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Creating Communications that are Accessible 

Accessibility benefits everyone and learning to create accessible communications is for every State employee, not just those who are in designated communications roles!

Each and every one of us is communicating in some form or another, including emails, reports, presentations, meetings, websites, applications, grant programs, press releases, printed materials, and more. The avenues of communication are endless. In our role as State employees, we convey vital information to the general public. It is our responsibility to make sure we are presenting information in a way that is understandable. The Chief Marketing Office is committed to ensuring marketing and communications from the State of Vermont are clear and accessible for all Vermonters and that State employees have the tools they need to make this happen.

Let's begin...together!

As we embark on the journey of bringing accessibility to the forefront of our work and daily conversations, it is important to realize that this topic is not one size fits all. It is likely not feasible to make each communication accessible for every potential member of your audience, because everyone has individual needs. This is why the first step is to know your audience and if there are any important considerations in connecting with them. And, the second important step is to welcome the audience to request accommodations and alternative formats.

How the Chief Marketing Office can help

The Chief Marketing Office has assembled best practices and considerations to make communications accessible (outlined below) and is in the process of updating all State of Vermont Brand Standards and Guidelines to ensure that our foundational standards are in line with current accessibility best practices. As part of this work, the CMO has developed Microsoft Word and PowerPoint templates that offer easy-to-use style settings and options for a variety of content types with step-by-step editing instructions.

Learn How to Edit the State of Vermont Templates


Request the State of Vermont Word Report or PowerPoint Presentation Templates

To request the State of Vermont Word document Report or PowerPoint Presentation Templates, send an email to Please note these templates are only available to State of Vermont employees.


Accessibility throughout the Enterprise

We encourage all State of Vermont employees to review the Accessibility Guidelines SharePoint site published by the Agency of Human Services Accessibility Committee. This site is available to all state employees interested in learning more about accessible communications, complete with guidelines, resources, and recommendations for a variety of communication methods and formats.

Best Practices

First and foremost, all communications should be simple and organized. Content and language should be understandable and formatting should assist the audience with understanding your message. Outlined below are best practices for content, layout, and various types of communication.


Plain Language 

Communications developed by State employees for the public should be written in plain language. A good goal is to aim for your content to be readable at an 8th grade reading level or below.

Plain Language Tips

  • Avoid using complex words or long sentences.
  • Avoid using acronyms. If acronyms are used, be sure to explain what they stand for.
  • Know your reader/audience and write for them.
  • Lead with the key message.
  • Use the active voice.
  • Keep the message simple and short.
  • Use a positive tone.

Additional Resources

Use tools such as Microsoft Word's readability feature or the Hemmingway Editor to determine the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. Additionally is a helpful resource to learn more about using and developing plain language. 


It is important to develop documents that are not overloaded with information and provide a generous amount of 'white space' to give the audience room to interpret the content. It is better to split content across multiple pages rather than create a layout that is tight and visually overwhelming. 

Using heading styles to organize content. Users relying on screen readers depend on properly placed headings to navigate the content. By using headings in the correct order(<h1>, <h2>, <h3>…), the content will be easy to follow for screen reader users.

Layout Tips

  • Provide a generous margin (1") on all sides of the page. 
  • Put figures and captions on their own page.
  • Avoid using columns. If you do use columns, provide a minimum .25" gutter to prevent the columns from becoming too close.
  • Don't skip heading levels (ie going from <h2> to <h4>) because that confuses screen readers.
  • Don't select a heading style simply because it looks nice visually.


Typographic choices are vital to ensuring communications are visually pleasing and easy to read. Typefaces and letterforms each have their own unique design and depending upon their complexity offer different levels of readability. The two State of Vermont typefaces, Franklin Gothic and Arial, are sans serif. Fonts without serifs are simpler in form, are versatile at a variety of sizes, and can be used for headlines, body copy, captions, footnotes, and disclaimers. The minimum font size for every element of all State of Vermont communications is 12 points. 

Typography Tips

  • Keep text stationary.
  • Don't use animations that make text flash.
  • Text is most accessible when it is left justified.
  • Never add text as an image.
  • Don't place type over images.
  • Use bold to emphasize text.
  • Avoid using underlines and italics to emphasize text.
  • Underlining is reserved for hyperlinks. 
  • Avoid using all caps.
  • If Franklin Gothic is selected, condensed facings are not recommended.


It is important to understand that audience members may experience color blindness and/or visual impairment. Color should not be used as a method to separate sections of content and or to convey meaning. The content hierarchy should be established first and in black and white without color.

Color Tips

  • Don’t use color as the only way to communicate information.
  • Choose color combinations with high contrast.
  • Always check your color combinations. 
  • Be sure to take your type size into consideration when confirming your color combinations.

Additional Resources

Check color combinations by using or


Hyperlink text should be concise and meaningful. It is important to describe where a user will go and what they will learn when clicking the link. Hyperlink text should always be underlined and the text color should be the system default blue. 

Hyperlink Tips

  • Links must incorporate two visual cues to distinguish the link from the rest of the body text.
  • Don’t use words like 'click here' or 'here' or 'learn more' or 'PDF'.
  • For printed items that contain hyperlinks, provide the URL in parentheses after the linked text. If the printed item will also be shared digitally, don't hyperlink the URL written in the parentheses. This will avoid repetitive hyperlinks. 

Hyperlink Example

Visit the Chief Marketing Office website to learn about the State of Vermont Brand Standards and Guidelines.

Hyperlink Example for Printed Items

Visit the Chief Marketing Office website to learn about the State of Vermont Brand Standards and Guidelines (

Don't Use: To learn more about the State of Vermont Brand Standards and Guidelines, click here.

Don't Use: Visit the Chief Marketing Office website to learn about the State of Vermont Brand Standards and Guidelines:

Figures (Pictures, Charts/Graphics, and Icons)  

Figures (pictures, charts/graphics, and icons) are commonly used to help explain your message, but these elements must contain alt text and captions. The description you provide can be the same for the alt text and caption, but it is important that you provide it in both locations. For images and icons that serve no purpose in conveying information, it is important to mark them as decorative.

Alt text provides a description that allows users who are blind or have a visual impairment to understand content. Users who might be using assistive technology such as screen readers, have the ability to interact with images and graphics as separate elements that are not associated with the body content of the document. Providing alt text will ensure that a description is always associated with an image or graphic.

Captions are read aloud by screen readers and are considered part of the document content. It is important to add captions following the steps outlined below so they are automatically numbered and organized throughout your document. This will allow you to easily create a Table of Contents for your figures (Table of Figures) when you are done.

Tips for Figures (Pictures, Charts/Graphics, and Icons)

  • Use descriptive alt-text for informational images, graphs and tables.
  • Alt text should be concise, consisting of 1-2 sentences. 
  • Alt text should not begin with 'Image of' or 'Graphic of'.
  • Alt text should describe the image content in context but not duplicate the surrounding text.
  • Images or graphic elements that are purely decorative should be marked as decorative.
  • The general State of Vermont Moon Over Mountains logo with or without an identifier should always include the following alt text: "State of Vermont Moon Over Mountains logo." If an identifier is included, the alt text should read: "State of Vermont Moon Over Mountains logo with the (insert listed identifier) identifiers."
  • The State of Vermont Coat of Arms logo should always include the following alt text: "State of Vermont Coat of Arms logo."

Example Alt Text and Photo Caption

Department of Housing and Community Development Commissioner Josh Hanford participated on a panel with other public officials at a public meeting and stood to address seated attendees.
Department of Housing and Community Development Commissioner Josh Hanford participated on a panel with other public officials at a public meeting and stood to address seated attendees.


Carefully consider the use of tables. Tables should be used sparingly and only for quantitative data. They should not be used as a layout tool. If content does require the use tables, it is important to keep them simple, as details can quickly become disassociated from the corresponding column heading. Take the table below as an example:

Measure Result 1 Result 2 Result 3
Name of Measure 1 A B C
Name of Measure 2 A B C
Name of Measure 3 A B C

A screen reader would read this aloud as follows: “Measure, Result 1, Result 2, Result 3, Name of Measure 1, A, B, C, Name of Measure 2, A, B, C, Name of Measure 3, A, B, C.” Once the screen reader arrives at the second row, the specific results (A, B, C) are disassociated with their column headers (Result1, Result 2, and Result 3). An alternative format for the above table could be the list below:


  • Name of Measure 1
    Result 1: A; Result 2: B; Result 3: C
  • Name of Measure 2
    Result 1: A; Result 2: B; Result 3: C
  • Name of Measure 1
    Result 1: A; Result 2: B; Result 3: C

Tips for Tables

  • Keep the title outside the table. Don't use a cell or row for the title.
  • In Word, use “Insert Table” to create a table. Don’t use the “Draw Table” option.
  • Use established table styles in Word.
  • Use headers and make sure they repeat if the table is on multiple pages.
  • Don’t merge or split cells.
  • Don't leave cells empty. For instances, when there is no value, be sure to write '0' or N/A.
  • Don't stack tables.
  • For tables that contain a lot of data, make sure that the main takeaway is described within the text or as a caption.

Printed Materials 

Before sending artwork files out to be printed, it is important to understand that the format and material you choose can impact the accessibility of your final product. Establish your content first and then select a finished format. This will ensure you have the space needed to create a visually welcoming layout that provides breathing room to interpret the content. When you consider format options for your finished piece, be sure to select materials that make sense for your audience and intended use case. Be mindful that certain materials can create physical discomfort when touched and coated/glossy materials can create glare that impacts readability. 

Tips for Printed Materials

  • Always use a matte paper.
  • Don't use gloss paper. 
  • Always request a paper sample from the print vendor so you are able to inspect the physical quality of the material.
  • Ask the print vendor if they can share samples of print orders that were completed on the paper you have selected to confirm the final product will be as you intend. 


It is important to remember that presentations often have large audiences, either during the presentation itself or after when it is shared or posted publicly. It is important to keep inclusivity in mind when delivering a presentation or sharing it after the fact. You should plan to provide the presentation in a variety of formats, so it is accessible for a broad audience.

General Tips for Presentations

Accessible PowerPoint Slides

  • Use State of Vermont or Department templates that are formatted with accessibility features. This helps to limit what you need to change to be more accessible.
  • Slide Design: Designing your slides for people with dyslexia generally makes them better for everyone. Get design guidance in this video.
    • Don’t use animations and slide transitions. They are visually distracting and are not considered accessible.
    • Limit the text on the slide and have plenty of space around the text.
    • Use sans serif fonts and avoid italics, all caps or underlining for emphasis.
    • Use pictures to emphasize the text.
    • Give every slide a unique title. 
  • Use accessible colors and check your color contrast. Don’t use color as the only way to communicate information. Get more information in the color section.
  • Images: Add alternative text to images, charts, and any visuals. Find out how to improve image accessibility. Review this 6-part video tutorial for how to create accessible PowerPoint presentations and how to Make your PowerPoint presentations accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Use the Accessibility Checker in PowerPoint.
  • Reading Order: Verify the reading order of the elements on your slides. When you verify the reading order of your presentation, users that rely on assistive technology such as screen readers will receive the content in the order you intend. Learn how to adjust your reading order in this video.
  • Add notes/captions to your slides. These will function similar to alt text on an image and should provide a detailed description of the slide content, including written and visual elements.
  • Distribute your slides to attendees before the presentation, if possible. Learn to save presentations in a different format; aka how to convert a presentation into a handout.

Tips for Presenters

  • PowerPoint Live: Learn how to present inclusively using the PowerPoint Live feature in Teams. This allows your attendees to adjust the slides to better meet their needs.
  • Physical descriptions: Take the time to provide a physical description of yourself, your surroundings, and a visual description of each slide you share. If you are presenting with a group and are not the first to speak, be sure to provide a physical description of yourself and your surroundings when it is your turn. This helps audience members who may have a visual impairment and makes sure that everyone is able to receive the same information. 
  • Identify yourself: During a question-and-answer session, when responding to a questions be sure to identify yourself so audience members who may have a visual impairment know who is providing an answer.

Tips for Presentation Planners

  • Accommodations: For public presentations, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to provide potential attendees the opportunity to request accommodations. When sending out meeting announcements, provide a date to request accommodations by and give yourself at least a week to get those in place. Find out more about offering accommodations. Note: This page is managed by the Agency of Human Services. You must be a State of Vermont Employee to access this document and may be prompted to request access. 

Tips for Video and Captions

When sharing a video presentation, be sure to add written captions. 

  • Use a good microphone during the presentation.
  • Write the captions in a quiet room.
  • Use a script if possible. Also, use the any notes/captions added to each of the slides in the PowerPoint presentation.
  • Edit your video to cut out chatter.
  • IMPORTANT! Plan to commit at least 2 –3x the duration of the video for captioning.
  • Get more information about viewing, editing and managing video transcripts and captions in Teams.

Email Signature 

To ensure communications are accessible, the Chief Marketing Office has established and recommends all State of Vermont entities and employees adopt the format for email signatures that are outlined below:

Option 1

Firstname Lastname, Certifications (Optional Pronouns) | Title
Vermont Agency or Department Name
State Bldg, 123 Street St | Montpelier, VT 05000
802-828-0000 office | 802-000-0000 cell | 802-828-0000 fax

(Optional Call to Action) Find Vermont job opportunities at:

Option 2

Firstname Lastname, Certifications (Optional Pronouns) | Title
Division or Program Name
Vermont Department
State Bldg, 123 Street St | Montpelier, VT 05000
802-828-0000 office | 802-000-0000 cell | 802-828-0000 fax

(Optional Call to Action) Find Vermont job opportunities at:

Optional Content

  • Pronouns can be included at the discretion of the user and should be placed within parenthesis after the user’s name and any certifications.
  • A “Call to action” line for social media, newsletter signup, directions, seasonal messages, etc. This line length must stay under 72 characters, with spaces, should be text only, and should not be placed within parenthesis.

Additional Guidelines

  • The font for email signatures is Arial, 12-point type for size, in black.
  • At this time, the default body font of messages in Microsoft Outlook is Calibri (Body), at 11-point size. The Chief Marketing Office recommends changing the default body font to Arial and increasing the default font size to 12-point to match the preferred email signature format. Users can change their default font settings in Outlook’s Options.
  • Bold your name. Other than your name, do not use bold, italic or caps. Do not stylize your name in a different font (i.e., do not use a script font or change the color). The recommended font, Arial 12-point size, complies with accessibility standards.
  • No logos, social media icons or other images; this includes the State of Vermont logo. The standardized format of your signature identifies you as a representative of Vermont state government. Social media “handles” in text are acceptable.
  • Use dashes in your phone numbers rather than parentheses or periods. 


State branding is not an appropriate element in your signature block. Images often come through as attachments to the email or are blocked entirely and are also not considered accessible without the correct alt text.


The State of Vermont Web Template is a fully-supported Content Management System through the Agency of Digital Services. The Web Look and Feel Standards consist of the required components that every official State of Vermont website or app must have and offers the following web-specific accessibility general guidelines and best practices. All of the best practices outlined above also apply.

Website Tips

  • Typography: Sans-serif fonts are recommended for all body text. The preferred typefaces for web applications, in accordance with the overarching State of Vermont Brand Standards and Guidelines, are Open Sans and Lato. Header text must be noticeably larger than body text and utilize the heading styles available with the template. At a minimum, every state website will use a font size set to 1em and a weight of ‘normal’ for body text.
  • Hyperlinks: Links to external sites (web pages not part of the current site) and documents (PDFs, Word documents, etc.) should open in a new browser window. Link titles should be descriptive of the action that will happen when the user activates the link, e.g., ‘Download grant application’ or ‘Read more about the grant program.’
  • Video Captioning: Be sure to provide captions in the videos so that users who are deaf or hard of hearing can understand the content without having to rely on the visuals alone.
  • Create Webpages Instead of PDFs: Assuming you selected an accessible CMS, create webpages to display content, rather than linking from your webpage to inaccessible PDFs or Word documents. If you must link to a PDF or Word document, make sure you are linking to an accessible version and that you have run the accessibility checker on the file prior to uploading it to your site.
  • Responsive Design: All state websites must utilize responsive design techniques to re-stack and re-size navigation, body areas and all content automatically in accordance with the display size of the viewing device (e.g., desktop, tablet or mobile). It is acceptable for menus to collapse into a menu button that a user must click to open, but these menu buttons must appear and stick at the top or bottom of a tablet or mobile screen.

Learn more about why accessibility is essential for some and useful for all.

Contracting and Procurement 

All communications that are developed by contracted vendors must follow the best practices outlined above and meet accessibility requirements of Section 504 Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (508 Compliance). Whether completing a Marketing Work Request Form to work with a Marketing, Creative, and Media Services master contractor or finalizing a scope of work for marketing services, be sure to include the requirement below.

Language for Contracts

All creative and deliverables must be developed in accordance with the State of Vermont Brand Standards and Guidelines and meet accessibility requirements of Section 504 Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (508 Compliance).