LibreOffice, an open source office suite, was recently updated to Version 7, and among the few additions to the software are many new accessibility features, including a document grading tool and the ability to create PDFs accessible from Writer. Here we show you how to create accessible documents in LibreOffice.
If you already have LibreOffice installed, make sure LibreOffice is running version 7 (or higher). You can check the version by going to “Help -> About LibreOffice”.
Alternatively, you can download and install the latest version from the website.
Updating LibreOffice on Ubuntu
LibreOffice 7 is fresh enough that no standard package yet is integrated in the Ubuntu software manager. Luckily upgrading isn’t all that difficult, but right now it does involve a trip to the Terminal.
To add the LibreOffice 7 repository, open a terminal and type the following:
sudo apt install libreoffice sudo add-apt-repository ppa:libreoffice/libreoffice-7-0 sudo apt update
There will be a notification about what will be updated, it should be all basic applications. Select Y and, after a short pause, the new version should be installed.
When you’re looking to upgrade, this could be a great time to update Ubuntu to the latest long-term support version as well.
This tool is experimental in LibreOffice, so it comes with the usual warnings about potential instability. In our tests the Linux version was the most unstable, usually crashing when accessing the Advanced tab, but the Windows version seems pretty solid.
To activate the tool, open any document and go to “Tools -> Options” and select the “Advanced” option from the menu on the left. Select “Enable experimental features” and press Apply. The app will need to reload for this change to take place, so make sure you have saved any open documents before proceeding.
Check your document
After you have reloaded and opened the document, you can check the status with “Tools -> Accessibility check”. Next to each issue you will find an “Open issue” button which will highlight the offending section.
If you can’t see these buttons (we encountered this problem in Windows), use the scroll bar to scroll right, and they’ll be revealed.
Fix the problem
Common problems that the software will identify include not having a proper document title (go to “File -> Properties” and add a title under the Description tab), missing alt text or description on the image (double-click the image, then check in under the Options tab to add this element), and text formatting, such as bold text used for subtitles instead of using the level of headings that can convey additional meaning. It will also highlight areas where your text lacks contrast and may be difficult to read for someone who is nearsighted.
Once you have cleared all areas of concern, repeat the check for a clean bill of health.
Choose “File -> Export as PDF” to start the export process. This will bring up a standard export dialog, but there’s a new addition in Universal Accessibility (PDF / UA) options, so select this. When you tick Export, the accessibility check will run again before you do the final export.
An accessible PDF in a good format should have a logical reading order – defined by proper headings and appropriate tags on things like tables and lists – alternative text for all meaningful images and security settings that don’t get in the way of screen readers.
Creating accessible documents that don’t harm the majority of your audience is good behavior and may be one of your legal obligations. You may also want to change the default font in LibreOffice to make it easier to read.