Including documents in PDF and Word format

For detailed or complex information such as an Annual Report, a user manual or research study, it may not be desirable to publish in HTML format. In such situations MS Word or PDF are useful formats for publishing documents intended to be printed and read offline. It is also an efficient way to publish long documents. However

Including documents in non-html format

Situations where you may wish to publish information in PDF. MS Word or some other format include:

  • the document is longer than 5 pages,
  • you need to preserve the formatting or layout of the original document (e.g. for printing),
  • you need to publish a paper document that has been scanned and for which no electronic version exists,
  • you are providing a PDF form that requires a hard (original) copy for printing and completion.

In all of the above situations you should provide a short summary of the document content in HTML so that users can decide if they need to open the file.

Creating accessible PDF documents

When creating a PDF file it is important to use the accessibility options available in PDF. You need to define the font accurately so that Acrobat can convert the text to Unicode for screenreaders. Navigational aids such as links, bookmarks, headings, a table of contents, and a preset tab order for form fields enable disabled users to obtain an overview without having to read through the entire document, word by word. Bookmarks are especially useful and can be created from document headings. Many of these aids can be accessed using the keyboard without relying on the mouse.

More detailed information on how to create accessible PDF documents is available from the Adobe website To use these options it is necessary to use a full version of the PDF writing programme. This can be expensive, but unfortunately te alternative of using a cheap converter programme that converts MS Word documents to PDF format will not create accessible PDFs. If you do use one of these conversion programmes you should provide your users with the chance to download the original Word document instead of the PDF.

Creating accessible MS Word documents

If you want to include documents in MS Word format it is important to structure these documents correctly by using the built in styles available in Word. In particular please ensure that you use the headings styles from the pull-down style menu to start each new section of text. You can use the default set of styles (shown opposite) or your more complex styles. Screen readers are able to identify the various headings from the Word document and present these to blind users to give them an overview of the document structure in much the same way as they can with HTML. As with HTML, you should use headings in a logical, sequential manner.

Make sure that you include a link to a Word Viewer application so that people without Windows can still read your documents. The MS Word format is not as reliable as PDF for printing purposes because Word uses the users default printer settings whereas PDF has its own printer formatting commands. However, if you cannot afford to use the full PDF writing programme it is better to leave your documents in MS Word than to convert them to PDF using a cheap conversion programme that does not add the PDF tags to the document.

Microsoft PowerPoint

A powerpoint slide show can be embeded into a web page or converted to a series of individual web pages. If you are including a Microsoft Powerpoint presentation you should also provide a copy for downloading plus a link to the Powerpoint Viewer download.

Powerpoint presentations delivered via the Internet are not truly accessible so, at the very least, you should also provide a text only version that covers the main points of the presentation for disabled users, and those using mobile devices such as phones and PDAs.

Lesson Summary

HTML is the only truly universally accessible format. If you provide information using any other format please make sure that

  1. The documents are written using any available accessibility techniques
  2. A text summary in HTML is provided