Google Docs and Accessibility

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Google Docs can create accessibility barriers for some users. The people most affected by the limitations of Google Docs are people who use screen reader technology. People who are blind and people who have a significant visual disability often use screen readers which use computer-generated speech to read aloud the text on the screen and unique keyboard combinations to navigate applications.

Limitations to creating accessible documents

The September 2022 issue of the Accessibility Minute Newsletter at University of Colorado Boulder details the limitations and recommendations for creating accessible content using Google Docs. Limitations include:

  • inability to identify decorative-only images which screen reader users prefer to skip over
  • confusion about using the Title &/or Description fields for adding descriptions (alt text) to images (Hint: use the Description field)
  • inability to denote table row and column header cells
  • inability to create accessible PDF files directly from Google Docs

While the article provides some recommendations for addressing these limitations, it points to Microsoft Word as an alternative that offers more features for creating accessible documents, including an accessibility checker and the ability to save the document as an accessible PDF.

Limitations for Google Docs users

Some assistive technology users may have difficulty navigating and interacting with the Google Docs interface, especially when it comes to using the collaborative interaction features like comment and tracked changes. If you are creating content with Google Docs, it is generally better to “export the document to Microsoft Word if you will be sharing the content with someone using assistive technology or sharing your content publicly.”[1]

The bottom line

The bottom line is that if you don’t need to use Google Docs, Microsoft Word is a more accessible alternative.

  1. The Accessibility Minute Newsletter, University of Colorado Boulder, September 2020.

Sharon Trerise