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Accessibility: Document Structure

Providing Document structure affects how well screen readers provide visually impaired users with the means to navigate and understand the content of digital documents.

The following recommendations apply to all digital document types including Web (HTML), PDF, Word, and Powerpoint.

Use Headings to Outline Content

Screen readers describe to visually impaired users how content is organized by announcing headings and identifying heading levels. Users can hear the outline of the document’s main ideas first, then backtrack to read the parts that interest them most.

Pages should be structured in outline form and in hierarchical manner starting with one first-degree heading at the top <H1>, followed by 2nd-degree headings <H2> that identify major content areas further divided further into sub-sections as warranted by 3rd-degree headings <H3>.

Typical Outline Structure

  • Heading 1 (Document Title)
    • Heading 2 (Section)
      • Heading 3 (Sub-section)
      • Heading 3 (Sub-section)
    • Heading 2 (Section)
      • Heading 3 (Sub-section)
      • Heading 3 (Sub-section)

Adding Headings to Documents

For Word and Powerpoint, heading styles can be found in the Styles panel. For Folio and other Web page editors, headings can typically be found in a text format dropdown menu.

Use Lists

Word, Powerpoint, and Web page editors have a feature that formats text as unordered (bulleted) or ordered (numbered) lists.

Unordered lists convey to screen readers that a set of statements has been grouped together because they share something in common.

  • List item
  • List item
  • List Item

Ordered lists suggest a progression or sequence — as in a set of instructions. This information is passed onto users so that they understand the relationships between items in a list.

  1. List item
  2. List item
  3. List Item

Use Paragraphs

Be sure to break longer passages of text into multiple paragraphs. Screen readers generally pause at the end of paragraphs and provide users with a chance to stop and collect their thoughts before moving on.

Last updated: 1/6/2020