Creating Accessible Word Documents

This page will provide a set of general guidelines to follow when creating Word documents to help keep your content accessible to all students.

Accessibility Checker

The Accessibility Checker will find many types of issues, but it is recommended that you read the Guidelines section of this page so you are familiar with the problems that may arise.

Word includes a tool called the Accessibility Checker to help you find issues with your document. To access it, click the Review tab and click "Check Accessibility". it will provide you with a list of errors, warning, and tips with recommendations.


Use alt text properly

When embedding an image into a document, add alt text to the image to help students who can't see the screen and use a screen reader. It is best to describe what is in the image, including any text or numbers within. Keep the description as short as you can - typically only a few words are used, although when describing a more complex image a sentence or two may be used. Do not use the phrases "Image of...", "Graphic of..." or any similar phrases, as it is apparent to the user that it is an image.

For example, imagine embedding a chart (in an image format) showing the percentage of Americans who find it important that America remain a global leader in space exploration. You might include the following alt text:

27% of Americans believe it is not essential for the U.S. to remain a global leader in space exploration, while 72% believe it is important

In conjunction with the surrounding context, this alt text would convey the entire meaning (and only the meaning) of the chart.

However, if you were to embed an image of a space shuttle, the phrase "space shuttle" would be the perfect alt text for that image.

There are many more good practices regarding alt text, which can be found in the WebAIM Alternative Text article.

Adding Alt Text to Images in Word

  • Right click an image and select "Edit Alt Text" from the context menu
  • The Alt Text pane will open on the right side of the document body
  • Type your alt text into the input

Add meaningful hyperlink text

When adding links to a Word document, consider whether the text you are using as the link (not including the text around it) fully describes what it links to. Do not use the phrase "click here" or similar phrases. Consider using the title of the page and/or name of the publishing organization.

For example, "WebAIM Alternative Text" or "Pew Research Center American Views on Space Exploration" would be good links.

Ensure color is not the only means of conveying information

The best way to check for this issue is by visually scanning the document and looking for instances of color. Make sure that any use of color is also represented by some other difference. For example, say you had two different header levels - one which was blue, the other orange, and both the same size and font. This would not be accessible to colorblind users. Try increasing the font size of one header. If you had boxes with red and green to indicate fail and pass, add an X and checkmark respectively to visually separate these boxes.

Use built-in headings and styles

Using the built in headings in Word will help screen readers to keep track of the document's flow. It is also important that you use the headings in their prescribed order (Heading 1, then 2, then 3) and not another order. This will ruin the flow in the screen reader.

How to Use Built-In Heading Styles

  • Highlight the text that you'd like to convert to a heading
  • Find the "Styles" pane at the top under the "Home" tab
  • Select the appropriate heading type

    If you don't like the default style provided by MS Word, you can right click on the style you want to change in MS Word and select "Modify..." from the context menu.

Use a simple table structure

Do not use split cells, merged cells, nested tables, or completely blank rows/columns. Screen readers keep track of their location in a table by counting table cells. If a table is nested within another table or if a cell is merged or split, the screen reader loses count and can't provide helpful information about the table. Blank cells could also mislead a person using a screen reader into thinking there is nothing more in the table.

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