Word: Create an Accessible Word Document


How do I create a Word document that is accessible to those with disabilities?


When designing an accessible word document, follow these key principles: 

Give Structure to a Document

Structure refers to the way information in a document is organized. Logical structure indicates how a document is built, as opposed to what a document contains. 

Many people depend on assistive technology to navigate documents. Adding logical hierarchy with built-in styles and formatting content correctly will help assistive technology like screen readers determine and communicate the intended reading order and structure. 

To create a structured Word document:

  • Use heading styles to create a logical navigable structure. See this video on structuring a document.

  • Use normal styles for paragraph text.

  • Use accessible sans serif fonts, such as Arial, Calibri, Times New Roman, Verdana, Tahoma, Helvetica, Lucida Sans, Century Gothic, and Georgia.

  • Use Strong and Emphasis styles to stress importance.

  • Use paragraph formatting to create bulleted/ordered lists or open spaces.

  • Use table tools to set up simple tables. Avoid using tables for page layout. Rather, use it for data. See this video on creating a table.

  • Use the columns tool to create columns. Creating a multi-column layout using the tab key or spacebar will result in an incorrect reading order.

  • Use the TOC feature to create a table of contents. See this article on creating a table of contents. 

  • Use color sparingly. Color should not be the only means of conveying information. Use the free a11y® Color Contrast Accessibility Validator to check color contrast.

Provide Alternative Text for Non-text Content 

Alt text is a text alternative defined for images that are read aloud by screen reader, while non-text content is any content that is not displayed through text. Adding alt text allows you to include images to the document and still provide the content in a text-based format to make digital content accessible.

Types of images that can be given alternative text include pictures, illustrations, images of text, shapes, charts, SmartArt, embedded objects, images, graphs, media files, animations, captcha, audio alerts, diagrams, artwork, photograph, schemes, mathematical formulas, videos, audios, text boxes, screenshots, etc.

According to the W3C, non-text content can be:

  • Informative: Convey concept or information 

  • Functional: Convey action to be taken  

  • Purely decorative: Convey visual decoration

Examples of the three types of visual contents and their alt text:

Effective alt text can be difficult to write. As a rule of thumb, alt text should describe the content and function of the non-text content while taking the context into account. Remember we are adding alt text so screen reader can read it.

Six basic rules of accessible alt text:

  1. Be accurate in presenting the same content and function of the non-text content.

  2. Be succinct in presenting image function or content.

  3. Do not duplicate nearby document text.

  4. Avoids phrases such as “Picture of...” or “Image of…” to describe an image.

  5. Add a descriptive and detailed explanation of a complex image (such as a graph or chart) in text directly above or below the image.

  6. If an image is meant for decorative purpose only, mark it decorative.

*Note that videos and other media have other methods of providing text alternatives. 

Give an Accessible Name to Hyperlinks

Accessible names are descriptive, meaningful, concise, and visually distinct. To make hyperlinks accessible:

  • Ensure hyperlinks accurately describe the purpose of the link.

  • Don’t include the work “link” in the text. Most screen readers announce “link” with each link.

  • Don’t name the link “Click here.” Instead, use the title of the destination document as the name for the link if appropriate.

Here’s an example for all the above guidelines:

DON'T: Make long linked text: You can find resources at desktop accessibility

DO: Make concise linked text: You can find resources at desktop accessibility

DON'T: Make links such as https://www.boia.org/blog/quick-guide-to-accessible-hyperlinks or Click here

DO: Make descriptive links: Quick Guide to Accessible Hyperlinks

Give Identity to a Document

Identity is given to a document by identifying the file properties and file format. File properties are details about a file that describe or identify it. They include details such as title, author name, subject, and keywords that identify the file’s topic or contents. File properties help you search, sort, and filter files in File Explorer. The accessible file format extension of a Word file is “.docx”. 

To add properties:

  • Select File then Info.

  • Click Property. 

  • Click Advanced properties. Enter as many properties as possible.

  • Click OK to save changes.

Conduct a Final Accessibility Test on Content 

Run Word’s built-in Accessibility Checker to find accessibility issues by selecting File then Info. Select the Check for Issues button and choose Check Accessibility.

The Accessibility Checker task pane will show accessibility errors and tips on how to repair the errors.

Additional Info

Make your Word documents accessible to people with disabilities – This is the official documentation from Microsoft Office Support.

How to Create Accessible Word Documents – This is a tutorial developed by wikiHow.

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Article ID: 105971
Wed 4/22/20 6:39 PM
Wed 5/22/24 9:59 AM