Create Accessible Documents in Microsoft Word

Posted August 4th, 2021 at 10:36 am.

Microsoft Word is a commonly used application among individuals with a variety of disabilities and is reasonably accessible. The text within Word documents can be read by assistive technologies such as screen readers and Braille devices. Below are the basic steps for implementing important accessibility features.

Table of Contents:

Use Headings

Use headings to help people with impaired vision understand how the document is structured. Screen reader and Braille users can jump between headings, which makes navigation much more efficient than if there are no headings.

Convert text into a heading on a Mac
  1. In the Format menu, click Style…
  2. Scroll through the Styles list and click one of the built-in Heading styles like “Heading 1” or “Heading 2”.

Screenshot of Style dialogue box on Mac

Organize headings to create an outline; use the “Heading 1” style for the main heading, and “Heading 2” for sub-headings. For additional headings within sections under “Heading 2” sub-headings, use “Heading 3”, “Heading 4”, etc.

Visit the Microsoft website for more information about creating Headers in Word.

Convert text into a heading on a PC
  1. In the Home tab, click Styles.
  2. Scroll through the Styles list and click one of the built-in Heading styles like “Heading 1” and “Heading 2”.

Screenshot of heading styles list on PC

Organize headings to create an outline; use the “Heading 1” style for the main heading, and “Heading 2” for sub-headings. For additional headings within sections under “Heading 2” sub-headings, use “Heading 3”, “Heading 4”, etc.

Visit the Microsoft website for more information about creating Headers in Word.

Use Lists

Create lists using Microsoft Word’s built-in tools for ordered (numbered) and unordered (bulleted) lists. Without these tools, the content is not actually a list, and screen reader users will have more difficulty understanding it.

Create a new ordered or unordered list

  • Select the content of your list or click where the list will begin.
  • In the Home tab, click the  down-pointing caret to the right of the ordered or unordered list icons.
  • Click a bullet or numbering style.

Screenshot of style options for an unordered (bulleted) list.

Use Purposeful Hyperlinks

  1. Use language in your document that provides relevant information about the destination of the link.
  2. Highlight that text, right click it, and then click Hyperlink.
  3. Add the URL in the Address field and click OK.

Screenshot of the Hyperlink dialogue box on a MacScreenshot of the Hyperlink dialogue box on a PC

 

Visit the Microsoft website for more information about creating accessible links.

Add Alternate Text for Images

Alternative text (or alt text) provides a description of an image for screen reader users. The alt text will also appear in place of an image when the image cannot be rendered properly.

Add alternate text for images on a Mac
  1. Right click an image and click Edit Alt Text…
  2. 2. Type information in the Description field

Screenshot of Alt Text menu on a Mac

Add alternate text for images on a PC
  1. Right click an image and click Format Picture.
  2. In the Format Picture menu, click Alt Text and type information in the Description field.

Identify Document Language

Define the document’s default language

  1. Click the Tools menu and then click Language.
  2. Click the language from the list and then click OK

Define a different language for part of the document

  1. Select the text in the different language.
  2. Click the Tools menu and then click Language
  3. Click the language from the list and then click OK
  4. Repeat for each different language in the document.

Screenshot of Language menu on a Mac

Note: Currently language settings only effect accessibility of the Word document itself. They do not survive when exported to PDF. If PDF is the final format in which you intend to distribute your document, you will need to define language in the PDF directly using Adobe Acrobat Pro.

Use Tables Wisely

Word has limitations when it comes to making tables accessible. Tables can be very difficult for screen reader users to understand unless they include markup that explicitly defines the relationships between all the parts (e.g., headers and data cells). Simple table with one row of column headers and no nested rows or columns, are easily accessible in Word. However, more complex tables (such as those with split or merged cells) can only be made accessible within HTML or Adobe PDF (accessible table markup can be added to the PDF using Adobe Acrobat Pro).

  • Break up complex tables in the document and make them into multiple simple tables and give each one a heading.

For simple tables, identify which row contains the column headers.

  1. Click on one of the cells in the row containing the column headers.
  2. Click the Table menu, then click Select, then click Row
  3. Right click the row that contains the column headers and click Table Properties
  4. In the Table Properties dialogue box, click the Row tab, and check the checkbox next to “Repeat as header row at the top of each page”
Define your table’s header row on a Mac
  1. Click on one of the cells in the table, making the Table Design tab appear.
  2. Click Table Design and check the box next to Header Row to define the table’s header row

Screenshot of Table Design tab with checked box next to Header Row on a Mac

Visit Microsoft website for more information about creating Accessible Tables.

Define your table’s header row on a PC
  1. Click the Design tab, which reveals the Table Styles Option group
  2. Check the box next to Header Row to define the table’s header row.

Screenshot of Table Design tab with checked box next to Header Row on a PC

Visit Microsoft website for more information about creating Accessible Tables.

Use the Accessibility Checker

Microsoft Office has a built-in accessibility checker which can help test the overall accessibility of the document. The checker provides Inspection Results, feedback about the importance of each item, and tips on how to repair issues.

  • Click the Tools menu and then click Check Accessibility

Screenshot of the Accessibility Checker dialogue box

Filed under: Accessibility,Word by Esmé Read

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