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Microsoft Word Accessibility

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Microsoft Word Accessibility

Discover techniques that can be used to make accessible Word documents. Steps may vary depending on the version of Microsoft Word and the type of Operating System that you are using. The version used on this page is Microsoft Word 2016 for PC.

Page Contents

Headings

Heading structure benefits both sighted users and visually impaired users. Sighted users can scroll through a document and quickly pick out the big, bold text (headings) to get an idea of the document structure and content. Visually impaired users who use screen readers can pull up a list of the document’s headings and quickly jump to any particular heading. It is important to always use the built-in heading styles to designate your headings as such. While simply bolding or enlarging text will provide visual structure, it will not provide the backend structure to benefit visually impaired users.

How to add heading styles

  1. Highlight the text that will be converted to a heading.
  2. Under the Home tab, locate the Styles section.
  3. Select the desired heading style to be applied to the text.
Word styles bar.

Which heading styles should I use?

Headings styles are to be used in a hierarchical manner. The Title style should be used only once per document, while Heading styles can be used multiple times. Try not to use styles lower than Heading 3.

  • Title: title of the document, usually appearing at the very top.
  • Heading 1: main content sections of the document.
  • Heading 2: sub-headings of Heading 1.
  • Heading 3: sub-headings of Heading 2.
Document example labeling the Title, Heading 1s, and Headings 2s.

Hyperlinks

Every hyperlink should have a clear description of its destination and the description should make sense even when taken out of context. Hyperlink descirptions tell users exactly where the hyperlink will be taking them before even clicking on it. While surrounding text may be helpful for sighted users, it will not benefit visually impaired users who choose to navigate a list of hyperlinks taken out context.

How to add hyperlink descriptions

  1. Right-click on a hyperlink.
  2. Select Edit Hyperlink.
  3. In the Text to display field, enter a description of the hyperlink destination.
  4. Click OK.
Edit hyperlink window with text to display text box.

Examples of hyperlink descriptions

Images

Images should be given alternative text, also called alt text, serving as a description of what is happening in the image, allowing visually impaired users, through the use of a screen reader, the opportunity to receive the same content from an image that a sighted user would receive.

How to add alternative text

  1. Right-click on an image.
  2. Select Format Picture.
  3. Select Layout & Properties.
  4. Select Alt Text.
  5. Enter a description for the image in the Description field (Title is optional).
Format picture window with alt text text field.

Alternative text tips

  • Don't describe every detail of an image, just describe the main idea you are trying to convey to users.
  • Be as concise as possible. If the image conveys a main idea that is already discussed in detail in the document, one sentence may be all the alt text that's needed.
  • Don't begin alt text with "Image of..." because images are already identified to the user as images by the screen reader.
  • Alt text should be left blank for purely decorative images, or images that don’t help with the understanding of content.

Tables

Tables should have a header row, the top-most row in a table that tells users the type of content that will be displaed in each column. Tables should also be given alternative text, also called alt text, serving as a description of the table, allowing visually impaired users, through the use of a screen reader, the opportunity to receive the same content from a table that a sighted user would receive.

How to add table headers

  1. Select a table.
  2. Under the Design tab, locate the Table Style Options section.
  3. Select the Header Row checkbox.
  4. Type headings into the top row of the table.
  5. Select the top row of the table.
  6. Under the Layout tab, locate the Data section.
  7. Select Repeat Header Rows.
Header Row option selected in Table Style Options.     Repeat Header Rows option selected in Data.

How to add alternative text

  1. Right-click on a table.
  2. Select Table Properties.
  3. Select the Alt Text tab.
  4. Enter a description for the table in the Description field (Title is optional).
Table Properties window with Alt Text text field.

Alternative text tips

  • Don't list the contents of each table cell, just give an overall summary for the table.
  • Be as concise as possible. One sentence may be all the alt text that's needed.

Accessibility Checker

The Accessibility Checker is used to check your document for issues that could potentially make it inaccessible to those with disabilities. The Accessibility Checker results can be clicked on to provide details about why the issue should be changed and how to go about changing it.

How to run the accessibility checker

  1. Select the File tab.
  2. Select Info.
  3. Select Check for Issues > Check Accessibility.
Check Accessibility under Info tab and Check for Issues menu.

More Help

For more help with creating accessible Word documents, please contact Studio 6.

Additional Resources