The Google Docs platform allows for a secure and dynamic way to deliver your document. To optimize support for your audience in the platform, create your document with a few simple considerations and accessibility in mind!
Note: The guidance below is for text-based relatively simple documents, which should fit many document requirements. If a document necessitates features beyond the simple well-formatted text described below, please reach out to the IS Technology Accessibility team at firstname.lastname@example.org for further discussion on other necessary steps.
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Steps to optimize accessibility in a basic Google Doc
Create your Google Doc
Step 3 of this section applies if you are starting with an existing text document and want to copy it into a Google Doc to implement accessible formatting. If you are still composing your text document, you can skip 3 and go to the “Add good document structure using “Styles” for headings” section to apply accessibility concepts as you directly enter in your text in the Google Doc.
- Create a new Google Doc somewhere that is easy for you to find in your Google Drive.
- Add a meaningful document title (in the very top, the file name!) to make it easy to locate later.
- If applicable, paste the text of an existing document without formatting (text only), into your new Google Doc.
- Keep the original formatted document open or nearby to refer to as you format in Google Docs.
Add good document structure using “Styles” for headings
- Good heading structure is the foundation for an accessible text document, keeps information organized, and makes the information more accessible for users of assistive technology (e.g., screen reader users).
- Create good heading structure for sections and subsections using Google Docs “Styles” from the main toolbar to format your headings.
- Heading levels 1 through 6 are used to organize sections and subsections in a format similar to an outline. Headings should be properly nested and levels should not be skipped, for example, do not jump to a Heading 4 after a Heading 2.
- The title of the document should be the only “Heading 1” and for clarity, the Google Doc file name should match the Heading 1.
- Quickly check that the heading styles are nested into subsections by clicking “Show Document Outline” on the left side of the Google Doc panel to review an outline-style nested version of your headings.
- The appearance (sizing, font, etc.) of headings or other text can be altered without relying on the formatting structural “styles.” Change how paragraphs & fonts look – Docs Editors Help
- Resource: Add a title, heading, or table of contents in a document – Docs Editors Help
Create well-structured lists
- Lists of numbers or bullets are important ways to add accessible structure to a document. Bulleted or numbered lists are most useful for all users, including those using assistive technology, when the items in the list are all linked together structurally as a list, not just formatted visually as a list.
- Avoid using simple tab spacing, dashes, or colons to create the appearance of a list. Use the built-in list options!
- Use Google’s numbered or bulleted list options to format your lists.
- In Google Docs you can be sure your lists are structurally formatted as one list by clicking on a bullet icon or number in the list and noticing that all the number or bullet icons in that same list level become selected/highlighted.
- Resource: Add a bulleted or numbered list – Docs Editors Help
Use meaningful link names
- Link names (or hyperlinks) should be meaningful and unique to the page, and tell a user what information they will get if they click that link.
- Avoid using the whole URL for a link or an ambiguous name like “Click Here.”
- Google may suggest a suitable link name based on the URL’s destination, but a document creator can also:
- Paste in a URL/link
- Click the link then select the pencil/edit option
- Edit the link name in the “Text” field that opens
- Select “Apply”
- As documents are sometimes printed for reference, it is a good practice to add a footnote to the link that gives a text-only version of the full URL or to paste the full URL in plain text after the active hyperlink. Full URLs may also be useful for those using certain digital workflows to access information.
- For example, you might list your link as “WFU Tech Accessibility Resources https://accessibility.wfu.edu/resources”
Use line spacing options rather than using enter/return to add blank space
- Using the enter/return key to create blank lines may mean assistive technology users will hear “blank” spoken for each blank line. Also, blank lines inserted with the enter/return key may break the structural connection in your list so that the numbers or bullets will no longer be formatted as part of the same list.
- Use the Google Line Spacing feature to add lines after or before headings, paragraphs, list items, etc., rather than inserting returns with the enter/return key.
- This will keep your lists structurally organized for all users and reduce “blank” being read to screenreader users.
Font and color considerations
- Simple fonts in black on a white background maximize contrast and support legibility.
- Some decorative or ornate fonts might increase fatigue or reduce the ability for certain people to focus as they interact with text. Choose simple fonts, such as sans serif fonts.
- Links will appear in the standard blue color in Google Docs, with an underline. Avoid reformatting these; the blue text with underline is a universally identifiable and helpful format for calling out hyperlinks within documents or webpages.
- Strive to minimize underlining aside from links. Reserve underlining for link text.
- Do not rely on different colors of text, symbols, font size, italics, or bold as the sole indicators of meaning. Be sure to put the meaning into words. If it is a vital piece of information, indicate that in words so that everyone is prompted to give the information increased attention. (E.g., avoid using a red or bolded font to indicate something is important, instead put the word “important” next to the relevant text.)
Other formatting considerations
- Avoid justifying text, the white space introduced can cause challenges for some viewers.
- Include page numbers and page count in the footer. We encourage you to use the word “Page” before the page number to clarify what the number means, for instance “Page 3 of 4” is clearer to all than simply “3”.
- Include relevant headers and footers as needed, but these should not replace information that should be in the heading structure.
- To reduce the potential for accessibility challenges, be thoughtful about how and when you use the following features, and ensure accessibility is a primary consideration when they are used:
- If you must use images keep them simple and add alternative text to the Description (not the Title) in the alt text dialog box.
- Columns may be needed for some visual styling, but ensure that proper column formatting is used rather than tabs or other features to create visual-only columns.
- Tables are often unnecessarily used for visual styling or layout. Table information in Google Docs may not be conveyed meaningfully to those using certain assistive technology! Consider other ways to convey your information so that it is easily available and readable for your entire audience.
Change sharing settings for security as needed. View-only access is available, as well as restricting download/print/copy ability for viewers by controlling file settings: Restrict sharing options on Drive files – Google Workspace Learning Center.
Share keyboard shortcuts for Google Docs with your document’s audience.
This resource was created by members of the Accessible Content Working Group