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Accessible Remote Documents

Writing Tips for Remote Workers

3/19/2020 11:21:58 AM

Person working on a computer.

By: Jay Wyant

Teleworking has suddenly become a new normal for many people. Meetings are either cancelled or held online, our article on accessible remote meetings has more information on this topic.

You may find yourself writing more frequently – creating documents for online, remote collaboration – and communicating more often through email than by phone or in-person.

Make sure you start with accessibility in mind. You can avoid extra time fixing it when you’re done and be sure that everyone can read the drafts. Fortunately, if you work for the state of Minnesota, your agency should have made it easy for you.

Use Templates

If you use Word, select File>New (or Alt, F, N). That will launch a view of available templates. This is what it looks like for Minnesota IT Services (MNIT):

Every document in our templates is formatted with MNIT’s branded font and styles, and is accessible. Even the blank document’s default font and styles are the same as the rest.

Don’t have templates like this? Ask your communications office if they would make one or two. If you’re an independent contractor, select one of the existing templates that looks good to you and follow the rest of the steps.

Start With an Outline

Just like your fifth grade English teacher taught you. What’s the main point? What are the key sub-points?

Main points and key sub-points become your headings. Don’t know all of your headings yet? Don’t worry – it’s easy to change their style once you have identified them.

Use the Built-in Styles

Once you’ve got a top-level outline identified, make them headings. If you chose a template with pre-existing content, simply replace the filler text with yours. If you chose a blank template, go to the Home ribbon, select the Styles section (Alt, H, L) then select the appropriate heading. Or open the styles pane and float it nearby for easy reference (Alt, H, FY).

So far in this post, I have:

  • Accessible Remote Documents (Heading 1)
  • Writing Tips for Remote Workers (Heading 2)
  • Use Templates (Heading 3)
  • Start with an outline (Heading 3)

To make the above text a list, I used bullets, via the List Paragraph style. (Selecting the bullet icon option or ALT, H, U) should give you the same result, but always check the styles pane to confirm.)

If you’re an independent contractor using someone else’s template, now’s a good time to test the headings for sufficient contrast. To ensure readability, text should be at a 4.5:1 ratio to its background. 3:1 is acceptable for large text (18pt or greater). Test the heading text and adjust as necessary.

Add Alternative Text (Alt Text)

Sharing a screenshot in an email, Word document, or PowerPoint? It needs a text alternative called “alt text” in the Microsoft tools. Use this alt text feature to describe your screenshot, graph, or picture. If the detail is critical to understanding the image (such as a technical issue) use the body text to provide more details.

For example, the alt text of the template view above image reads: “screenshot of Microsoft Word’s New Document view, presenting a list of thumbnails of the different templates available.

It doesn’t attempt to describe each thumbnail. But if the document’s purpose is to review all the templates, then you want to make sure that you provide a more detailed description in the body of the document. Use simple alt text so the user knows that it’s the image referenced in the body text.

Use Meaningful Links

When sharing links in documents or even in emails, embed the link in text that defines the link. That helps people who have to skim your document quickly decide whether they should follow the link. It also helps people with disabilities find and use the link more effectively. After all, which do you think is easier to read?

Check out this great tweet about how we worked with college students on user-centered design.

Check out this great tweet about how we worked with college students on user-centered design: https://twitter.com/MNIT_Services/status/1234931760322031616

Meaningful text should be used for links in all electronic documents, including email, Word, and PowerPoint or their equivalent.

Learn More

Take our FREE /mnit/about-mnit/accessibility/training/index.jspIntroduction to Accessible Documents. (If you’re a state of Minnesota employee, ask your training staff about access to the course in ELM, the enterprise learning management system).


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