Accessible Microsoft Word Documents
The practice of making documents accessible for screen readers is necessary to provide equal access to content. Best practices for making Microsoft Word documents accessible for persons with disabilities that use assistive technology can be found below. It is always best to start documents with accessibility in mind to save time later on retroactively fixing and updating your content for students requiring this format.
When creating content in MS Word, there are a few basic steps to take to ensure your content is accessible.
- Ensure that font size is sufficiently large—generally a minimum of 12 points.
- Provide sufficient contrast between text colors and background colors.
- Do not use color as the ONLY way to convey content.
- Avoid the use of watermarks. They can impact readability and create low contrast.
- Provide a table of contents for long documents. This can be generated automatically when headers are used correctly.
- Follow the accessibility formatting guides below.
Create a uniform Heading structure through use of styles in Microsoft Word
This allows screen readers to navigate a document and improves accessibility for everyone.
- Start a new line to create a heading, or select text to change to a heading.
- Open the Home tab/menu and choose the appropriate heading in the Styles panel. Ensure headings are formatted in a logical order.
Pages should be structured in a hierarchical manner:
- Heading 1 is usually a page title or main content heading. It is the most important heading, and there is generally just one.
- Heading 2 is usually a major section heading.
- Heading 3 is usually a sub-section on Heading 2.
- Heading 4 is usually a sub-section of Heading 3, and so on, ending with Heading 6.
Tip: Modify your headers for document and formatting consistency. Headings can be modified to adjust the font, text size, and color to ensure consistency and flow in your document.
Add Alt text to all graphics and images
Alt text describes an image and is read by a screen reader in a Word document. It is necessary to add Alt text to all images and Tables to ensure that every student is able to understand the context of the image and how it relates to content.
To add Alt text to an image:
- Select the picture or object.
- Option to right click to Edit Alt Text or select Alt Text from the Format section on the header ribbon, select Alt Text.
- Write a concise description of the image or mark as a decorative item if the image is used for decorative value only.
To add Alt text to an Table:
- Go to the Table Properties menu.
- Select the Alt Text tab
- Write a concise description of the Table and a short description
Add a concise description:
A few words is all you need, though sometimes a short sentence or two might be appropriate. Screen readers generally say what type of content the object is, you do not need phrases like "image of", "table of", or "link to."
If you have images in your document that are purely decorative and do not add value to the content, please consider removing the image all together or replacing the image with a more meaningful image and Alt Text.
Create accessible Hyperlinks
MS Word automatically creates a hyperlink when the full URL is added to a document. The URL may not make sense or provide a clear path for the student who uses a screen reader. It is important to ensure the display text in the link is unique and has meaningful and ordinary language so that the user knows where the hyperlink is redirecting them.
To add a Hyperlink:
- Select Insert from the menu.
- Select link.
- Complete the Insert Hyperlink text to display and address.
To edit a Hyperlink:
- Select a Hyperlink, right click, and select Edit Hyperlink or hit Ctrl + K.
- Change the text in the Text to display field to add a more meaningful description.
Creating a meaningful Hyperlink text to display:
Users who rely on screen readers often browse a list of Headers and Hyperlinks with their screen reading software. Using generic phrases like “Click Here” or “Learn More” are not helpful and do not provide direction for where the link is redirecting the user.
Making data Tables accessible
When creating and using Tables in a Word document, keep it simple as Word has limitations when it comes to making tables accessible. It is recommended to us MS Excel when creating more complex tables. Accessible tables need to have a structured table with defined headers to guide a screen-reader through its content.
Accessible data tables in MS Word meets the following conditions:
- The table has only one row of column headers at the top (it must be the first row)
- The top row is marked as a header row
- There are no other header cells
- There are no merged cells or no nested tables within the table
- The table was not created using the "Draw Table" option
To add a Table to your document:
- Select the Insert tab.
- Select Table > Insert Table.
- Add Table Headers to the first row by selecting the Table and Design on the ribbon.
- Under the Table Style Options menu, make sure the following three boxes are selected: Headers Rows, Banded Rows, and First Column.
Structuring accessible Columns
Always use true columns. Do not create columns with Tab. Creating columns with the Tab function will distort the reading order for screen readers.
- Select the Layout tab.
- Select Columns in the Page Setup group.
- Choose the number of columns.
Organize and format Lists
- Use numbered and bulleted Lists to emphasize sequence of the list.
- Select the Home tab.
- Choose the Numbered Lists or Bulleted List option form the Paragraph menu.
Checking for Accessibility
MS Word contains a feature to check accessibility. After developing or restructuring your Word document in an accessible format, it is recommended to run an accessibility check. Errors in the documents content will be noted in the inspection results and additional Information menu presented to you on the screen. The inspection results also include additional information about accessibility issues on the right side of the screen. Here, you will find additional resources and links to information about making documents accessible.
- Select Review > Check Accessibility.
- The Accessibility Checker will present a menu of errors, warnings, and tips for making repairs.
Each issue is classified as an Error, Warning, or Tip.
- Error: An error is for content that makes a file very difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to understand.
- Warning: A warning is for content that in most, but not all, cases makes a file difficult for people with disabilities to understand.
- Tip: A tip is for content that people with disabilities can understand, but that might be better organized or presented in a way that would improve their experience.