Accessible-First Document Format

Working Draft: Last Updated 2023-07-29

Objective: to specify and provide reference implementations for a general-purpose document data format that prioritizes accessibility first and foremost.


We hold that this status quo of digital document creation is unacceptable and must be addressed.




In general, digital documents make use of a large number of different mechanisms for presenting and organizing information. We've broken these down into groups by their overall primary purpose, and listed a number of key features that the AFD Format should support for each.



Cross-Media Representations

Assorted notes on affordances

In keeping with our overall principles, we want to avoid stipulating how affordances are presented. These should defer to personal preference on the part of the audience of the document wherever possible (e.g. someone may wish to always expand acronyms or only the first time encountered, offer definitions on-demand, etc.).

Care must be taken here to be inclusive of non-visual means of interaction, e.g. how would someone request more information via a screen reader? How can someone familiar with jargon avoid wasting time on constant re-definitions of terminology? etc.

We generally prefer to store an abundance of semantic data in the document itself, which may or may not be presented to the audience, and may or may not afford certain experiences in all cases. This maximizes the possibilities for access without overly burdening the document format (or document authors!) with the need to micro-manage the experience of someone interacting with the document itself. This also serves to maximize the agency of the audience, which is a key objective of genuine accessibility.

Concept Scratch Space

  <Title>Pretend Document</Title>
    This is a made-up document to illustrate the
    Accessible-First Document Format.
  <Section Heading="Example">
    <Paragraph>This is some example text.</Paragraph>
      <Emphasis Start="14" End="21" /> <!-- emphasize "example" -->

Non-Visual Styling