One question we get a lot is whether or not Google Docs or Microsoft Word are accessible. Like most things related to accessibility, this is not a simple yes or no answer but more of an “it depends.”
Whenever you are thinking about the accessibility of content, you must consider the following:
- Content – is what you are adding to the document accessible?
- Platform – is the platform itself accessible?
- User – can the user access both the platform and the content?
Similar to content on a webpage, content in a document must also meet certain accessibility standards. This means you are:
- Structuring your content with appropriate document styles
- Adding text descriptions to links, images, and charts or graphics
- Breaking up your content into smaller chunks of information
- Using tables appropriately
- Defining any unclear terms, jargon, or acronyms
- Ensuring color meets contrast requirements
- Running an accessibility check and clearing up any issues (in Google Docs, use the Grackle Docs Extension to check for accessibility)
You can find details on how to ensure your content in your document is accessible by visiting Webguide: Create Accessible Documents.
Once you are confident your content is accessible, then you have to consider the accessibility of the platform. In most instances, Google Docs and Microsoft Word are both accessible platforms. However, they can be challenging for a variety of users including:
- users who rely on a screen reader to navigate and read the document
- users who get may distracted easily by all the other elements in the platform interface
- users who are accessing the document on a mobile device
In these instances, the platforms are less accessible and can actually become a barrier for some users.
A key component in assessing the accessibility of content is to think of your users. If they need access to edit or collaborate within a document, Google Docs is a good choice. If they need to download and access an editable template, then Microsoft Word may be a good choice. However, if they just need access to read the information within the document, then either platform can become a barrier.
Opening a document in Google Docs or Microsoft Word requires that users be familiar with, and comfortable navigating both the platform and the document. Screen readers will function with Google Docs, but the user must understand and be familiar with all the settings specific to Google Docs. The same goes with Microsoft Word.
This level of familiarity with the different platforms can vary significantly from user to user and this often only extends to screen readers on a desktop computer, not mobile screen readers.
For users accessing on mobile devices, some document elements, like tables, may be difficult to read and understand easily and mobile screen reader users may not have access to the document at all.
Google Docs and Microsoft Word are only accessible until they are not.
A user who has no issues accessing a view only document on their desktop, may encounter significant barriers when viewing the same document on a mobile device.
Likewise, a user who is accessing the document using assistive technology like a screen reader on their desktop may not experience any issues until they try to access the same document on their mobile device.
Google Docs is a great tool for editing and collaborating on documents. Microsoft Word is also a fantastic tool when you need more advanced document editing tools. However, both platforms can present significant barriers as a distribution channel for information.
For more tips on how to distribute your content in a more accessible format, visit Webguide: Distribute Accessible Documents.