Accessibility Tip of the Week: The increased efficiency of true headings

This week Robert Hardy, our district website accessibility specialist, shares about the increased efficiency of true headings in documents.

Outside of enhancing access to content, one of the benefits of creating accessible documents is the greater control it gives to the document author.

Many Word and Docs users are self-taught, and as such, learned to create titles and headings by enlarging the font, changing the alignment, bolding the text, and occasionally underlining it. This process is cumbersome at best, requiring each heading to be styled individually. It also doesn’t provide an accompanying programmatic markup for the software. Is the content bolded for emphasis, or is it bolded as a title? Curious readers want to know.

By creating true headings in the accessible way, using the heading styles in Word or Google Docs, the efficiency of the workflow is greatly improved. Rather than the process described above, the author can simply highlight the text and pick a heading style. This provides both a visual and programmatically defined heading.

Microsoft Word screenshot - heading styles

If the author decides to change the visual layout of their headings down the line, changes can be made en masse, rather than to each heading individually. By changing the styling of just one heading, going to the Headings Styles Pane, right clicking and selecting “Update Heading X to Match Selection”, each instance of that heading type will be updated. This is not only much more efficient, but also ensures consistency throughout a document.

Microsoft Word screenshot - heading styles menu. A heading style is right-clicked and 'Update Heading 1 to Match Selection' is highlighted.

In Microsoft Word, true headings can also be used to create a table of contents. This is particularly helpful for longer documents. Simply go to the References ribbon and select the Table of Contents button. A fully functional table of contents based on the heading structure will be inserted.

Microsoft Word screenshot. The References ribbon is active and Table of Contents is highlighted.

These types of efficiency gains are common across different software suites, and are a pleasant example of the benefits of designing our content for the broadest audience possible.

If you have questions about true headings, or other aspects of accessibility, please feel free to reach out to Robert Hardy (x6105), the district’s website accessibility specialist.