Accessible documents

Creating accessible documents using Microsoft Word*

Use headers

A good heading structure is an important accessibility consideration in most MS Word documents. Screen readers use headings to navigate through the page in sequential order such as Heading 1, Heading 2, and so forth. Skipping a heading level may confuse the screen reader. To create headings, use the Styles menu found under the Home tab to designate sequential heading levels.

Headers
Example screen for creating a header in MS Word

Checking accessibility using MS Word Accessibility Checker

Microsoft Word 2010 and higher includes a built-in accessibility checker. The location of the Accessibility Checker varies depending on the version of MS Word being used. For example, in MS Word 2013, it is found under the File tab and clicking Check for Issues.

ALT text and image descriptions

Alternative (ALT) text is used to describe an image for the visually impaired. All images that add to or supplement page content must have an ALT text description. How to add ALT text will vary based on the version of MS Word being used. For example, when using MS Word 2013, ALT text is added by right clicking the image, clicking Format Picture / Layout and Properties / ALT text. Add a title and, optionally, an image description. Descriptions are especially useful for diagrams, charts, and graphs.

ALT text
Example screen for creating ALT text in MS Word 2010

Use descriptive URL links

Use descriptive labels for URL links, especially when the URL itself is not informative. For example, it's difficult to determine where the following link leads to when using a screen reader: 
http://www.sc.edu/cte/resources.php

Instead, embed the URL into text that more clearly describes where the reader will be taken:
University of South Carolina Resources for Accessibility

To insert descriptive text in MS Word 2013

  • Type a short description of the link and then highlight the description
  • Click Insert / Hyperlink
  • In the Address box, add the complete URL. The text to display can also be edited here.

Never use generic text for descriptive links, such as "Click here."

Tables

Tables can be difficult for screen readers to decipher, especially when column and row information should be read other than left/right and up/down. For this reason, table columns and rows should include headers to better delineate the information contained within.

Columns only

  • For tables containing only columns, place the cursor in any one cell within the row containing the headings.
  • Open the Insert menu and choose Bookmark.
  • Type ColumnTitle and press ENTER.
You do not have to do this for every column title in the table. Bookmarking one column title will bookmark them all within that table.

Table column
Example screen for designating column titles in MS Word 2010

Rows only

  • For tables containing only rows, place the insertion point in any cell within the column containing the headings.
  • Open the Insert menu and choose Bookmark.
  • Type RowTitle and press ENTER.
You do not have to do this for every row title in the table. Bookmarking one row title will bookmark them all within that table.

Both columns and rows

  • If the table has both row and column headings, place the insertion point in a cell where the row and column headings meet.
  • Open the Insert menu and choose Bookmark.
  • Type Title and press ENTER.
Each additional occurrence of a table that uses a Column Title, Row Title or Title will require a name change to the Bookmarks. This can be done by sequentially numbering all subsequent bookmarks, such as “_2”, “_3”, "_4, and so forth. For example, the second occurrence of a table that uses a Column Title could be labeled “ColumnTitle_2”. The fourth occurrence of a table that uses a Title could be labeled, “Title_4”.

Saving MS Word documents as PDFs

  • Starting with a Word document, save that document as a PDF by going to File > Save As > choose “PDF”
  • From the Save As pop-up, once you choose “PDF”, you will need to click on “Options…” 
    Make sure the box related to tags for accessibility is checked.

More information

For more information on creating accessible documents using MS Word, head over to the WebAIM resource titled Microsoft Word: Creating Accessible Documents.

*Note that the above instructions may vary slightly based on the version of MS Word being used.