Website Accessibility Tip of the Week: Using True Headings

Open book with many pagesThis week Robert Hardy, our district website accessibility specialist, shares about using
true headings. Please call Robert with any accessibility questions at Ext. 6105. He is more than happy to talk by phone or schedule a time to meet with you.

Headings are used to break up large chunks of text and inform the reader of a document’s structure. Headings are created visually by enlarging, bolding or underlining text. While these alterations enable a sighted reader to skim a document, they do not provide the programmatic accompaniment necessary for a screen reader user to scan through a document.

Fortunately, adding true headings to a document is a straightforward process. To add
headings in Word or Google Docs, simply highlight the intended text and select the appropriate heading style from the top ribbon. Guides for each software suite are available on the district’s Website Accessibility Resources page.

Heading styles typically range from Heading 1 (H1) to Heading 6 (H6), with heading
levels 1-3 being the most common. Rather than using headings in consecutive order, authors should nest headings, creating a built-in table of contents. The document title would be a Heading 1, chapter titles would be Heading 2 and subsections would be Heading 3. The resulting document structure would be:

  • Heading 1 (document title)
    • Heading 2 (chapter titles)
      • Heading 3 (subchapter titles)
    • Heading 2
      • Heading 3
      • Heading 3
        • Heading 4

A screen reader user can access a Headings menu that allows them to navigate through
the document structure, enabling them to skim a document and find just the pertinent

Beyond increasing accessibility, the use of true headings grants the author greater
control over their document structure. Heading styles can be customized en-masse, and an interactive Tables of Contents can also be added to a document using the heading structure as a basis. For more information on these techniques, see the blog post The Increased Efficiency of True Headings.

For more information on true headings, and other elements of semantic structure,
consider attending the Accessibility – Semantic Structure workshop on October, 21, 2019. In the meantime, if you have questions about headings or other accessibility issues, please reach out to Robert Hardy at Ext. 6105.