Provide accessible documents and services

Providing solid structure is a core accessibility principle that you can apply to content in a range of digital formats, not only HTML. If you provide content in formats such as Microsoft Word or Adobe PDF, that content is more accessible to people with disabilities when it's provided with semantic structure, including headings, lists and tables. The additional benefits of doing this include the ability to generate tables of contents from headings, controlling numbering of headings, and the ability to easily add or remove list items or table rows or columns.

Each document format has its own way to help authors add structure, and people with disabilities make use of that structure, but the underlying principles remain the same.

  • Make full use of the document format's support for structural markup. When you use an application like Microsoft Word, make use of the Styles feature to identify headings, use the Lists feature to identify content as lists, and use the Tables feature for tabular data. You can then change the styles of headings to make them look the way you want. Don't forget to add alternatives to images and avoid color contrast issues too.
  • Generate PDFs from documents with structural markup. The most reliable and easiest way to create a PDF document with accessible structural information is to generate the PDF from another document (Word or ODF) that already has the structural information present. This saves having to add structure to the PDF later, which requires Adobe Acrobat software.


For each non-HTML document, check:

  • Are headings identified in the document structure? Do headings present a logical hierarchy that reflects the document's structure?
  • Are lists identified in the document structure?
  • Is tabular data presented using tables?


  • Document Accessibility Cheatsheets (National Center on Disability and Access to Education). Short guides on how to make documents more accessible using features in the most popular document creation programs.
  • Accessible Digital Office Document project (Ontario College of Art and Design). A suite of guides on making document formats accessible, including Word, Powerpoint, Excel and PDF.