and a picture of the Washington Monument, whether it’s because of vision impairment or just poor quality images. Alt text is a hidden image attribute used by screen readers to describe images to the totally blind. Here is how I would describe images of George Washington and the Washington Monument:
Image of George Washington- a painting of George Washington with a stern expression, with white curled hair and a blue coat.
Image of Washington Monument- The Washington Monument, a tall and white pointed structure that overlooks the National Mall, a reflection pool.
Single side pages
When printing items, print them on single sided paper, not on double sided. This way, markers or pens don’t bleed through and obstruct the view of the text on the other side.
One of the great features in Microsoft Word is the accessibility checker, which helps document creators make their documents accessible to users quickly, usually in two minutes or less. The accessibility checker checks for alt text, blank rows, spacing, and other text attributes like size and color. There are also many tips on creating the best documents possible for people with disabilities.
I love living in a time period where accessible materials can be created so quickly and easily. I am grateful for all of the tools that are available to me, and look forward to new accessibility features in the future.