How do I make my Google Docs accessible?

Google documents are an excellent way to build accessible content. Assistive technologies integrate well with the platform, and Google comes with additional accessibility features that users can activate if needed.

With proper formatting, you can improve the accessibility of your Google document and make it easier for everyone to use.

Add Headings

Headings provide structure and improve navigation in your document. 

How to add heading tags:

  1. Select the text you want to change into a heading.
  2. Select the Styles dropdown menu.
  3. Select the heading level you want to change your text to. 
  4. Use a Heading 1 for your document title (don't use Title). Then use headings in order-- Heading 2s for subheadings and Heading 3s for sub subheadings.

Add alternative text to your images

To apply alternative text to images in a Google Doc:

  1. Right-click on your image.
  2. Choose Alt Text.
  3. Use the Description field (not the Title field).

Structure your lists properly

Structuring your lists with the Bulleted List or Numbered List formatting helps organize your content in a way that assistive technologies can display correctly.

Tip: If you need to add a paragraph return or space to a list item, use Shift-Enter to force a return without breaking your list.

Nested lists

Need to create a classic outline with multiple levels of nested lists? Use Format menu → Bullets and numberingList options to create a custom nested list style.

Use line and paragraph spacing

Many of us have a habit of using Return /Enter to add space between paragraphs or lines of text. Stop it! Screen readers read those spaces out loud as "blank." And assistive technologies that alter page formatting might make those extra spaces very big.

Instead of hitting Enter:

  1. Select the text you want to add spacing to.
  2. Click on the Format menu.
  3. Select Line and paragraph spacing.

Spacing changes can be applied locally or globally to a specific Style.

To apply the spacing edit to all text with a certain Style, first apply it to a piece of text (for example, a Heading 3), then go into the Styles menu, select the Style (Heading 3), then choose Update Heading 3 to match. Now all your text that's tagged as a Heading 3 will display the same spacing. (Pretty cool, right?) This only works with headings and paragraph text. At this time, spacing for lists has to be applied to each individual list.

Add a table of contents

A linked table of contents (TOC) is required for accessibility for documents with 9 pages or more. But even documents with a few pages may benefit from a table of contents.

  1. Click on the Insert menu
  2. Select Table of contents
  3. Google will automatically insert a TOC based on your heading structure. To keep your TOC streamlined, you may want to remove everything but your Heading 2s.

What is Grackle?

Grackle is a suite of Google Add-ons that check the accessibility of your documents: Grackle Docs, Grackle Slides, and Grackle Sheets. There are free and paid versions available.

Once you install the Add-ons, you'll launch them from your Extensions menu to check the accessibility of your documents.

Exporting and sharing

You have worked to create a perfectly accessible Google Doc. Now what?

  • Share a link to the Google Document directly. 
  • For an accessible html version, go to File, then Share, choose Publish to the webThis will make your document publicly available as a web page that will update whenever you update your original document. To share it, provide the web page URL.
  • Do not download your Google Doc as a PDF. This will strip all the tags and your document will not be accessible. In the future, you'll be able to use the paid version of Grackle to export a tagged, accessible PDF. Right now, if your document must be a PDF, export it as a Word document, then convert it to a PDF in Word.

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