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Creating Accessible Documents in Microsoft Word


This article is designed to guide users of Word 2016 through the process of creating accessible documents. This methodology will assist people with visual and auditory disabilities.

Bonus: This is a recommended method for creating accessible syllabi as well. Once the Word document is deemed accessible by the list below or by Word’s Accessibility Checker, the PDF version will also be accessible.

Create your document in Word. When you are finished let’s check the following elements to ensure that they are accessible:

Characteristics of an accessible document

Text and Styles

  • Apply heading styles to the headings in your document to enable assistive technology to read the document allowing for less ambiguity for the user.
    • Note: The default in Word uses a light blue color which has insufficient color contrast so after you select the appropriate heading change the color to something darker with more contrast.
    • Heading 1 is like the title of a book.

    • Heading 2 are like chapter titles.

    • Heading 3 are sub-sections of those chapters, and so on.

  • Ensure your text is readable by using at least a 12 point font. Arial, Helvetica, Times New Roman, and Verdana are recommended for accessibility.
  • If there is an image within your text make sure you add text in the Alt Text field so it will be accessible to people with visual impairment or disability. The screen reader will read that alt text field so the blind student has an idea of what was in the image.
  • Refrain from using floating text boxes, comments, or Track Changes as they are not accessible.


Page formatting is read aloud to screen reader users so the content is understood in context. It is important to format your list properly. If the list order is important use a numbered list. If not important, then use a bulleted list.

Images and Graphics including graphs, maps, and shapes

Provide alternative text descriptions (Alt Text) which should be limited to one or two brief sentences so a person with visual impairment understands the meaning of an image, graph, or map.

1. Select the image, 2. Click on the Format Pane button (in the upper-right corner), 3. Select the Layout & Preferences tab, 4. Select Alt Text and enter a Title and Description.

  1. Select the image
  2. Click on the Format Pane button (in the upper-right corner)
  3. Select the Layout & Preferences tab
  4. Select Alt Text and enter a Title and Description.


When providing links out to other destinations, type text that describes the destination of the link.


The assistive technology will tell the user that a link is there.


Create data tables with column headers; this is essential to screen reader users so they can understand how the information is laid out. Ensure proper reading order in the tables. Screen readers read from left-to-right, top-to-bottom, one cell at a time. If you merge cells or split cells this can throw off the screen reader.

To determine how your table will be read place your cursor in the first cell in the table. Now tab through the table; this is the route the screen reader will take. If you need to merge, split, or nest cells make sure the table is constructed in good screen reader reading order. You should also add the alt text descriptive tag to explain the data table content.  You will not see this on the screen but a screen reader will read it and let the person know the contents of the table so they can choose to move past it or read it.

Insert a table then go to the Table Design tab to add the header row.

To add the header row, insert a table then go into the Table Design tab and click the box for Header Row.

Note: It may be easier to showcase the table data in another way to help prevent confusion. A list or series of lists may be easier due to the way assistive technologies are programmed to read tables.


Don’t use color alone to convey meaning as those that are colorblind will not be able to differentiate that green is on and red is off since they won’t see the two colors as different.

Use sufficient color contrast. We are seeing a trend toward font color and background color being too similar, not enough contrast. If you like to use lots of color please consider using the Colour Contrast Analyzer Tool (redirect) to ensure there is enough contrast.

Run the Accessibility Checker

Microsoft has an accessibility checker built into their software products that will help you with this process.

If you are running Word 2016 for Windows: Go to the File tab and select Info. Look at the Check for Issues button and select Check Accessibility from the drop-down list.

If you are running Word 2016 for Mac: Go to the Tools menu and select Check Accessibility to proceed.

The accessibility checker will provide a list of errors and warnings. When you click on an error or warning, an accessibility checker pane will appear on the right-hand side of the document window with instructions on how to fix any issues that appear.

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