Accessibility and Usability

It is in everyone's best interest to create Web pages and other documents that are both accessible and easy to use. The easier a Web page or document is to use the more often customers will come back to your site. The faster someone can get their job done the better for everyone, whether that is doing research on the Web, filling out forms, or working on the job and getting every day tasks done.

Section 508 and Accessibility vs. Usability

Section 508

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that when Federal agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, they shall ensure that this technology allows:

  • Federal employees with disabilities to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to that by Federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency.
  • Individuals with disabilities, who are members of the public seeking information or services from a Federal agency, to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to that provided to the public who are not individuals with disabilities.

Read more about it at the Section 508 Web site,


The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) says that accessibility on the Web "means that people with disabilities can use the Web". Read more about it at the Web Accessibility Initiative Web site,


Usability on the Web (or in other environments, documents, etc.) means how easy it is to accomplish a given task, whether one is searching for information, filling out forms, or just reading.

NOTE: It is entirely possible that a document or a Web page can be accessible and yet still be very cumbersome and sometimes nearly unusable. Documents and Web pages should be created not only with accessibility in mind, but with both accessibility and usability in synchronous harmony.

General Tips for Writing Better HTML or Other Documents

In general, for text in electronic or print documents, 14 point size is considered the minimum acceptable size for large print. A non-serif font, such as Arial, is recommended because when magnified, the serifs in fonts do not smooth very well and text looks very blocky.

Try not to use background images or watermarks in e-mails as these can clutter the screen and make it hard for those using magnification products to discern the text from the background.

When typing acronyms, use all caps such as USPS instead of usps so that JAWS® screen reader will do a better job of reading them properly.

When you type e-mail addresses or other words that are joined together without spaces between them capitalize the first letter of each word. JAWS reads text with mixed case as if it were separate words. A good example of this is the word homepage which is pronounced much better by speech synthesizers if mixed case is used like this: HomePage.

Microsoft PowerPoint

Learn how to create and give PowerPoint® 2003 and 2007 presentations using JAWS and MAGic. This lesson teaches you how to use the keyboard to create and give presentations, and includes a link to practice files.

Some of the things you will learn include:

  • Use JAWS or MAGic and the keyboard to create and present slide shows
  • Set a background color for all slides in the presentation
  • Use a photograph as a background for an entire slide
  • Label pictures and objects with alternate text
  • Use design templates in PowerPoint to choose a variety of different slides
  • Navigate at the object as well as the text entry level of slides
  • Insert a button to play a sound on a slide
  • Use slide animation effects to fly in bullet points one at a time
  • Rearrange animation effects for a more effective presentation
  • Insert and be able to read speaker's notes during your presentation
  • And much more!

Go to the PowerPoint 2003 and 2007 with JAWS and MAGic training page now and get started, or use the link on that page to download the lesson along with practice files and work offline at your leisure.

Microsoft Word

To adjust the default font and point size in Word 2003:

  • Go to the Format menu (ALT+O)
  • Press ENTER on Font
  • Press UP or DOWN ARROW to move through the font list to find Arial or another non-serif font.
  • Press TAB twice to move to the size edit combo box and choose 14 point.
  • Press ALT+D to activate the "default" button. A dialog box appears asking if you want to change the default font. Answer Yes, and the dialog box closes with the changes now saved as the default.

To adjust the default font and point size in Word 2007 - 2013:

  • Press ALT+H to move to the Home tab of the ribbon.
  • Press FN to open the Font dialog box.
  • Press UP or DOWN ARROW to move through the font list to find Arial or another non-serif font.
  • Press TAB twice to move to the size edit combo box and choose 14 point.
  • Press ALT+D to activate the "default" button. A dialog box appears asking if you want to change the default font. Answer Yes, and the dialog box closes with the changes now saved as the default.

Make effective use of headings and other native Word formatting within Word documents. JAWS users now have the ability to use a list of headings or a list of links in Word. Additionally, JAWS users can navigate by using Navigation Quick Keys to move from one heading to another or to move by paragraph, revision, section, and more. This also makes it easier for users to move from one section to another quickly in a document.

By using styles in Word you also have an edge when converting documents to PDF format, as most of the time the styles are carried forward into the PDF version of the document as well.

Accessible Forms in Word 2003 - 2013

Did you know you can create forms in Microsoft® Word that are accessible to JAWS and MAGic® screen magnification software users? Choose the link Accessible Forms in Word to learn how.

This page includes a link to a ZIP file with practice documents. Some of the items discussed include:

  • Laying out form content
  • Creating accessible edit boxes, check boxes, and combo boxes
  • Adding Status Bar and Help Key (F1) help for screen reader users
  • Using sections for instructions
  • Saving and protecting forms
  • Navigating forms using the Word Bookmark feature
  • Navigation Quick Keys and list of Form Controls for JAWS users

Archived Webinar Presentation from Thursday, October 16th - Creating Accessible Forms in Microsoft Word

Listen to the one-hour presentation of how to create accessible forms (archived) by Dan Clark from Freedom Scientific and Professor Norm Coombs from EASI (Equal Access to Software Information).

Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express

For JAWS users, being able to look at attachments to an e-mail depends on how the originator sets up their e-mail. The worst possible way to use Outlook with attachments is to have your e-mail set up to create Rich Text e-mail messages. Change your preferences to either HTML format (preferred) or plain text. Here’s how in Outlook® 2003:

  • Go to the Tools menu (ALT+T)
  • Choose Options (O)
  • Press CTRL+TAB to move to the “Mail Format” page.
  • Press TAB if necessary to move to the “compose in this message format” combo box. In this combo box, choose HTML.

For Outlook 2007 at the time of this writing, the steps are the same as above. The ribbon only appears when reading or composing messages, and menus are the same as the ones in Outlook 2003. Ribbons are present throughout in Outlook 2010 and later.

Another optional change you might wish to make is to get rid of the prefix “greater than” sign (>) that precedes the text of the replied to message. This makes for less irritating reading for JAWS users.

  • Go to the Tools menu (ALT+T), and choose Options.
  • On the Preferences page, choose the E-mail Options button (ALT+M).
  • Choose ALT+F to move to the "When forwarding a message" combo box and change it from "prefix each line of the original message" to one of the other choices such as "include and indent original message text" or "include original message text." If necessary, move to the Prefix each line with edit field and remove the "greater than" sign.
  • Press ENTER to activate the OK button. Focus returns to the Options dialog box.
  • Press TAB to move to the OK button, and activate it with the SPACEBAR to close the dialog box and save the changes.

Microsoft Excel

Did you know you can create very accessible forms with Excel® by using input fields, hyperlinks, and more? Read more about it at the following URL: Create Accessible Forms in Excel

Here are some other tips on using Excel to create documents that are easier to read:

  • Do not use blank cells for formatting purposes. It’s better to densely pack the data in the workbook and then use Excel’s native formatting techniques. Avoid the use of white space with lots of blank cells or blank rows and columns.
  • Use row and column headers extensively and avoid ambiguity within these headers. Make them clear and self-explanatory.
  • Use descriptive text to explain what is in the spreadsheet or workbook. This can be embedded into the worksheet and you can create a region called “information” or “instructions” that people can move to easily and read. Telling someone that there are two or three regions in the worksheet and the region names will make it easier for a person to navigate to them. Describing what the row headers and column headers for a particular region represent will go a long way towards making the worksheet easier to use.
  • Name regions and use the Go-To command CTRL+G (or F5) to make it easier to move from place to place within spreadsheets. (Highlight the block of cells, press ALT+I to open the Insert menu, N for Name, and D for Define.)
  • Teach JAWS and MAGic® screen magnification users to take advantage of setting up monitor cells and JAWS Script Initialization (JSI) files to make work easier. Learn more about how to monitor cells and use JSI files in the JAWS and MAGic Basic Training lessons.

Notepad or Plain Text

Did you know you can even make Notepad more accessible? Put instructions near the top of the document. If the document is large, use a pair of asterisks (**) to mark the different sections of the document. Users can press CTRL+F to open the find dialog box and use F3 after that to find the different sections by searching for the pairs of asterisks throughout the document.

In case the document were to be converted to braille by the reader you can force the braille embosser to insert a blank line between sections of the braille document by including two (2) blank lines in the text document at key places.

Put a table of contents near the top of the document when possible. Users can choose the Find command and copy and paste items from the table of contents into the Find dialog box to move directly to a given spot in the document.

Use periods or semicolons frequently to punctuate the document with pauses, so that JAWS does not run text together when it is being read. Having pauses between phrases can make it easier for people to understand the content of the document when listening to it with synthesized speech.

Adobe Reader with JAWS and MAGic

Learn more about PDF documents by choosing the link PDF files and Adobe® Reader® with JAWS and MAGic

Common HTML Attributes Used by Screen Readers

When designing an HTML Web page or document it is best to put accessibility and usability in the first draft, rather than retrofitting later. To help point you in the right direction, here is a resource that lists several HTML attributes that are used specifically for screen readers to help their users read and navigate on the Web.

Accessibility Links

Web sites that address accessibility issues:

  • BRL: Braille Through Remote Learning,
  • Documentation in Accessible Formats for Microsoft Products,
  • Adobe Accessibility Resource Center,

Web Design

  • Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Authoring Guidelines,
  • HTML Tutorials and More From W3Schools,
  • An Accessible Version of Constructing Accessible Web sites,
  • Dive Into Accessibility,

Contact Us

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JAWS® and MAGic® are registered trademarks of Freedom Scientific, Inc., St. Petersburg, Florida and/or other countries.

Microsoft®, Outlook®, Excel®, Windows®, and PowerPoint® are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.

Adobe® and Acrobat® Reader® are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe Systems Incorporated in the United States and/or other countries.