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  • Accessibility Services (ZAB)

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Accessible documents

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What is document accessibility?

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What does accessibility mean in relation to documents?

Users with different impairments and needs should be able to use documents without hindrance or outside help.

In the case of visual impairments, poor contrast of type can prove to be an almost insurmountable barrier.

An image lacking alternative text excludes blind people; the content of the image is limited to sighted people only.

If well-presented documents are exported to a PDF file with the wrong settings, even the latest screen readers cannot read them out well.

As such, there are a number of hurdles that should be avoided from the outset when creating documents, or that should be rectified afterwards.

What should you look out for?

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Key principles to follow

  • Use style sheets to mark headings as such.
  • Create lists using the standard formatting feature in programs such as Word.
  • Use tables only for data and make sure each row or column has heading information.
  • There should be no important information in the header or footer.
  • Create a table of contents for longer texts.
  • Use a reader-friendly sans-serif font, such as Calibri, Arial or Liberation Sans.
  • Avoid special formatting such as underlining, words in capital letters and italics.
  • Use flush-left paragraph alignment, single spacing, and right side is ragged
  • Line spacing of 1.5.
  • Create vertical spacing by formatting paragraph spacing and not by inserting blank lines, horizontal spacing using tabs and not spaces.
  • Use a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1.
  • Avoid hyphenation
  • Do not convey information through colour alone.
  • Provide alternative text for graphics. Graphics used solely for decoration should have a blank alternative text.
  • Add graphics using the wrap text option ‘In Line with Text’ in Word

What can I do?

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Inform yourself about accessibility issues

If you handle digital content, then you should always think in terms of accessibility when you create documents, websites, and other digital formats. Be aware of the steps and measures you need to take.

To help you become more aware of accessibility issues, we offer a whole range of guides, good examples and practices for you learn and adopt. In training sessions, we will explain how to create accessible websites and what to look out for in documents.

We are also producing explanatory videos which we will add to over time, with examples of different aspects of accessibility and how to take them into account when publishing content, or showing how screen readers ‘read aloud’ a document. For many users, this often leads to surprising insights, which otherwise may not have come to their attention.


We offer various tutorials and tips on how to create and check accessible documents.

If you want to create accessible documents, we offer tutorials for various programs, such as Microsoft Word.

Here you will find methods and tools that you can use to check documents for accessibility.

Our A-Z list of typical errors that can cause a document to be inaccessible and how to fix them can help you with specific problems.

What are the legal requirements

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What does the law say?

The Barrier-Free Information Technology Ordinance of North Rhine-Westphalia – BITV NRW and the Equal Opportunities for Disabled Persons Act of North Rhine-Westphalia - BGG NRW are the obligatory and legal basis for universities in NRW. In the BITV NRW, one basis is the current state of technological development and another is compliance with Directive (EU) 2016/2102, which is based on the EU standard EN 301 549 (PDF) as a specified EU standard.

All PDF documents are tested according to the criteria of the Matterhorn Protocol, which provides a table of checkpoints corresponding with the PDF/UA (PDF Universal Accessibility) ISO standard. The PDF/UA is based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG 2.0 and is largely in line with it.

All other types of documents are tested according to the current WCAG criteria, currently WCAG 2.1.

The four principles must always be observed when creating accessible documents and websites:

  • Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
  • Operable - User interface components and navigation must be operable.
  • Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
  • Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

A good overview is provided by the WCAG map linked here.

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