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Microsoft WORD Documents

Best practices for making Word documents accessible

The following table includes key best practices for creating Word documents that are accessible to people with disabilities.

What to fix How to find it Why fix it How to fix it
Avoid common accessibility issues such as missing alternative text (alt text) and low contrast colors.      

Check accessibility while you work in Word 

The Accessibility Checker is a tool that reviews your content and flags accessibility issues it comes across. It explains why each issue might be a potential problem for someone with a disability. The Accessibility Checker also suggests how you can resolve the issues that appear.

In Word, the Accessibility Checker runs automatically in the background when you're creating a document. If the Accessibility Checker detects accessibility issues, you will get a reminder in the status bar.

To manually launch the Accessibility Checker, select Review Check Accessibility. The Accessibility pane opens, and you can now review and fix accessibility issues. For more info, go to Improve accessibility with the Accessibility Checker and Check document accessibility.

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Avoid using tables

In general, avoid tables if possible and present the data another way, like paragraphs with headings and banners. Tables with fixed width might prove difficult to read for people who use Magnifier, because such tables force the content to a specific size. This makes the font very small, which forces Magnifier users to scroll horizontally, especially on mobile devices.

If you have to use tables, use the following guidelines to make sure your table is as accessible as possible:

  • Avoid fixed width tables.
  • Make sure the tables render properly on all devices, including phones and tablets.
  • If you have hyperlinks in your table, edit the link texts, so they make sense and don't break mid-sentence.
  • Make sure the document is easily read with Magnifier. Send the document draft to yourself and view it on a mobile device to make sure people won’t need to horizontally scroll the document on a phone, for example.
  • Use table headers
  • Test accessibility with Immersive Reader.

Use table headers

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 after that point. Blank cells in a table could also mislead someone using a screen reader into thinking that there is nothing more in the table. Use a simple table structure for data only and specify column header information. Screen readers also use header information to identify rows and columns. 

Use built-in title, subtitle, and heading styles

TitleSubtitle, and headings are meant to be scanned, both visually and with assistive technology.

Use the built-in Title and Subtitle styles specifically for the title and subtitle of the document.

Ideally, headings explain what a document section is about. Use the built-in heading styles and create descriptive heading texts to make it easier for screen reader users to determine the structure of the document and navigate the headings.

Organize headings in the prescribed logical order and do not skip heading levels. For example, use Heading 1Heading 2, and then Heading 3, rather than Heading 3Heading 1, and then Heading 2. Organize the information in your document into small chunks. Ideally, each heading would include only a few paragraphs.

Create paragraph banners

In addition to using headings to organize the content in your document, you can also create paragraph banners. In a paragraph banner, the background color block extends across the width of the document and highlights the text within the banner. This is a great alternative to tables to organize and separate content.

Add alt text to visuals

Alt text helps people who can’t see the screen to understand what’s important in visual content. Visual content includes pictures, SmartArt graphics, shapes, groups, charts, embedded objects, ink, and videos. In alt text, briefly describe the image and mention its intent. Screen readers read the text to describe the image to users who can’t see the image.

Avoid using text in images as the sole method of conveying important information. If you must use an image with text in it, repeat that text in the document. In alt text, briefly describe the image and mention the existence of the text and its intent.

Add accessible hyperlink text and ScreenTips

People who use screen readers sometimes scan a list of links. Links should convey clear and accurate information about the destination. For example, avoid using link texts such as "Click here," "See this page," "Go here," or "Learn more." Instead include the full title of the destination page. You can also add ScreenTips that appear when your cursor hovers over text or images that include a hyperlink.

Use accessible font format and color

An accessible font doesn't exclude or slow down the reading speed of anyone reading a document, including people with low vision or reading disability or people who are blind. The right font improves the legibility and readability of the document.

Use accessible font format

Here are some ideas to consider:

  • To reduce the reading load, select familiar sans serif fonts such as Arial or Calibri. Avoid using all capital letters and excessive italics or underlines.
  • A person with a vision disability might miss out on the meaning conveyed by particular colors. For example, add an underline to color-coded hyperlink text so that people who are colorblind know that the text is linked even if they can’t see the color.
  • For headings, consider adding bold or using a larger font.
  • Add shapes if color is used to indicate status. For example, add a checkmark symbol if green is used to indicate “pass” and an uppercase X  if red indicates “fail.”

Use accessible font color

The text in your document should be readable in a high contrast mode. For example, use bright colors or high-contrast color schemes on opposite ends of the color spectrum. White and black schemes make it easier for people who are colorblind to distinguish text and shapes.

Here are some ideas to consider:

  • To ensure that text displays well in a high contrast mode, use the Automaticsetting for font colors. For instructions on how to change the font color in Word, go to Change the font color.
  • Use the Accessibility Checkerto analyze the document and find insufficient color contrast. The tool now checks the documents for text color against page color, table cell backgrounds, highlight, textbox fill color, paragraph shading, shape and SmartArt fills, headers and footers, and links.

Create accessible lists

To make it easier for screen readers to read your document, organize the information in your document into small chunks such as bulleted or numbered lists.

Design lists so that you do not need to add a plain paragraph without a bullet or number to the middle of a list. If your list is broken up by a plain paragraph, some screen readers might announce the number of list items wrong. Also, the user might hear in the middle of the list that they are leaving the list. 

Adjust space between sentences and paragraphs

People who have dyslexia describe seeing text “swim together” on a page (the compressing of one line of text into the line below). They often see text merge or distort. To reduce the reading load, you can increase white space between sentences and paragraphs.

For the step-by-step instructions on how to adjust the spacing, go to Adjust indents and spacing in Word.

Test accessibility with Immersive Reader

Try reading the document with Immersive Reader to check how it sounds like.

  1. In your document, select ViewImmersive Reader.
  2. On the Immersive Readertab, select Read Aloud.
  3. To exit Immersive Reader, select Close Immersive Reader.