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Frequently asked questions

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Q: Why do Word documents need to be Section 508 compliant?

A: If electronic documents are not formatted correctly for 508 compliance, people who are blind, have low vision, or mobility limitations will have difficulty, navigating, reading, and understanding them. In some cases, they may not be able to access any of the information in an electronic document. In addition, non-compliance with the law can result in formal legal complaints and lawsuits against the agency.

Q: Who is responsible for making Word documents Section 508 compliant?

A: Ultimately, every SSA employee is required to ensure the Word documents they author and publish are Section 508 compliant.

Q: I thought webmasters were responsible for making Word documents posted to the Internet 508 compliant?

A: No. The webmaster is responsible for ensuring successful accessibility testing is completed. Electronic document authors (Microsoft Office, Adobe PDF, etc.) are responsible for ensuring the documents they give webmasters to publish are accessible.

Q: My document is in Word, but I'll publish it in PDF; do I have to worry about 508 compliance?

A: Yes. If you are making a document in Word and convert it to another format (i.e. PDF document), then the Word 508 Accessibility Checklist and conversion guidance found at the Accessibility Resource Center will prepare your document for an accessible conversion. Note that some remediation after conversion may be necessary. A: Yes. If you are making a document in Word and convert it to another format (i. e. PDF document), then the Word 508 Accessibility Checklist will help prepare your document for a successful conversion. Depending on what is in your document, some remediation after conversion may be necessary.

Q: How can I check if my word document is accessible?

A: First conduct the five manual checks detailed in the Word 508 Accessibility Checklist. Once you have completed those tests, run the Word Accessibility Checker built into Word 2010 and follow the guidance in the Word 508 Accessibility Checklist.

Q: Do I really have to use styles to make accessible documents in Word?

A: The use of styles and/or other formatting allows keyboard-only and assistive technology users to navigate content. For instance, a visual user will notice text with bigger fonts, bolded, and underlined, as a section heading. For a non-sighted and low-vision users, a heading needs to be formatted programmatically or assistive technology will not recognize it as a heading.

Q: Can I create accessible forms in Word?

A: Do not use Word to create or distribute fillable forms because they will be inaccessible. Consider using accessible HTML pages. Or, if you must use an electronic document, PDF fillable forms can be also be made accessible.Contact the Forms Management Team in OCOMM for assistance with accessible PDF fillable forms.

Q: Do I need to worry about font types and sizes with Word documents?

A: There are no laws or electronic document accessibility standards on font types and sizes, but be courteous to users who have lower vision. Use a font size of 12 or higher and avoid thin fonts (i.e. scripts).

Q: Is there character limit on alt text?

A: There is no specific limit on the number of characters in alt text, however, a good rule of thumb is a few sentences or about 160 characters. Also, keep in mind that some screen readers will stop reading alt text after about 250 characters. See the Alternative Text Writing Guide for more information on writing alternative text.

Q: Can I use symbols instead of bullets?

A: When symbols are used for bullets a screen reader user may easily become confused about what they are reading. Use the bullet styles available in the Paragraph group to ensure your bulleted and numbered lists are read correctly.

Q: Are symbols accessible?

A: Because symbols have many names and meanings, assistive technologies do not assign meaning to all of them. Symbols are not always read correctly and often not at all. For these reasons, the use of symbols, smiley faces, and other non-text characters is not recommended.

Q: Can I insert an image inside the table?

A: Yes you can, but doing so will likely cause accessibility problems. Avoid placing images in tables, and if you must, additional accessibility testing by one of ASB's document accessibility specialists may be warranted.

Q: Will disabled users see what is in the headers and footers?

A: Users of assistive technology can read what is in the header and footer, but they have to know to look. Assume these users cannot read these regions of the file. Include all information vital to understanding the the document within the main content area of the document. Vital information only needs to appear once even if it is repeated in the header and footer of each page. Vital information can include: date, document title, "draft", "Internal Use Only", etc.

Q: If an image caption is descriptive, does ALT text need to be added for the image?

A: If the caption describes the purpose and function of the image adequately, there is no need to repeat this information by adding it as alt text. In fact, doing so would be redundant for assistive technology users.

Q: If I use headings, won't that change the way my headings look?

A: Not necessarily. You can easily format your existing text as a heading without changing its appearance by highlighting the text you want to format as a heading and then "Update Heading to Match Selection". Contact a Word 508 Accessibility Specialist for detailed instructions.

Q: Do I need a screen reader to create and test documents?

A: No. Use the Word 508 Accessibility Checklist to test your documents for accessibility. If you have access to a screen reader, it is always good to spot check a document with it; but not necessary to determine compliance with Section 508.

Q: My document is already finalized; will making it accessible make it look different?

A: No. Word has many features and formatting options to ensure your documents can be both accessible and keep the same look and feel as a the original. There are some exceptions (for instance text wrapped around images and tables), and in these cases an author may need to convert the document to an accessible PDF document and remediate for accessibility.

Q: Can Pastel make my document accessible?

A: No, but our accessible mascot points you to the guidance and tools that enable you to be an accessible Word author.

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See the Accessibility Resource Center for more information on electronic document accessibility.

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