Documents and forms
Creating accessible documents and forms is much easier when you prioritise accessibility practices from the beginning. This page lays the groundwork for creating accessible Microsoft Word documents, forms, and PDFs.
NSW Government prefers HTML content
The NSW Government prioritises HTML content and recommends publishing content under four pages as HTML by default, without any alternative format. Whenever possible, efforts should be made to provide HTML format instead of PDF or Word documents.
According to the Australian Government Style Manual, PDFs should only be created if there are specific needs for this format, as determined by your research.
Microsoft Word documents
To ensure consistency across communications, NSW government departments, agencies, and entities are required to adhere to established branding guidelines.
Format lists correctly by selecting bullet points or numbered list options from the ribbon. Do not use punctuation as markers for lists since screen readers will not recognise them as being in list format.
All images in your documents should have alternative text. If the image is not important or relevant, mark it as decorative.
- For Mac users, click on "Edit Alternative Text" to add alternative text to an image. To add alternative text to an image in Microsoft Word, right-click on the image.
- For PC users, click ‘Format Picture’ then ‘Layout and Properties’ and then ‘Add Alternative Text’.
It is important to have clear and descriptive link text. By doing so, screen readers can gather a list of hyperlinks from the page for them to read. Avoid link text descriptions, such as ‘Click Here’ and ‘Read More’. These kinds of link descriptions can be confusing when a screen reader reads them out of context.
To create a descriptive link, type the text you want to link, then right-click and select ‘Link’. Alternatively, highlight the text and use a shortcut to add a link (Command + K on Mac or Ctrl + K on PC).
Use simple pre-set colours in your document, especially if it's mostly text (e.g., black text on a white background). Follow these guidelines for accessibility if you need different colours throughout the document.
Colour plays an important role in creating a consistent and strong visual identity for NSW Government digital products and services. For guidance on the appropriate use of colours, including accessibility requirements, check out the NSW Branding guidelines.
Tables should only be used for presenting data, not for changing aesthetic layouts. You can improve the readability of a data table by using these settings:
- Display data in tables with column headings.
- Use the caption tool to title your table. Insert a caption by clicking on the Reference tab. Select Table from the Label dropdown menu, then enter your title in the Caption text box.
- You can identify the header row by selecting it, right-clicking, and selecting Table properties. Click 'Repeat as header row at top of each page'.
- You must ensure that your table fits within the document's page size. Choose Table properties by right clicking the whole table. Click OK after unchecking 'Allow rows to break across pages' in the Row tab.
- For accessibility purposes, summarise content with an alt tag description. Select Table properties > Alt text > type description in text box by right-clicking on the table.
The accessibility checker scans your document, identifies issues, and provides information on how to fix them.
- To use the accessibility checker, go to the Review tab and click on Check Accessibility.
- Follow the instructions given by Word to resolve any problems.
Remember that the accessibility checker is an automated tool, which may not always offer suitable recommendations for your specific circumstances. Therefore, exercise your own judgement.
'[Inaccessible documents are like] death by a thousand paper cuts.'
— Accessibility NSW research participant
Creating accessible forms is crucial to ensuring everyone can access and use them. Follow these steps to create inclusive and accessible forms.
Label form fields correctly
When designing your form, ensure that you use clear and concise labels for each field. This will help users to understand the purpose of each field and provide the correct information. Avoid using vague or ambiguous terms that may cause confusion and try to keep your labels short and straightforward.
To ensure that all users have access to the same information, it is essential to label form fields correctly by describing the role of each field on the form. While there are various techniques available to achieve this, it is recommended to use the label element, which is well-supported by assistive technologies. You can associate a label element and a form control with each other either explicitly or implicitly.
There are two ways to use the label element. One is by linking the label and the form field through a matching ID attribute. The other is by surrounding the form field with the label element.
Ensure that your form is keyboard accessible
Many people with disabilities rely on keyboards to navigate websites and fill in forms. Therefore, it's essential to ensure that your form is keyboard accessible. Make sure that users can navigate through the form using the 'Tab’ key, and that they can easily select and submit their responses without using a mouse.
Use colour appropriately
Avoid using colour alone to convey meaning in your form, as this can be a problem for people with colour blindness. Instead, use a combination of colour and text to provide meaning. Ensure that there is enough contrast between the text and background colour to make it easy to read.
Divide long forms into smaller sections
Dividing long forms into smaller sections can reduce stress for users, particularly those with AD/HD. Long forms increase bounce rates and harm user engagement. Smaller sections make the information more manageable by presenting it in chunks that are less overwhelming and easier to understand.
For multi-step forms, apply these principles:
- repeat instructions on every page
- split the form into logical groups
- inform users of their progress.
Test your form with assistive technologies
It’s important to test your form with assistive technologies to ensure that it's accessible to everyone. Use screen readers, voice recognition software, and other assistive technologies to test your form and make sure that it's easy to use and understand.
Ensure clear feedback is provided to the user as to how to resolve the error, when errors occur when completing a form.
How to test:
- Submit a form or a transaction with mistakes in it.
- Check the feedback provided to the user clearly explains:
- where the errors are
- what the error is
- how to fix the error.
Example: Error identification
'A lot of people ask why, when they should be asking why not.'
— Accessibility NSW research participant
Creating accessible PDFs
In situations where PDF publishing is necessary, it is essential to ensure that the PDF is accessible and accompanied by an HTML equivalent or summary.
If a HTML equivalent is unavailable, contact details must be provided on both the web page and the accessible PDF to enable users to request an alternative accessible version. This is because not all versions of screen readers read PDFs in a consistent way, and PDFs currently lack accessibility support on mobile devices.
To create an accessible PDF, the simplest method is to ensure that your original document is accessible and then convert it to a PDF. Repairing an inaccessible PDF can be a time-consuming task. By implementing accessible formatting such as subheadings or alt text in the original document, those elements will be transferred to the new PDF document after conversion.
An accessible PDF must contain:
- Text that can be highlighted with a cursor. Scanned or image-only PDFs where text cannot be highlighted are not accessible.
- tags that enable people who use screen readers to navigate the document effectively. If the original document is already accessible, this tagging process is automatic, and there is no need to add any tags to the PDF.
How to export a PDF file
- You should first run the accessibility checker, if available, in the program you are using to create your document. Review the content to ensure that there are no inaccessible sections.
- The process for exporting accessible PDF files is similar across different programs and operating systems. To begin, click on ‘File’ in the top navigation bar of the program. If there is an option for ‘Save as Adobe PDF’ select it. Otherwise, click on ‘Save as’ and proceed to the next step.
- In the ‘Save as’ dialog box, choose ‘PDF’ from the file or document type dropdown menu. If you are using a Microsoft program, you will see a checkbox labelled ‘Best for electronic distribution and accessibility’. Check this box. Otherwise, move on to the next step.
- In the ‘Save as’ dialog box, select ‘Options’ and make sure the "Document structure tags for accessibility" checkbox is selected.
- Save your PDF.
Running an accessibility check
It's recommended to use the accessibility checker when:
- exporting to a PDF, to verify that tags are correctly transferred, such as ensuring alternative text for images and proper tagging of subheadings.
- Repairing an inaccessible PDF, such as when a PDF was created using the optimise for print’ option and tags need to be added.
Here's how to run the accessibility check in Adobe Acrobat:
- Go to Tools.
- Under Protect & Standardise, select Accessibility (you can also add the tool by selecting ‘Add’ in the drop-down under Accessibility, so it's available when you open any document in Adobe Acrobat).
- Choose Accessibility Check to generate an accessibility report.
- Address any issues identified in the report.
If you need any assistance or have any questions about the information on this page, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.