Welcome to our September 2022 issue of the Accessibility Minute Newsletter! This newsletter is produced by the CU Boulder Digital Accessibility Office and covers one accessibility skill or topic per month. As always, thank you for taking a minute (or two!) to read.
Google Docs and Accessibility
Google Docs is ubiquitous in our remote working world, but it can pose accessibility barriers to some users. In this newsletter, we will discuss the accessibility of the platform, as well as whether and how you can create accessible content using Google Docs.
Content Editing Software and Accessibility
Whether you can create accessible documents depends strongly on which software platform you are using to create your content. When deciding whether to use a particular content editing platform, you should find out whether it is possible to create accessible content on the platform, as well as whether users with disabilities can access the platform to create content, edit content, and collaborate with others. If you have questions about a particular platform, please contact DigitalAccessibility@colorado.edu.
Not all content editing platforms provide full support for creating accessible content, so it is important to understand how each platform supports accessibility and any limitations it may have. This will help you make an educated decision about what kinds of content you should and should not create in a specific content editing platform.
Creating Accessible Content in Google Docs
When creating accessible content in any editing platform, it is important to understand the basics of content accessibility first. These best practices are outlined in our content accessibility fundamentals article series.
More specific guidelines about how to implement those fundamentals in Google Docs can be found in these Google Docs accessibility guidelines. When following these guidelines, we do suggest avoiding the content types specified in the accessibility limitations section below.
If there is a common document format often used in your own work or your department’s work, creating an accessible template in Google Docs is a great way to ensure that your content is created accessible every time.
Limitations to Creating Accessible Content
You can generally create accessible documents in Google Docs; however, the platform does lack some key accessibility functions and should be used with caution to create certain types of content. It provides less robust support for creating accessible content than Microsoft Word does, so if you don’t need to use Google Docs, we recommend using Word.
If you do need to use Google Docs to create content, be aware of the following limitations and recommendations. You can use this list to assess whether or not Google Docs is the appropriate platform for your content; if you have a lot of decorative images or tables, for example, Word would likely be a better choice for creating your document.
Avoid the use of decorative images. Decorative images are images that are not meant to convey any meaning or important information. Many content editing platforms allow creators to mark images as decorative; however, this is not an option within Google Docs. It is best to avoid using decorative images when working in Google Docs since they cannot be tagged as decorative.
Alt Text (Title vs. Description)
Google Docs offers two different fields when you enter alt text: one called “Title”, and one called “Description”. Within Google Docs, both of these fields may be accessed by a screen reader, but if you export to Microsoft Word and you have content in both fields, the Description field will be preserved and the Title field will be deleted. For this reason, only enter alternative text in the Description field rather than the Title field.
Creating tables in Google Docs is currently not recommended because there is no way to tag row and column headers in a table. If you have a relatively simple set of data, you may be able to represent it in a list instead of a table. If you must use a table, we recommend either using Microsoft Word instead or keeping your table very short and only using headers in the first row.
Google Doc to PDF Conversion
Do not create PDF files directly from Google Docs. Saving a PDF directly from the platform creates an untagged PDF, which is not accessible to screen reader users. To create an accessible PDF file from Google Docs, you will need to:
Create the document in Google Docs and make it as accessible as possible following the guidance in this newsletter.
Save as a Word File by selecting File > Download > Microsoft Word (.docx).
Open up the document in MS Word and make additional accessibility edits if needed. Specifically, you should mark non-meaningful images as decorative, add header rows and/or header columns to tables, and run the accessibility checker.
Is Google Docs Accessible to People with Disabilities?
Some assistive technology users may have difficulty navigating and interacting with the Google Docs interface, so it is generally better to create content within Google Docs and then export to Microsoft Word if you will be sharing the content with someone using assistive technology or sharing your content publicly.
Additionally, while Google Docs is tremendously helpful for virtual collaboration, users of assistive technology may not be able to fully access these features. This particularly impacts screen reader users. While Google Docs is somewhat compatible with a screen reader, there are settings that must be adjusted and new shortcuts that must be learned in order for users to have an accessible experience. For those who do not have previous experience navigating through Docs, this can create many barriers to using Google Docs.
In particular, interacting with comments and tracked changes (“suggestions”) can be particularly burdensome. If you are using comments, it is helpful to indicate in your comment which section of the document you are referring to. Due to these potential barriers, if you are collaborating with someone who uses assistive technology, it is best to ask what platform they feel most comfortable in for document collaboration.
Create a practice Google Doc, and try adding headings and alt text. Export to Word; can you identify whether those features are still present in the Word document?
Pick a document you are creating soon, and consider whether or not the content would be more appropriate to be created in Google Docs or Word.
Know someone who primarily uses Google Docs? Forward this newsletter to them!
Utilize the DAO office hours for any digital accessibility questions you may have. Our office hours occur on the second Monday and the fourth Tuesday of each month from 1 - 2 pm Mountain Time. Upcoming office hours dates include:
Monday, October 10th
Tuesday, October 25th
Monday, November 7th
We want to hear from you about any questions or issues you run into while trying out this accessibility practice this month! Please send us your thoughts on this month’s topic.
If you have questions, comments, or would like support with accessibility, please contact us at DigitalAccessibility@Colorado.edu.
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