How to Create Accessible Documents in LibreOffice

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LibreOffice, the open source office suite, has just been updated to Version 7, and among some of the additions to the software is a slew of new accessibility features, including a document assessment tool and the ability to create accessible PDFs from Writer. Here we show how to create an accessible document in LibreOffice.

Getting started

If you already have LibreOffice installed, make sure it is running version 7 (or above). You can check the version by going to “Help -> About LibreOffice.”

Check Libreoffice Version

Alternatively, you can download and install the latest version from its website.

Updating LibreOffice in Ubuntu

LibreOffice 7 is fresh enough that there’s no standard packages integrated in the Ubuntu software manager as yet. Fortunately, upgrading is not too difficult, but at the moment does involve a trip to the Terminal.

To add the LibreOffice 7 repository, open a terminal and type the following:

There will be a notification of what’s going to be updated, it should be all the base applications. Choose Y and, after a short break, the new versions should be installed.

While you’re in the mood for updating, it could be the right time to update Ubuntu to the latest long-term support version too.

Accessibility setup

This tool is experimental in LibreOffice, so it comes with the usual caveats about potential instability. In our tests, the Linux version was the least stable, usually crashing while accessing the Advanced tab, but the Windows version appears to be quite solid.

Image showing the Advanced section of LibreOffice 7's tools menu.

To switch on the tools, open any document and go into “Tools -> Options” and choose the “Advanced” option from the menu on the left. Select “Enable experimental features” and hit Apply. The application will need to reload for these changes to take place, so make sure you have saved all open documents before moving on.

Check your docs

Once you’ve reloaded and opened your document, you can check the status with “Tools -> Accessibility check.” Alongside each of the issues, you’ll find a “Go to issue” button which will highlight the offending section.

Screenshot showing the Accessibility checker in LibreOffice 7.

If you can’t see these buttons (we found this issue on Windows), use the scroll bar to scroll right, and they’ll be revealed.

Fix the problems

Common problems the software will identify include no proper document titles (go into “File -> Properties” and add a title under the Description tab), missing alt text or descriptions on images (double click an image, then check under the Options tab to add these elements), and text formatting, such as bold text used for subtitles instead of using a heading level that may convey additional meaning. It will also highlight areas where your text lacks contrast and may be difficult to read for someone partially sighted.

Screenshot showing the dialog box for editing image Alt text in LibreOffice 7.

Once you have been through all the areas of concern, redo the check for a clean bill of health.

Accessible output

Select “File -> Export as PDF” to begin the export process. This will bring up the standard export dialog, but there is a new addition in the Universal Accessibility (PDF/UA) option, so select this. When you check Export, the accessibility check will run again before you do the final export. 

Screenshot showing the output dialog for creating universally accessible PDFs.

A well-formatted accessible PDF should have a logical read order – defined by proper heading and appropriate tags on things like tables and lists – alt text for all meaningful images and security settings that don’t hinder screen readers.

Creating accessible documents that don’t disadvantage significant parts of your audience is good manners and may be one of your statutory obligations. You may also want to change the default font in LibreOffice to make it easier to read.

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Andy Channelle

Andy Channelle is a writer and web developer who has written for Linux Format, Mac Format, 3D World and others, and has also published best-selling books on Ubuntu Linux and OpenOffice.org. He's recently worked on web projects and campaigns for the International Red Cross and the UN. He produces - but hardly ever releases - electronica under the name Collision Detector. Andy lives in Wales, UK.

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