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Accessibility Resources: Emails and Documents

Find best practices and resources for designing accessible course content

Emails and Documents

Learn how to make your embedded images and videos more accessible.

Resources from CUNY: Creating Emails

Email is one of the most important forms of communication. Email is fast, efficient, and creates a record of the communication. Like documents, accessible email communications ensures that they are usable by the widest range of users. Following the guides below will ensure your email is accessible to visually impaired users, including assistive technology such as screen readers.

Learn more.

Best Practices for Documents

  • All documents must have descriptive titles.
  • Sans serif fonts such as Arial, Helvetica or Verdana work best on screens. Use 12 point or larger.
  • If you created a PDF from a scanned document you must convert the scanned images of text to searchable content using optical character recognition.
  • The most basic requirement for a PDF document to be accessible is for it to be searchable text and “tagged” with hidden labels (“tags”) that describe the structure of the document.
  • Use headings to structure and organize your document. Ensure that all heading styles are applied in a hierarchical manner. Only use headings with a name of Heading 1, Heading 2, etc.
  • Include alt text for images, tables, and charts and graphs. Also include captions for charts and graphs.
  • Do not format images and other objects as floating. Format objects as “In Line with Text”.
  • Keep tables simple — do not use nested tables. Do not use tables for layout. Include column headings for tables and specify a header row for tables.
  • Do not use tabs or spaces to create columns. Instead, use the Page Layout/Columns feature of your software.
  • Use descriptive hypertext links.
  • Use bulleted and numeric lists for related items.
  • Include a table of contents for long documents (which Word can generate if you use styles).
  • Avoid watermarks. If you must use one, make sure that the information it contains is also included elsewhere in the document.
  • Be cautious as to the colors you choose. Some colors and color combinations can be difficult to read, especially for someone who has color blindness. Provide sufficient color contrast. Also, do not use color to solely convey meaning.
  • Include closed captions or transcripts for any audio or video elements.


In order to ensure that documents are ultimately accessible, content authors must utilize the formatting and layout options within Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat Pro that support structural markup. This structural markup ensures that assistive technology software such as screen readers can correctly discern and interpret the structure of the document. Screen readers are commonly used by blind and low vision individuals.

In general, properly designed HTML is the most accessible format. PDF files are the most difficult to make accessible. It is recommended to use or link to PDF only when you cannot use HTML. The minimum requirements for a PDF document to be accessible is for it to be searchable text and “tagged” with hidden labels (“tags”) that describe the structure of the document so that it reads in the correct order with a screen reader.

Keep this in mind if you must convert a document to a PDF:

  • Prep the Word document first so that it is accessible using the guides below.
  • Then, if needed, convert it to a PDF.
  • If a document needs significant remediation, it is generally easier to remediate the source file within Word than to work with the PDF.

Learn more on the CUNY website.

Microsoft Office

Microsoft Word:

Textual Guide from WebAIM

Video Tutorials

Microsoft Excel:

Video Tutorials (with captions)

Microsoft Powerpoint:

Textual Guide from WebAIM

Video Tutorials (with captions)

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