How To: Alternative Text for Decorative Images in any version of Microsoft Office

Update November 2020: We’re very pleased to report that the latest releases of Office 365 have substantially improved the Decorative checkbox, and that it now works effectively both with screen readers working with Office files, as well as PDF files exported from Word. There are still imperfections; however, we have test results from all major screen reader combinations demonstrating that, for the most part, one can now trust the Decorative checkbox to behave as expected. Therefore, although our recipe contains many nuances that are invaluable to users of earlier versions of Office, the best advice we now can offer is to upgrade to the latest version. Thank you, Microsoft, for listening carefully, and continuing to work with us and others in the community to strive to include everyone.

We’re constantly striving to create accessibility techniques that are so easy to do that everyone who creates documents can make them a habit. Today’s tip is about decorative images in Microsoft Office: whether Word or PowerPoint.

If you’re familiar with creating accessible documents and webpages, then you already know the importance of using alt attributes for images in HTML, including making the attribute blank (<alt=””>) for those images that are decorative, redundant, or irrelevant. Similarly in PDF files, we mark such images as an “artifact”.

However, one of the big challenges in creating accessible PDF files from Microsoft Office is the unfortunate lack of a way within Word and PowerPoint to indicate that an image is irrelevant. Hopefully Microsoft will soon realize how important this is, and give us an Artifact checkbox in the Alt Text tab. (Yes, Microsoft has added a Decorative checkbox in Office 365 and Office 2019, but it still, sadly doesn’t do what we need it to do!)

Read the full recipe…

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Sarah Bloomfield’s Clear Covid Mask

Photo of completed masks placed on a cutting mat along with fabric cutter and scissors

The “Clear Covid Mask” is a DIY COVID-19 mask that lets others see the wearer’s mouth. This helps everyone communicate better, especially those who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.

David saw a TV news clip about Michigan nurse Sarah Bloomfield and her doubly heroic front-line design thinking. Designing a mask that helped a Deaf colleague work better with Sarah was clearly another case of how when we design for the extremes, everyone benefits. Our team decided we want to help make it easier for everyone to be able to make their own. So we worked with Sarah to create improved, accessible DIY instructions, prototypes, and plans. And indeed, field testing has demonstrated that, while people who are Deaf and hard of hearing benefit especially from others wearing such masks, everyone communicates better when they can see each other’s mouths.

Here’s the recipe that resulted…

What you will need

  • 100% tight-woven cotton fabric, 24″ x 8″ (0.6m x 0.2m) (cotton t-shirts, tea towels, or sheets can be used in place of new fabric)
  • Thin gauge clear vinyl or a heavy-weight clear shower curtain liner, 5″ x 3″/12.7cm x 7.62cm
  • Thread (polyester recommended)
  • ⅛” (3mm) thick cotton cording, 53″ (1.33m) long (cotton clothesline)
  • Extra-wide double-fold bias tape, ½” (12mm) wide

Pre-Assembly directions

Cut the materials to yield these pieces:

  1. Clear Vinyl Mouthpiece: 1 piece 5″ x 3″ (12.7cm x 7.6cm). Note: finished window is 4″ x 2″ (10.2cm x 5.0cm)
  2. Top Piece: 2 pieces 5″ x 2¼” (12.7cm x 5.7cm)
  3. Bottom Piece: 2 pieces 5″ x 4½” (12.7cm x 11.4cm)
  4. Side Pieces: 4 pieces 2″ x 7½” (5.0cm x 19.0cm)
  5. Side Casings: 2 pieces 2″x 6″ (5.0cm x 15.2cm)
  6. Cording: 53 inches (1.3m)
  7. Bias Tape: 2 pieces 7″ (18cm) each

Note: All the components (with the exception of the side casings) will be made up of 2 plies of fabric, with good sides facing out. Here’s a photo that shows an example of one of each piece:

Photo of all the different components (fabric pieces, vinyl, cord) and cutter placed on a cutting mat.

Assembly Directions

  1. Seam Allowances:
    • All seams that are sewn through the vinyl are ½” (12.7mm).
      Note: You want to limit the number of times that the vinyl is punctured so that it doesn’t tear in the wash. Do not backstitch through the vinyl. Use knot mode or tie off seams starting and ending in the vinyl.
    • Seams that are sewn through fabric on fabric are ⅜” (9.5mm).
  2. Stitch Length:
    Set the stitch length to 3.0 through vinyl. Set it to 2.6 through fabric.
  3. Take the top pieces and place the good sides together (facing each other) then insert the clear vinyl piece between them, lining up the long edges of the fabric with the long edges of the vinyl. Stitch the long edge. Finger press open, then top stitch ⅛” (3.175mm) from the edge of the vinyl. Note: You might be tempted to grab your iron and press this open. Don’t! You don’t want to nick or melt the vinyl with your iron!

    Photo showing the top piece, the bottom piece and vinyl attached.

  4. Repeat with the bottom pieces, then the side pieces.

    Photo showing the top piece, the bottom piece, vinyl and the side pieces attached.

  5. Sew the double-fold bias tape to the top and bottom edges of the mask. Stitch ⅛” (3.175mm) on the other two raw sides as a stay stitch. Note: You can do all of this without taking it out of the machine by attaching the top piece of bias tape, turning and stitching down the side, attaching the bottom piece of bias tape, turning, and then stitching back up the other side. Make 3 pleats on the front of the mask as shown in the picture (the finished length of the sides must be 5″ (1.27cm) after you make your pleats), and pin in place. Depending on your comfort level with sewing, you can then baste this … or just keep it pinned for the next step.

    Photo showing the top piece, the bottom piece, vinyl, side pieces and the double-fold bias tape to the top and bottom edges of the mask.

    Photo showing the back of the 3 pleats pinned on the mask.

    Photo showing the 3 pleats pinned on the front of the mask.

  6. Attach side casing pieces by placing the mask front side down (the side with pins in it, that you hopefully pinned, poking out on the sides so that you can still see them), and put the side casing piece good side down. It should extend ½” (12.7mm) above and below the edges of your side. Fold these edges under and sew, making sure to backstitch.

    Photo showing the side casing attached to the mask with front-side down.

    Photo showing the front view of the side casing attached to the mask.

  7. Tie a knot in both ends of the cording piece.
  8. After both side casings are attached, flip the good side up and pull casings out to the sides. Fold the raw edge under about ¼” (6.35mm), fold over the cording, and pin in place. Note: the knotted end of the cording needs to extend above the top of the mask. The loop should be at the bottom of the mask. This is very important as it determines where the window is when it’s put on. Stitch casing in place, close to the folded edge, making sure not to stitch the cording. The cording needs to be free to slide up and down for fit.

    Photo demonstrating how the cord is attached to the side casing of the mask before it is stitched.

  9. Done. Thank you!
Photo of a proud person seated at a sewing machine, holding several finished masks in their hands.
Sarah Bloomfield with finished masks!

Accessible Gmail: the secret to adding alt text to your email messages

Do you use Gmail? We do. And, like everything else we create we want our Gmail messages to be accessible too. 

Here at David Berman Communications, inclusive thinking is in our DNA. The presentations we give at conferences, as well as our training, auditing, and remediation for our clients, all require being up-to-date and informed on the latest accessibility techniques. So, of course, we want our outbound email to be accessible too.

We used to mainly use Thunderbird as our email program, but now we send most of our email from Gmail. And although Gmail includes many magical features, it sadly doesn’t include a way to add alternative text to an inline image.

Alternative text is especially important for images in email. Why? Here’s an example of what your audience may experience without alternative text (whether they can’t see or because they simply have the “Always Display External Images” setting turned off in their Gmail settings … perhaps to save data or to avoid suspicious content).Screen capture of an email not displaying images as well as the alternate text within the body content in Gmail

Screen capture of an email showing images within the body content in Gmail.

The Problem: Consider the above pair of screen captures of an email from Stardock. In the first one, there is no way to download the product that they are urging you to try: The text says “To the right is a link to download…” but there is nothing there to see. Only when we turn on “Display Images” in Gmail (resulting in the second screen capture) does the “Download Now” button appear. And if the audience is using a screen reader, even that won’t help, because the “Download Now” graphic lacks alternative text.

The Solution: We’ve developed an easy recipe for you to add alternative text to every image you add to your outbound Gmail. No matter who is receiving your message or whatever email software they are reading it with, your images will carry the same quality of alternative text that you’d insist upon in every web page or document. Enjoy!

How to add alternative text to images in Gmail for Windows … or Gmail for Android


  • Gmail on your Windows or MacOS desktop … or Gmail for Android (sadly not Gmail for iOS: you can follow these steps on Gmail for iOS but the resulting message will not have the alternative text.)
  • Any image
  • Alternative text for the image


  1. Using the Gmail app on your desktop or Android, compose an email just as you always would … but don’t add any images yet.
  2. Decide what image you want to include in your email (for example, a photo of an otter).
  3. Using Google Docs on any platform, put the image you wish to email into any Google Doc document you have access to.
  4. If your image in Google Docs does not already have Alt Text, give it Alt Text… here’s how: Using Google Docs on desktop (unfortunately, you cannot do this on Android), select the image (type Ctrl+Alt+Y …or right-click then select the Alt Text command) to bring up the Alt Text window. Then type appropriate Alt Text into the Description field (not the Title field!). (Need guidance on how to write great alternative text? Ask us about our Helpdesk Guide). Tip: Once you’ve added alt text to an image in Google Docs, copy-and-pasting it from Google Doc to Google Doc will also retain its alt text! Yay!
  5. Copy and paste the image from the Google Doc into the Gmail message you are composing, wherever you’d like it to appear.
  6. Send: you’re done!


Here’s an example of how your resulting message will look, with an without the image present… The first of these two images is what your message looks like with images visible, and the latter is what everyone experience when images or turned off (or what a screen reader will announce)

Screen capture of an email displaying image with proper alternate text in Gmail

Screen capture of an email showing alternate text for an image not displayed in Gmail.


Want to convince yourself your Alt Text is actually there? There’s no way to see it in the Gmail interface; however, if you’re technically-inclined, you can use the Inspect command in Chrome to view the source code of your message: search for “alt=” and you’ll see your alt text in the underlying code).

If you’re curious to experience the alt text in the received email message in Gmail (because you won’t “see” the alternative text in the regular view unless you’ve turned off the option to display images), go to the Show Original command and search for “alt=”.

A big shoutout to Lucia Greco from AccessAces, whose posting on this inspired us to figure this out!

Accessibility Cookbook

For more accessibility recipes, visit our Accessibility Cookbook page.

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Multiple styles within one paragraph in Word for Windows… accessibly!

We have many clients who express the desire to have more than one paragraph style within a paragraph in Microsoft Word. For example, someone wants to have a lead-in heading, where the heading is the first part of the paragraph and the rest of the paragraph is body text (i.e. not a heading).

Good news! We have a solution where you can mix styles within a paragraph in Microsoft Word for Windows (unfortunately for Mac users, this feature and our ribbon won’t work yet in Microsoft Word for MacOS).

Read the full recipe…

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David’s best recipe for getting from your Word file to accessible PDF

Finally! Starting this past month, Office for Mac finally has all the same features as Office for Windows. Which makes this all the more timely:

Of all the recipes I’m asked to share, whether in one of our accessibility courses or while a client prepares PDF files for us to help make more accessible, I think the recipe I’m asked to share most often is how to get from Word to PDF. And it’s understandable: there are so many paths and options, it can be bewildering for someone trying to create PDF files that are accessible for people living with disabilities. Of all the accessible PDF recipes we’ve developed (InDesign, Office, LiveCycle/Adobe AEM Forms, GoogleDocs…) this one’s the most frequent request. So here it is…

Read the full recipe…

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