Lesson 3.1: Creating Accessible Word Documents

To create accessible Microsoft Word documents, we will do the following:

  • Incorporate the “Simple Ways to Design Accessible Content” from Lesson 2
  • Check documents for accessibility
  • Consider the format specific to the type of document you want to create

Simple Ways to Design Accessibly

Before we get started with formatting concerns, let’s review the simple ways to design accessibly. To design accessibly, we should incorporate:

  • Clear font
  • Appropriate use of color
  • Built-in structure and headings
  • Alternative text for images, graphs, and charts
  • Clear table structure
  • Descriptive hyperlinks

If we incorporate these six simple ways in our design process, we are halfway to an accessible document. Next, we will learn about accessibility techniques specific to Microsoft Word.

Watch the following video to learn how to create accessible Microsoft Office Word documents.

Google Doc: Accessible Microsoft Word Document Video Transcript

NOTE: This video mentions Microsoft Word Reader. This software has been discontinued and is no longer available.

Accessibility Checker in Word

It is good practice to use the program’s built-in accessibility checker to automatically scan for anything you may have missed.

Watch the following video to see an overview of the Accessibility Checker in Word. (Note: This video addresses Word 2016.  If you have not already upgraded to Word 2016, we encourage you to do so in order to access the most up-to-date accessibility features.)

Google Doc: Understanding the Accessibility Checker Video Transcript

Outputting Word Documents Accessibly

When outputting a Word document, you should:

  • Save the document as a .docx file, or
  • Export the document and choose Create PDF/XPS document. This format preserves layout, formatting, fonts, and images. Note: It is best practice to check the reading order of your document in Adobe Acrobat.

Frequently Asked Questions

I see that Word has Title and Subtitle styles in addition to the Heading styles. Should I use these to designate my document’s title?

For simplicity’s sake, we generally recommend that you stick with Heading 1 as your highest-level heading. However, you can use the Title styles, if you like. The hierarchy of your headings would then look like this:

  • Title
  • Subtitle
  • Heading 1
  • Heading 2
  • … and so on

It would be okay to skip the subtitle level if your document does not have a subtitle.

The Accessibility Checker returns no errors. Does that mean my document is accessible?

Not necessarily. The Accessibility Checker is an automated tool and does not report all accessibility problems. It is useful for quickly checking your document’s accessibility, but not for providing an exhaustive list of potential barriers.

Two common accessibility barriers that the Accessibility Checker cannot detect are sufficient color contrast and that information is conveyed using color alone.

The Accessibility Checker says to check the reading order of my tables. What does this mean?

This means to tab through the table and ensure that the focus moves between cells in the same order that you would read the table. The Accessibility Checker flags this “warning” for tables often; this is not necessarily indicative of a problem.


Additional Resources

To continue, select the Lesson 3.2 button below.