Word documents

A lot of web content is initially produced as a Microsoft Office document. By applying some simple formatting styles and using the Accessibility Checker built in Microsoft Office you can start making your own accessible documents.

Start your document using simple language. Format it by using the following information.

Add alternative text to images and objects

Alternative text, also known as "alt text" helps people who use screen readers to understand the content of images in your document.

Add alt text by doing the following:

  1. Right click the image or object, and then click Format Picture.
  2. Note: For tables, click Table Properties.
  3. Click Alt Text.
  4. Enter a description of the image or object into the Title and Description text boxes.
  5. Click close.

Tip: Use clear, but concise descriptions. For example, “a red Ferrari” tells the reader more about the image than “a car.”

Specify column header rows in tables

In addition to adding alt text that describes the table, having clear column headings can help provide context and assist navigation of the table’s contents.

To specify a header row in a table, do the following:

  1. Click anywhere in the table.
  2. On the Table Tools Design tab, in the Table Style Options group, select the Header Row check box.
  3. On the Table Tools Layout tab, in the Table Data Options group, select Repeat Header Rows.
  4. Add your header information to the first row of your table.

Use styles in long documents

Heading and paragraph styles, as well as tables of contents when necessary, make it easier for all readers of your document to follow it more easily. In longer documents, these elements can add structure for users who are using a screen reader, or who rely on the visual cue of section headings to navigate as they read.

Note: Using the Navigation Pane in Word lets you browse the document by headings. 

To apply heading styles to your document, do the following:

  1. Select the text you want to make into a heading.
  2. On the Home tab, in the Styles group, select the appropriate level heading style from the Quick Styles gallery.

You can also create your own heading and paragraph styles. 

Use short titles in headings

When you use headings in a document, be sure to keep them short (fewer than 20 words). In general, headings should be, at most, one line long. This makes it easier for readers to quickly navigate the document, either by scanning it, or by using the Navigation pane.

Order of Headings

Ensure all heading styles are in the correct order. By using heading levels in a logical order, for example Heading 4 is a child of Heading 3, not Heading 2, assists users in navigating the document and finding information.

To change a heading style:

  1. Select the heading that you want to change.
  2. On the Home tab, in the Styles group, choose the correct heading style.

To add a heading line:

  1. Insert a line of text where you want the new heading.
  2. On the Home tab, in the Styles group, choose the correct heading style.

You can view and update your document’s organization by clicking on the View tab and, in the Show group, select the Navigation Pane check box. To help longer documents maintain clear navigation, make sure you have at least one heading about every two pages, and that your headings are in the correct order (Heading 2 under Heading 1, etc.).

Hyperlink text should provide a clear description of the link destination, rather than only providing the URL.

To add a hyperlink to your document:

  1. Select the text you want to link from.
  2. Right-click your selection and select Hyperlink.
  3. In the Address box, type the link URL.
  4. Click OK.

Use simple table structure

By not using nested tables, or merged or split cells inside of tables, you can make the data predictable and easy to navigate. For example: When you are designing a form, the entire document is often based on a heavily formatted table, which makes it very difficult for users to navigate it with a screen reader, and requires them to piece together the content of each cell, read to them in an unpredictable order, to get an idea of the form’s content.

To test and simplify the table structure:

  1. Select the first cell of the table.
  2. Press the Tab key repeatedly to make sure that the focus moves across the row and then down to the first cell of the next row.
  3. If you need to merge or split cells to simplify the table, on the Table Tools Layout tab, in the Merge group, click Merge Cells or Split Cells as appropriate.

Avoid using blank cells for formatting

Using blank cells to format your table could mislead someone using a screen reader that there is nothing more in the table. You can fix this by deleting unnecessary blank cells or, if your table is used specifically to layout content within your document, you can clear all table styles by doing the following:

  1. Select the entire table.
  2. On the Table Tools Design tab, in the Table Styles group, click the arrow next to the style gallery to expand the gallery of table styles.
  3. On the menu below the gallery, click Clear.

Structure layout tables for easy navigation. If you use a layout table (table with Table Normal style), check the reading order to be sure that it makes sense (for English: left to right, top to bottom).

Verify the table reading order by tabbing through the cells to check that the information is presented in a logical order.

Avoid using repeated blank characters

Extra spaces, tabs and empty paragraphs may be perceived as blanks by people using screen readers. After hearing “blank” several times, those users may think that they have reached the end of the information. Instead, use formatting, indenting, and styles to create white space.

To use formatting to add white space around a paragraph:

  1. Remove any existing white space around the paragraph.
  2. Select the text, then right-click and choose Paragraph.
  3. Select values for Indentation and Spacing to create white space.

Avoid using floating objects

Objects that are not in line with text are challenging to navigate, and they may be inaccessible to users with vision impairment. Setting text-wrapping around objects to Top and Bottom or In Line With Text makes it easier for people with screen readers to follow the structure of your document.

To change the text-wrapping around objects:

  1. Select the object, and right-click.
  2. Choose Wrap Text, and then select either In Line With Text or Top and Bottom from the list.

Avoid image watermarks

Images used as watermarks may not be understood by people with vision or cognitive disabilities. If you must use a watermark, make sure that the information is also included elsewhere in your document.

Include closed captions for any audio

If you use additional audio components in a document, ensure that the content is available in alternative formats for users with disabilities, such as closed captions, transcripts or alt text.


When assistive technologies open a document, the first thing it tries to do is say the title assigned in the Properties (which is the title of the document). If there is no title, it will read out a file name, which may provide little meaning e.g. 04-application-2012.pdf.

To add a title and author to the document:

  1. Click the File button.
  2. Select Info and click Properties then clickshow document pannel. The document Properties dialogue box will display.
  3. Insert the Title name and the Author name (consider using your branch or department name).
  4. Select File. This will automatically save the Properties of the document.

Microsoft Office Accessibility Checker  

Like the spelling checker tells you about possible spelling errors, the Microsoft Accessibility Checker tells you about possible accessibility issues.

You can fix these issues so people with a disability can read your document. 

To check the accessibility of your document:

  1. Click File and Info.
  2. Click Check for Issues and Check Accessibility.
  3. Any issues will display in the Accessibility Checker pane. 
  4. Click a specific issue, Additional Information and steps you can take to resolve issues will appear. 
  5. Once all issues have been resolved you can save your document.