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8 simple Microsoft Office 365 best practices for making your documents more accessible

Microsoft has updated its Accessibility Checker for Office 365. The tool now suggests accessibility communication best practices for your documents automatically.

Digital transformation makes it possible for individuals in one part of the world to converse, cooperate, collaborate, and conduct business with individuals in another part of the world. The tools created in support of this transformation allow those individuals to communicate across all kinds of barriers—both physical and cultural.

One often overlooked barrier blocking communication in a diverse workforce revolves around people with special accessibility needs. For example, sending that brightly colored Excel spreadsheet to a color-blind co-worker may not be as effective as you thought. Certain color combinations may actually render your communication incomprehensible.

Diversity of experience, perspective, and creative proclivities can produce competitive advantages for many business operations. However, the benefits of a diverse work environment are possible only if the various parties can effectively communicate with each other. Microsoft's Accessibility Checker suggests several simple best practice communication principles that should, when implemented, always keep your documents accessible to people with disabilities.

SEE: IT leader's guide to achieving workplace diversity (free TechRepublic PDF)

Accessibility Checker

In May 2018, Microsoft announced it will begin rolling out an updated version of its Accessibility Checker for Office 365 later in the year. The new version will operate in the background as you work and actively monitor what you are doing. The updated tool will also alert you in real time when it detects an issue that makes your content difficult for people with disabilities to access.

You can check the status of your current document by clicking the Check Accessibility button on the Review tab located on the Office Ribbon. (Figure A).

Figure A

Microsoft Office 365 Accessibility Checker

When creating documents, whether they will be accessed by disabled individuals or not, there are several best practice accessibility tips you should apply:

  • Be sure to include alternative text with all visuals. This includes images, SmartArt, diagrams, embedded objects, and videos.
  • Always add meaningful hyperlink text and ScreenTips to embedded links in your document.
  • Maintain sufficient contrast for text and background colors. Don't get carried away with fanciful color schemes and distracting backgrounds.
  • Keep it simple. Use a basic table structure and specify column header, and if necessary, row header information. As mentioned before, don't let complicated color schemes degrade your communication.
  • In Excel, give all sheet tabs unique names and remove any blank sheets.
  • Particularly important for Excel and PowerPoint, always check to be sure that color is not the only means of conveying information. For example, conditional formatting in Excel can be impactful visual communication for many, but not everyone.
  • In PowerPoint, make sure you give every slide a unique title. When read aloud, the slide title will indicate advancement of the presentation.
  • In Word, to save possible confusion, use the built-in headings and styles. The built-in features will always be read aloud in the proper and logical order.

SEE: Hiring kit: Chief diversity officer (Tech Pro Research)

Curb your creative enthusiasm

The key to these best practices for making your communication effective and accessible for the disabled is to keep your documents simple. Excessive use of color, backgrounds, and odd contrasts is likely to be distracting to most and unreadable to more than a few. While that may make your documents somewhat muted creatively, it could also make their communication much more effective.

The Microsoft Office 365 Accessibility Checker will help you reach the proper balance between creative document development and effective communication. After all, for business interactions, the most important task is often the effective and reliable exchange of information. This best practice principle should apply to everyone in your organization—regardless of physical abilities.

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Your thoughts

How accessible was your last document? Did you factor in accessibility when you created it? Share your thoughts and opinions with your peers at TechRepublic in the discussion thread below.

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About Mark Kaelin

Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.

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