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Headings | Elearning Accessibility Tips and Tricks

Without headings, your documents and web content is inaccessible! But not only is it easy to format with headings, it can save you a lot of design time! In this video, I show instructional designers and elearning developers how to add headings to web documents and more.

Headings are so important for people that use screen readers, for people that navigate by keyboard, or for people that just want to be able to get to what they need really quickly!

If you’re not familiar with headings, heading 1 is the biggest, heading 6 is the smallest.

Here’s a diagram of how headings may be used together. Notice the size difference to indicate hierarchy:

Diagram shows Heading 1 as main heading, all the way down to Heading 4

When you use headings together, you are creating a hierarchy in your document or in your e-learning that’s going to break up your content nicely and make it accessible. With headings, someone can navigate with their keyboard or visually skim through the content really quickly. Headings add structure and navigability to your digital documents.

How you add headings depends on the software or platform you’re using. Any self-respecting word processor or web editor will have the option to add headings.

It’s really easy to add headings in Microsoft Word as well as in learning management systems like Canvas.

However, authoring software, like Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate or Microsoft PowerPoint, does NOT have the ability to add headings, though they do have other accessibility features.

Here’s what to look for in Microsoft Word, which refers to headings and associated formatting options as “Styles.” If you just use the size and color formatting buttons on the left, you’ll superficially format your text*, but changes in size will only have an impact visually, it won’t help structure the text for people using screenreaders:

Don't just use the font formatting buttons in Microsoft Word


Instead, look a little farther right, to the Styles section:

Screenshot of where to find Styles section in Word


If you open that section up, here’s what you’ll see:

Screenshot of all Styles in Microsoft Word

These are what you ought to use to format your documents for EVERYONE! Notice that only Heading 1 and Heading 2 are available. That’s because you should start with Heading 1. As you use Heading 2 and on, the lower headings will appear for you to use.

If you don’t like the default formatting in Word, no problem. You can customize it. Just create text that is formatted how you want a specific heading to be formatted, then select that text and right-click on the heading you want to reformat:

Changing Heading 1 format to match selection


Now, you can see that Heading 1 formatting has changed:

heading 1 formatting is now custom


This has the bonus of changing the formatting of all Headings 1’s (or 2’s, 3’s, or whatever) all in one go!

Just remember: start with Heading 1 (or 2, if there’s already a Heading 1 elsewhere on the page)! And the smaller the number, the larger the heading.


*It’s OK to use just those formatting buttons for bullets and numbering! But if you are adding sections with headers to your text, please use the Styles pane.


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