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When it comes to accessible Word files, it’s all about styles…

screenshot of the Style Gallery In Microsoft Word showing Normal and heading styles from 1 to 5

Ah, do you remember the days of putting together a new Microsoft Word document?

Add the heading text, make it bold, make it blue and then increase the font size to look like a heading. Now add the paragraph text, then another heading. You may use your format painter to make it look the same… or just do it all again. That’s a smidge tiresome huh?!

(For those nodding wisely, I know you’re probably all over it, but stick around and you may still learn something!)

What if there was an easier way?

What if you could format entire paragraphs of text with a click of one button?

What if all your documents could look on brand each and every time, and made possible just by clicking a few buttons?

What if you could create an accessible document each and every time, without having to stress over it?

What if you could save some precious minutes each and every time you created a document?

Make friends with the Microsoft Word Style Gallery

For many of us in Word land, the Style Gallery is feature you rely heavily on. For others, it’s a box at the top of your screen that you’ve just never really got around to using, used occasionally but not consistently, or thought it was too hard to set up and didn’t bother.

Whatever the case, I’m here to tell you, it is worth spending a bit of time setting up the Style Gallery as it is a game changer. The Style Gallery strip in the ribbon, which can be seen in the image at the top of the page is where the magic happens. You can store your favourite styles and be able to select them quickly and easily.

You can also modify them quickly and easily if required, which will then change all occurrences throughout the document, without you having to do it again and again unnecessarily.

How styles help accessibility

The benefit which many of you may not realise is that the styles have built in accessibility features which ensure the text content in your documents is accessible each and every time.

When styles are used properly in Word, all text elements are labelled with a specific tag. This tag then tells the screen reader what the text is meant to be, such as a list or a heading (and what level the heading is). This information is then read out to the screen readers user, which enables them to easily navigate through the document.

Another bonus is being able to add space into your document without hitting the return key a hundred times (FYI that is never a fun experience for a screen reader user… have you ever heard the word “blank” a hundred times in a row?)

The set-up

I have a favourite motto from my print days,

“5 minutes at the start saves a lot of time at the end”.

This is so true for accessibility, and in this case, if you take the time to set up your styles to be on brand, you won’t need to do it again.

The best way to create an accessible style, is to modify the existing Word styles considering the following;

  • font size of 12pt and larger;

  • colours which have sufficient contrast from the background (check this with a tool like the Colour Contrast Analyser);

  • reducing the use of italic or underlined text to a minimum;

  • increased line spacing of at least 1.3 or 1.5 lines and paragraph spacing;

  • having a suite of heading levels (Heading 1 being the most important, down to heading 5 for sub-headings).

Going even further, by saving the document as a template, it’s a breeze creating on-brand and accessible documents moving forward.

You can also add and removes other styles and remove quickly and easily by right mouse clicking on them either in the gallery or in the style window, and re-order to change where they will appear in the gallery.

It might take a little while to get it right, but once it’s done, it’s done!

Get your Style Gallery sorted, once and for all

If you’ve been in the “I’ll sort it later” camp, hopefully this may prompt you to setting aside time to create your perfect Style Gallery. If you’re one of those which have templates but don’t really use them to their full potential, just try it for a day, I guarantee, you won’t regret it.

Your future self will thank you for taking the time to set everything up and you will look like a rock star if you can produce documents which are accessible and on-brand, quickly, easily and with a minimum of fuss.

If by chance this still feels like the too hard basket, but are keen to make this happen and save yourself a lot of time moving forwards, drop me a line and I’ll be happy to help. What have you got to lose? 😉


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