Accessible text layout

In principle, it is not difficult to design a text document for people with visual impairments; however, a number of details must be kept in mind. These details and the relevant technical instructions are listed in Chapter 4. In this chapter, we provide the basic guidelines.

Using styles

Styles are the most important tool to make your text accessible in terms of structure and appearance. The use of styles to organise text is a widespread software principle. For this reason, you will find that many computer programs use styles.

  • Styles structure a document so that a screen reader can accurately recognise and reproduce various elements, such as headings, running text or image captions.
  • Styles allow the various elements to be formatted and organised as groups.
  • In this way, they facilitate a consistent visual layout in accordance with the principles of accessibility.
  • Styles make it much easier to change the layout: instead of making layout changes in each individual location, you can just change the style format.

The following aspects of text accessibility can all be set using styles.


  • Sans-serif fonts, such as Arial, Calibri and Tahoma, are easier to read for people with visual impairments than serif fonts, such as Times New Roman or Garamond.
  • It is best to use a black font on a white background. This provides the best contrast. Combinations of red and green or blue and green should be avoided.
  • Your font size should be at least 12 pt. Headings may be larger. Use black on white because people with visual impairments require plenty of visual contrast, and colour inversion also works best with black-and-white text.
  • Screen readers often do not recognise special characters such as à or >. Please avoid them if possible. The same applies to abbreviations and Roman numerals. Please avoid them whenever possible.
  • If you write in German and need to gender nouns, use the colon: Dozent:innen and Student:innen. The screenreader will read this correctly as a brief pause. Underline (Dozent_innen) or the Asterisk (Student*innen) would be read as “underline” or “asterisk”.

Paragraph formatting

  • In the body of the text, use 1.5 line spacing. Use even greater spacing before and after headings.
  • Vertical spacing – for example, before headings or between paragraphs – can be set up in Styles. Avoid accumulations of carriage returns. Spacing after a paragraph makes it easier to read magnified text.
  • Horizontal spacing should be avoided whenever possible, as it is difficult for people reading magnified text (more about this in Chapter 5). However, if a horizontal space in a line is necessary for some reason, create it with the tab key. Avoid long rows of spaces.


In order for the screen reader to accurately recognise the structure of a text, you must use hierarchical headings. Use the preset headings in MS Word; they are easiest for the screen reader to understand. (The appearance of headings may have to be adjusted, however; see Chapter 4.3.)

Page formatting

Do not make left and right margins too narrow (i. e. do not make lines too long). This way, people reading highly magnified text can move smoothly from one line to the next. Lines of approximately the same length will also make navigating the text easier.


  • Turn off automatic hyphenation
  • Insert page numbers
  • Insert page breaks
  • Use a single-column layout
  • Do not use text boxes  

Dark mode

Students with migraines, cluster headache or other neurological conditions may have difficulty reading on a glaring white background, as this might provoke an attack. In such cases and if possible in the software you’re working with, you should adapt the background and font colour (e. g. in slides) or provide a “dark mode” layout for your website. A dark grey background with an off-white font is best.