Skip to main content

Creating Accessible Pages Documents


Pages is word processing software for Mac operating systems that is widely used by its Mac users. This tutorial will walk Pages users through the implementation of its accessibility features.

In this tutorial, the Pages’s accessibility features will be covered through:

  • Document Language
  • Headings
  • Alternative text for images, charts, graphs, and tables
  • Creating accessible Charts
  • Color Contrast
  • Creating accessible Templates

Specify Document Language

In order for assistive technologies such as screen readers to interpret documents correctly, the language of a document should be set by the document creator. If multiple languages are used, each section, word, or phrase that is in a different language needs to have an appropriate language defined by the document creator.

Pages ’09:

  1. Highlight the text you want to specify language for


  1. Select All to specify the language across the entire document.
  2. Select View then Show Inspector.
  3. In the Inspector dialog box, choose the Text button (shown by a large T).
  4. Then select the More tab, and specify the language from the Language drop-down menu.

Inspector dialog box is open. The text tab is selected and the Language is assigned at the bottom of the menu.

Pages 5.2.2

There is currently no way to specify document language in Pages 5.2.2.

Text Alternatives

Alternative text for images, charts, graphs, and tables is vital to ensuring that users with visual impairments have access to information included in these visuals. This descriptive text should be limited to 120 characters for simple images, while the alternative text for graphs, tables, and complex images (such as detailed maps and diagrams) should give a brief summary of the included information. Alternative text should provide sufficient information so that users who are unable to see them are still able to understand what they convey. Images used for purely decorative purposes (i.e., those that do not provide any meaningful information) should not have alternative text. If the body of the document already contains a sufficiently detailed description in close proximity to the image, the alternative text can simply identify the image so that the reader knows when it is being referred to.

While there are no hard and fast rules for determining what alternative text should say (it depends on the image, its context, the intent of the author, etc.), one simple trick is to imagine describing the image to someone over the phone. The more important an image's content is, the more descriptive the alternative text should be.

For the MSU wordmark, "Michigan State University Wordmark" would be appropriate for most documents. A graphic design document describing the introduction and use of different branding marks at MSU might require a more detailed description, if the specific formatting of the text would be important to the reader.

For charts and graphs, chart type (i.e., bar, pie, line, etc.), data type or axes, overall trends or patterns, and relevant data points should be described. For example, a simple chart might have the following alternative text: "Bar chart of number of traffic fatalities in Ingham county from 2008-2010. Fatalities have increased for the last two years. There were 121 fatalities in 2008, 157 in 2009, and 160 in 2010."

Pages ’09 does not provide an alternative text function. Captions must be added by creating a text box and displaying it above or below the image.

In the 2014 iWork Pages update, a text description field was added. Import the image into the document, and then select the image. To the right of the document, the Image Inspector will appear, and under Description provide the text description of the image.


Paragraph headings provide context and a way to navigate quickly for users of assistive technologies such as screen readers. Such technologies ignore text size and emphasis (bold, italic, underline) unless certain paragraph styles such as Headings, are used. As an added benefit, Headings can be used to automatically generate a Table of Contents or bookmarks in a document. Styles modify the formatting of all occurrences in a document, so you can quickly change the format of all Headings of a particular level (you can still override global settings by changing the format of an individual piece of text, regardless of style assignment).

Headings should be selected based on their hierarchy in the document. Start the page with a heading that describes overall document content (Title). Follow it with sub-headings (Heading 1) and sub sub-headings (Heading 2), etc.. Items of equal importance should be equal level headings, and heading levels should not be skipped (i.e., a Heading 3 can't be the first heading after Heading 1; Heading 2 can't be skipped).

To start:

  1. Highlight text to be altered, and then select the Choose a Paragraph Style in the left-hand (right-hand in Pages 5.2.2) Format Bar.
  2. Choose the style you wish to apply in the drop-down menu.

Style drop down menu

Creating Accessible Charts

Charts can be used to organize data in a way that audiences can easily interpret. Charts oftentimes are an important visual component to aid in presenting information/data to students/users. It is important that charts be made accessible to people with visual impairments. A short text description of the chart should be written either before or after the chart’s location in your Pages document. A few things above this can be added to enhance the accessibility of the chart.

For Pages ’09:

  1. Select the chart.
  2. In the menu, choose View, then Show Inspector.
  3. In the Chart Inspector dialog box, choose Chart.

Chart Inspector dialog box. Chart is the first selectable tab.

  1. Make sure that Show Title and Show Legend are checked in their corresponding check boxes.
  2. Select Axis.

Chart Inspector dialog box is shown. Axis is the second selectable tab.

  1. In the Value Axis (Y), select the Show Title in the drop-down menu.
  2. In the Category Axis (X), select the Show Value Labels in the drop-down menu.

For Pages 5.2.2:

  1. When a chart is selected, the chart format panel automatically opens on the right-hand side.
  2. Click the Chart tab, and ensure that Title and Legend are checked in their corresponding check boxes.

Screenshot of Chart panel with the chart tab selected. The Title and Legend checkboxes are currently enabled.

  1. Then click the Axis tab. With the Value (Y) button selected, check the Axis Name option.

Screenshot of Chart panel with Axis tab currently selected. Value (Y) option is selected, with the Axis Name checkbox enabled.

  1. Then click the Series tab. Open up the drop-down menu under Value Labels and select Number.

Screenshot of Chart panel with the Series tab selected. Value Labels is at the top of this panel, with Number currently selected.

Colors should not be the only characteristic that defines different categories in charts. Add shapes or symbols in as well to help differentiate different categories. This feature will also improve general usability for students who print out content on black and white printers.

Color Contrast

It is essential that appropriate contrast exist between text and the background. In general, lightly colored text should have a darker background and darkly colored text should have a light background. For more on how to test the accessibility of your color contrast, see the Color Contrast tutorial (which uses the <span lang="en-GB">Colour Contrast Analyser</span>, a helpful tool for testing your color contrast).

Creating Accessible Templates

When starting a new Pages document, you must first choose a template to use. These templates range from blank pages to fully formed outlines that can be easily adapted to the user’s needs. Instead of creating an accessible document from a blank template every time you start a new Pages document, it is possible to customize a new template and save it into the Template Chooser to use again. A template designed with accessibility in mind can be saved and reused for the creation of future accessible Pages documents.

For Pages 09:

  1. Click File and then New from Template Chooser.
  2. The Template Chooser will open and you may choose the template you want to customize.
  3. Make your file accessible with Headings, specified Languages, and make sure to check accessibility.
  4. Then click File and then Save as Template.
  5. In the Export As dialog box, name the file accordingly, and click Save.

Export As dialog box. Save button is located on the bottom right.

For Pages 5.2.2

There are currently no base templates for use in Pages 5.2.2. You will have to create any templates from new documents. A template can be used to preserve proper heading and page structure.

After creating a template, click File from the menu bar, then click Save As Template.  Then click Save, and choose a location to save your template to.