Structure and semantic Digital Accessibility

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Digital Accessibility

Structure and semantic


We must consider that each document is the sum of different elements, that each one has a relation and, at the same time, they are related to each other. That is, a document has ordered lists, paragraphs, headings, tables and many more types of elements that define its structure.

In order to structure our document in a correct way we must give semantics to the elements that make it up, and in this way, it will transmit, besides the content, its meaning and relationship with the other elements.

Let's put an example of word elements list, we can do it by writing in each line:

Element 1

Element 2

Element 3

The problem is that we will be simulating a list, when in fact they are three single lines. However, if we use the Word list insertion tool , for example: We would have:

  • Element 1
  • Element 2
  • Element 3

Using the word lists we will be providing the element of semantics, and a screen reader for blind people will warn, before reading the elements, that it is a list.

Another bad practice is to create titles without using the styles designed for it. These titles change their format with respect to the rest of the text and visually they may appear to be titles. A screen reader for blind people will interpret that they are normal text, without differentiating them as titles. In the following section we explain the correct way to create titles.

 In short, and as we have seen in this section, we must never simulate elements and we must create them in the correct way so that all the elements have a meaning beyond the content they contain.



The titles are a fundamental element of the documents, they allow structuring the content in sections, and therefore, facilitate navigation through it. For this reason, our titles must be clear and descriptive.

A well-structured document will be easier to modify in the future, in addition to this we ensure that when converting the document to other formats, the structure will be preserved, for example, conversions from Word to PDF.

To create titles in Word, we will use the styles (Heading 1, Heading 2 ...) that are in the styles panel within the Home tab. To apply one of the title styles we will follow these simple steps:

  1. We select the text that we want to use as a title.
  2. We select one of the available styles (Heading 1, Heading 2 ...) depending on their level in the document. We will put as the style Title 1, first level, the text that is the title of a section and as Heading 2, second level, the titles of subsections, etc.

Panel de estilos de titulos

Let's see an example. We wrote a document on the creation of accessible documents that would look like this:

Creation of accessible electronic documents (Title)

Clear text (Heading 1)

Format of the text (Heading 2)

Language (Heading 2)

Text in Spanish (Heading 3)

Text in English (Heading 3)

Structure and semantics (Heading 1)

The main title of the document must have a Title or Book Title . To identify the sections we will use the style Heading 1 : Clear Text and Structure and Semantics. And now, within the section Clear Text we have two subsections to which we will have to apply style Heading 2 : Format of the text and Language. Finally, within the language subsection -remember that it is a Heading 2 level- we will have two elements that should have the style Heading 3 : Text in Spanish and Text in English.

It is important to properly hierarchize a document, for this, we must bear in mind that a lower level title must be preceded by another level immediately above. That is, we can not put a Heading 1 and a subsection with Heading 3.

Word has a navigation panel that allows us to view at all times the hierarchy of titles of our document, to enable it we follow these steps:

  1. Select the View tab.
  2. Enable the Navigation Pane check box.
  3. And we will have available the panel with the title structure.

Panel de navegación

Different groups of people with disabilities, such as blind or low vision people, use this navigation panel that allows them to quickly understand what the document is about and also to be able to move through the different sections of the document without having to explore everything.

The styles of the titles predefined by Word can be edited, that is, change the type of letter, its size, etc.


Content format

As we mentioned in the previous section, we should never simulate elements with others, nor use them without the necessary styles. Each element is unique and has its purpose. A list is used to list a series of elements, a paragraph to structure a text, a table to show specific data in a tabular and visual way, etc.



We do not have to simulate a list using scripts or numbers, but we will use the tool of bullets of Word, to create a list correctly we follow these steps:

  1. We select the lines that make up our list.
  2. Click on the icons of not numbered or numbered bullets, depending on the case.


Barra de herramientas de párrafo listas

Word has three options for creating lists:

  • Lists with bullets:  Lista con viñetas
  • Numbered lists:  Lista numerada
  • Multilevel lists:  Lista multinivel



We should not simulate text in columns by tabs or tables if we want to separate information. This could create serious accessibility problems. A screen reader would find the information line by line and not one column first and then the other, so the text will not make sense.

Therefore, if we want our text to look like columns, we will use the Word columns option. We can structure a text in columns correctly by following these steps:

  1. We select the Layout tab.
  2. We select the text that we want to structure.
  3. We click on Columns and choose the number of columns in which we want to structure the content, for example two. To change the column, you must insert a column break.

Estructurar texto en columnas

In the following image you can see how a column break is inserted.

Insertar salto de columna

Section and page breaks

Nor should we simulate page or section breaks using blank lines or spaces, because in this way a screen reader will read all these blank lines without meaning.

Therefore, it is necessary to use the options of page break or section break, instead of using several carriage returns for the text to change pages. In Word, we follow these steps:

  1. Select the Insert tab.
  2. We place the cursor where we want to insert the jump.
  3. We will click or Blank page or Page break according to the action we want to perform . Insertar salto de página y página en blanco

Table of Contents

We recommend creating a table of contents of the document as it will help the user to:

  • Orient within the document by facilitating navigation through it.
  • Understand how it is structured.
  • Allows you to go to the content that interests you.

In this way the user will know what content is in the document and how it is structured without having to go through the entire document, allowing him to directly access the section that may be of interest to him.

To create a table of contents automatically from the titles that we have created in the document, we follow these steps:

  1. We select the References tab.
  2. We locate at the beginning of the document or at the point where we want to insert the table of contents.
  3. And we select Table of contents , and within the drop-down box we will choose the option that we like the most.

Insertar tabla de contenido

Tables and pictures captions

Another recommendation to structure the documents is to add titles to the pictures or tables. These titles will help users to better understand the function of these elements.

To include titles in pictures or tables in Word, we follow these steps:

  1. Click with the right button on the picture or table, the table has to be fully selected. Insertar título en imágenes
  2. We chose the option Insert caption.
  3. In the window that appears, we select as Label the correct option: illustration or table, and we will write the caption that we want to give to our element.
  4. Finally, we select the position of the caption with respect to the element, being advisable to put the caption on top of the tables and below in the pictures . Ventana insertar título en imágenes
  5. We finish by clicking on OK .


Header and footer

Headings are not considered part of a document. A screen reader considers that they are decorative elements, such as a logo and will not read this information, by default. And although the user can access it manually, it is recommended not to put relevant information in the headers.


Page numbers

We must add a page number to the documents, thus allowing the user to navigate more easily throughout the document.

Nowadays, documents in which the page number is inserted manually, page by page, are still detected. This is a bad practice since it simulated the numbering of pages. To include the page numbers automatically in Word, we will follow these steps:

  1. Select the Insert tab.
  2. We select the Page number .
  3. In the menu that appears we select the position and format of our page numbers.

    Insertir números de página



Images and non-textual elements     Text and language