Creating Accessible Word Documents

Creating Accessible Word Documents (3 minute video)


Headings are an important aspect in ensuring that a document is accessible. Headings make it easy for all users, including screen reader users and Braille system users, to navigate through a document's structure. Headings must be in correct hierarchical order, starting with "Heading 1" as the title, followed by subheadings of "2" and "3" if needed.

For Example:

Examples of how to structure headings in a Word document

How to: Use the built-in heading styles of the home tab. Highlight the text, and then select the heading that correctly corresponds to the structure of the document. Save when done.

Headings Toolbar in Word Documents

Alternative Text

Alternative text of an image or figure is an alternate way to view an image, without actually seeing it. Screen readers read the alt text description of an image for those who are visually impaired. For this reason, alt text must clearly state what the image is, and must convey the important information for why it is on the page. Alt text must be included in all images, figures, graphs, etc.

How to: Select the image and right click, then select Format Picture. Then under Layout and Properties click Alt Text from the menu on the right. Type in the Description box, not the Title box. Close when done and save.

Screenshot of alt text dialogue box


Formatting lists must be used with the built-in tools in the Home tab, either a numbered list or bulleted list. Without these tools, screen reader users cannot identify that the content is in the form of a list.

How to: Both the Numbered list and Bulleted List tools are in the Home tab in Word.

How to use the Lists Toolbar in Microsoft Word


Creating Accessible Links (7 minute video)

When inserting a link, the link text must convey clear and accurate information as to where the destination of the link is. Make sure the link is not broken, and be prepared to fix links that do break over time. Avoid using phrases such as Click Here or a long ambiguous URL for a hyperlink, as screen readers cannot decipher where the link is actually going. Links can be useful for everyone, but even more useful when in informative text.

How to: Select the text and right click, then select Hyperlink from the context menu, then copy and paste into the address line, or search for an existing file or webpage. Click OK when finished.

How to Insert links in Microsoft Word


Tables have many attributes to ensuring correct accessibility. Word can make accessible, simple tables meaing the top row as the table header. However, for more complex tables, refer to Adobe Acrobat Pro. Screen readers read tables left to right and up to down, so it is very important to ensure that the reading order is correct. The most important rule about tables is that a header row must be designated as the first row in a table, to ensure that screen readers can navigate through the table correctly. Reading order can be checked by tabbing through a table, or by using the Reading Order panel in Adobe Acrobat Pro. Refer to Creating Accessible PDFs.

How to: To make an accessible table in Word, use the Table Properties by right clicking on the table. Here, under the "Rows" property check the box "Repeat as header row on the top of each page." (Note: only the top row of a table can be the designated header row, not the first column).

For more information please see the 3 minute video created by Portland Community College on how to Create Table Headers.

How to insert Tables in Microsoft Word

Color Contrast

Font color and background color must have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for normal text (12pt.) and 3:1 for large text (14pt.) so that a person with visual impairments will be able to differentiate between the two. Color should not be the only differentiating factor to convey meaning.

How to: To check color contrast, download a Color Contrast Analyzer onto a computer. The University of Nevada, Reno's requirement is to pass all A and AA Standards from the WCAG 2.0 accessibility standards.

Color Contrast Analyzer (The Paciello Group)

Color Contrast Checker Explanation (WEBAIM)

Accessibility Checker

To check all the accessibility standards listed above and more, use the Word Accessibility Checker.

How to: Select File then Inspect document from the list given. Next, click Check for Issues, and then Check Accessibility. Here, if anything is wrong, the checker will say why and how to fix what is wrong in a panel on the right side of the screen. This tool should be used every time that a document is being created. If no issues are on the document, a green check mark will appear in the accessibility panel.

How to Check Accessibility in a Word Document

Document Properties:

Word documents should have a title that is seen under the File tab in Document Properties. This title may be the same as the file name. However, this title is non-transferrable when creating a PDF from Word. Meaning that the title property in Adobe Acrobat will say failed, and that the document needs a title. The file name however, is transferrable. The File name of a document is a description of the document. For example: "Joe's Term Paper Spring Eng 101" is better than "J-TP-101." Adobe Acrobat will use the FIle Name as the title of a document.

Additional Resources