What is an accessible document?

An accessible document is one that allows all readers to read, understand and navigate the document’s contents.

A reader  using an assistive technology can interact with an accessible document in a manner comparable to every other reader. They are enabled not only to read the text but also to understand the structures and hierarchies, and scan and skip through the content as they need.

The key to doing this is to write and tag the content in accordance with accessibility standards. Assistive technologies use the tags to provide the reader with full access to the document.

Here are some examples of actions a reader might perform with the enabling power of tags:

  • Move forward or backwards in the document; for example:
    • to the next or previous paragraph, table or graphic
    • to the next or previous heading, or heading of a certain level
    • to the start or end of a list
  • Read the table header or headers associated with a table cell, even in a complex table
  • Read alternate text for a figure and actual text where this is encoded, e.g. expanded text for an acronym
  • Have structural elements announced in accordance with the reader’s preferences, e.g. heading levels
  • Have other helpful information announced, e.g. the number of items in a list, the number of rows and columns in a table, the number of rows or columns spanned by a merged table cell
  • When they encounter a footnote marker, read the footnote and then return to the text
  • Apply their own style sheet to the document, for example to  apply a special colour scheme, enlarge font sizes, or apply special fonts.
  • View all hyperlinks or footnotes in the document as a list.

See also our article What is a tagged document?