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Document Accessibility

Documents published on our website must meet accessibility standards.  This is so they can be used by as many people as possible, including those with disabilities.  If your document does not meet the standards, you could be breaking the law.

The following information relating to PDF's is included in the GOV.UK accessibility guidance on 'things you might not need to fix': 

PDFs or other documents published before 23 September 2018 - unless users need them to use a service, for example a form that lets you request school meal preferences

Before making the decision to put content into a document, there are a few questions that should be considered:

  • Can your content be structured and published as an HTML webpage via the CMS?  This would be the best way to reach as many people as possible.  If you do need to publish a document, it should be in addition to a HTML version.
  • What type of document should be created and with what application?  This can normally be answered by defining if the document and the content it contains should be editable by the intended audiences. 

Files must follow the correct filename convention. Documents (e.g., PDFs, Word documents, Excel documents, etc.) must follow the naming convention as follows:

    • Use only lowercase letters (a to z), numerals (0-9) and hyphens (-).
    • Do not use spaces. Instead, use hyphens to separate words.
    • Do not use special characters (e.g., £, %, &, á) or underscores.

Writing Accessible Documents

When writing a document, it is important to follow these steps.

  1. Keep the language simple
    • Write in language that is as simple as possible.  This makes your document accessible to people with cognitive impairments and learning difficulties.
    • Where you need to use technical terms, abbreviations or acronyms, explain what they mean the first time you use them.

  2. Keep the document simple
    • Give the document a meaningful title.
    • Keep sentences and paragraphs short and use sentence case.  Avoid all caps text and italics.
    • Use a sans serif font like Arial or Helvetica, with a minimum size of 12 points.
    • Make sure the text is left aligned, not justified.  Justified text makes the spaces between words uneven which can make it difficult for some individuals to read.
    • Avoid underlining, except for links.
    • Provide descriptive link text which should make sense even if it is read out of content.
    • Keep tables simple and only use them for data.  Avoid splitting or merging cells.
    • Do not use colour or shape alone to get across meaning.
    • If you are using images or charts, think about how you'll make the content accessible to people with visual impairment.
    • Avoid footnotes where possible. Provide explanations inline instead.

  3. Give the document a structure
    • Break your document up to make it more readable.  Use bullet points, numbered steps and meaningful subheadings.
    • Use document styles to create a hierarchy of headings and for tables and bullet lists.

Format and Check a Microsoft Office Document for Accessibility

This Microsoft Support article provides in-depth and specific advice on how to format a Microsoft Word document so that it's accessible.   

Once you are content that you have followed the necessary steps to make your document accessible, you can run some automated tests to check compliance.  Run the Accessibility Checker to make sure your Microsoft Office content is easy for people of all abilities to read.  The Accessibility Checker is available across a range of products on the Microsoft platform.      


Converting Microsoft Office Documents to an Accessible PDF

This WebAIM article provides advice for converting Microsoft Office documents to an accessible PDF.  

Check a PDF for Accessibility

To check that your PDF is accessible you can use Adobe Reader or Adobe Acrobat Pro. You should also test your PDF is accessible using a screen reader.

Adobe Acrobat Pro

Follow Adobe’s instructions on using Acrobat Pro to check if your PDF is accessible.  The PDF should pass the full check for WCAG Level AA without any warnings.

Screen Reader check using Windows

Non Visual Desktop Access (NVDA) is a free open source screen reader for Windows. It can be installed to the desktop or run from a portable USB drive.

With NVDA running, open the PDF and use the following commands to check the PDF:

  • from the top of the PDF (with the numlock off), use Numpad 0 + Numpad 2 to read the PDF from top to bottom and check the reading order
  • use the tab key to move through the PDF and check the tab order
  • use the h key to move through the PDF and check the heading structure
  • use the g key to move through the PDF and check for text descriptions

If you’re using a Mac

All Apple Macs have VoiceOver built in. Turn VoiceOver on (or off again) using Command + F5. With VoiceOver running open the PDF and use the following commands to check the PDF:

  • from the top of the PDF use a double finger down swipe, or ‘Control + Option + a’ to read the PDF from top to bottom and check the reading order
  • use the tab key (repeatedly) to move through the PDF and check the tab order.