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7 Tips for Improving the Accessibility of Google Docs Documents

Google Docs is a collaborative writing tool that allows multiple learners to review and edit a document that is stored in the cloud and can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection.

In order for every learner to be able to access the information in a Google Doc,  there are a few steps we can take to improve accessibility.

7 Tips for Improving the Accessibility of Google Docs Documents

Include Alternative Text for Images

Use Headings to Break Up Long Documents

Use Lists Correctly

Give Links Some Context

Make Links Human Friendly

Focus on Legibility

Add a Table of Contents for Long Documents

Watch It On TouchCast

Include Alternative Text for Images

Images can add visual appeal to a document, and they can help bring the content to life for those who have a preference for visual learning. However, not everyone reading a Google Doc has full use of his or her eyes. Some readers may have low vision, or they may be completely blind, in which case they may use a tool called a screen reader:  software that reads the text in a document aloud. Screen readers can only process text, and they will ignore any images that are embedded in a document if they don’t have a text alternative.

See it in action: Adding Alt Text to an Image

The image at the top of this post, when read with a screen reader, will read as "Google Docs logo." Note: the goal with alt text is not to describe the appearance of the image, but to relate what it represents.

Use Headings to Break Up Long Documents

Headings can break up long documents into smaller sections that are easier to process for some readers. A heading basically signals a break for the reader: it tells the reader that we are ready to transition to a different point or big idea. In this way, headings reveal how the information is organized to readers. Headings also provide additional navigation for readers who are blind, as they can use a shortcut in their screen readers to navigate to a specific section of the document.

Throughout this document, headings let you know what each section is about.

See it in action: Creating Proper Headings

Use Lists Correctly

Like headings, using the list tools to create bulleted and numbered lists ensures that screen readers can effectively read list items. Properly marked up lists have a number of benefits:

Give Links Some Context

With most screen readers, it is possible to use a keyboard shortcut or a special gesture to access a list of all the links on a document or web page. When the text link only reads "click here" or "learn more" the person hearing the list of links does not have enough information to determine if he or she has selected the correct document or web page. By making the link more descriptive (i.e. "Learn more about Google Docs") we provide helpful contextual information that makes the link more accessible.

Example: Click here for more information about Google Docs.

Better: Overview of Google Docs, Sheets and Slides.

Make Links Human Friendly

The ability to link to additional resources on the Web is a powerful feature of Google Docs. It allows the author of a document to easily provide background information that can aid with understanding. Unfortunately, as the Web has grown, hyperlinks to individual web pages have not only become longer but more confusing. In order to make them unique, these web addresses often include long strings of numbers and special characters which can be confusing for a screen reader user when they are read aloud.

Example: For more information on Google Docs, visit https://support.google.com/docs/answer/49008?hl=en&ref_topic=1382883.

Better:
Learn more about Google Docs.

See it in action: Make Links Human Friendly

Focus on Legibility

Most Google Docs will be read on screen. To make the text easier to read on screen, there are three things you can do:

  1. Use clean fonts that do not have extra ornamentation, known as sans-serif fonts, as these can be easier to read on the screen. Examples of sans-serif fonts include Arial (the one you are reading right now) and Verdana.
  2. Make the text easier to read by giving it some leading, or space between the lines. A value of 1.2 should do the trick.
  3. Finally, you should use left-justification whenever possible. This makes it easier to find the beginning of each line. Full justification can insert gaps between the words that can be a problem for some readers who have dyslexia.

Add a Table of Contents for Long Documents

A table of contents can be a helpful navigational aid for long documents. It also gives the reader a preview of the content and how it is structured. If you have followed the advice given earlier about including headings, then adding a table of contents will be very easy. Just place your cursor where you want to add the table of contents and choose Insert > Table of Contents (take a look at the top of this document to see what it looks like).

Watch It On TouchCast

As part of our outreach from the ISTE Inclusive Learning Network, I created a TouchCast on this topic. TouchCast is an iOS app that allows you to create interactive, “touchable” videos where you can embed additional resources such as links to websites, polls and more. These resources (known as vApps or video apps) appear as interactive hotspots in the video.