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Create Accessible Word Documents

Posted on: August 12th, 2013 by annek

Written by Shweta Kailani

This article will cover several things that you can do to make web content created in Word more accessible. Microsoft Office 2007 and later has a new Accessibility Checker feature that is very helpful when you are creating any electronic document using a Microsoft Office application.

Title and Heading Styles

In order for screen readers to recognize headings in a text and read the text in the correct order and hierarchy, use the appropriate text style for all the different text elements i.e. headings must be in one of the heading styles instead of making the text bold and larger font.

Follow the steps below to assign a text style to a text –

  • Select the text that you want to convert, while still being in the Home tab of Microsoft Word
  • On the top ribbon, under Styles – select the style that you think is most appropriate for the text selected
  • The text by default is under Normal text style 


Images require alternative text with a brief description of the image for users with visual impairment who are using screen readers to read the documents.

Follow the steps below to add alternative text to the image –

  1. Right-click on the image
  2. Go to Format Picture
  3.  Click on the very last option – Alt text
  4. Under Description, add a brief and appropriate description of the image


In addition to alternative text that describes the content of the table, it is useful to have clear column headings for easy navigation. To specify a header to the column, do the following –

  1. Click anywhere in the table
  2. On the Table Tools Design tab, in the Table Style Options group, select the Header Row check box
  3. Add your header information
  4. Click on the top left corner of the table where you have the cross hair and select the table
  5. Right-click and go to Table Properties
  6. Go to the Alt Text tab and type in the title and description of the table


Hyperlink text should provide a clear description of the link’s destination instead of just the URL. To add or change the text of a hyperlink, do the following –

  1. Select the text that you want to change into hyperlink and then, on the Insert tab in the Links group, click Hyperlink to open the hyperlink dialog box
  2. In the Text to display box, make any necessary changes to the text
  3. Click OK

Check for Accessibility Issues

Microsoft Office 2010 and later has the built-in Accessibility checker that can be used to check the document for issues pertaining to accessibility. In order to run the Accessibility Checker, follow the following steps –

  1. Click File > Info
  2. If the Accessibility Checker sees any potential issues, you will see a message next to the Check for Issues button
  3. To view and repair the issues in your file, click Check for Issues > Check Accessibility
  4. Your file reappears, and the Accessibility Checker task pane shows the inspection results
  5. Click a specific issue to see Additional Information and  steps you can take to change the content

Color and Contrast

Colorblindness affects a significant number of people, most often as an inability to distinguish between red and green. Some of the key things that you must keep in mind while designing a presentation are –

  1. Avoid using orange, red, and green in your template and text
  2. Use texture in graphs, instead of color, to highlight points of interest
  3. Keep the overall  color contrast high

Best Practices

  • Use predefined text styles for Heading, Titles, and normal text
  • Use color and contrast properly
  • Use simple fonts – Arial, Verdana, Sans Serif
  • Provide Alternative text for Images, hyperlinks, tables, and charts
  • Check your work with the Accessibility Checker