Imagine: Janie is excited about her new home purchase, with the beautiful fireplace in the living room. Janie sees herself sitting in front of the fireplace on a snowy night, watching the flames while drinking hot cocoa and feeling toasty. On the first cold day of the year, she prepares to make a fire, but then she realizes—too late—that the fireplace is for aesthetics only: it has no function other than beauty.
This story is useful when thinking about “semantic structure” for web and digital accessibility. As Laura Lippay states on the Moz Blog, “Screen readers, much like search engine crawlers, rely on signals in the code to determine the structure and the context of what they’re crawling.” When these signals are absent or incorrect, a screen reader cannot provide all the information needed, such as the location of headers, lists, and other structural elements. To make your webpages and digital documents readable by screen readers, you must provide the proper structure.
View a 1-minute video “Document Styles Done Right“ to better understand how to structure your own documents in Microsoft Word so that they are web accessible. Most text editors, including those in such word-processing applications as Microsoft Word, provide the styling capabilities needed to ensure accessibility in this way.
The need for correct structure applies as much to HTML web content as to digital documents. Learning management systems, like Blackboard, include text editors with options for headers and subheaders, bulleted and numbered lists, block quotes, and more.
Have you ever pasted content from a word-processed document directly into a text editor? If the content included elements like bullets and headers, the results were less than ideal. Even if you aren’t an HTML expert, you can still get good structural results by using an online conversion tool. With web-based applications like HTML Cleaner or WordHTML, you can copy your Microsoft Word content, paste it into the proper area in the tool’s interface, copy the resulting HTML, and paste it into the text editor. Usually, with just a few adjustments, your content will be correctly structured.