Creating Accessible Word Documents

All documents created in Microsoft Word should be created to be accessible. Use the accessibility techniques that apply to your document as you create or update your documents. Use these links to jump to the section you need:


Headings provide structure to your content. Adding headings creates a structure like an outline or a table of contents. Be sure to use headings in the correct order. Heading 1 should be used like chapter titles. Heading 2, 3, 4, etc. can be used multiple times per document. DO NOT skip heading levels.

  1. Place your cursor in the text that you want to make a heading.
  2. Go to the Home tab.
  3. Choose the appropriate heading level from the Styles group.

There are 2 quick ways to change the look of the heading style:

  1. Click on the Design tab and select a different theme. Black & White (Classic) is a basic but functional option. This will change the look of your entire document with just a few clicks.
  2. Highlight some text that you would like changed. Change the size, color, font, etc. to look the way you want. Go up to the styles bar and right click on the style that is assigned to that text. Click "Update Heading X to Match Selection". This change all of the selected heading levels in that document to match the style you selected. You will need to repeat the process for each heading level.



All images need to be described. Content creators are in the best position to understand the intent of the image being used and are the best source for the description of the image.

Word 2019 and 365:

Select the image and use the "Alt Text" button in the Accessibility group on the Picture Tools ribbon to add alt text to the image or to mark it as decorative.

Word 2016 or earlier:

Place all images in line with the text.

  1. Right-click on the image, and select Format Picture…
  2. The Format Picture window will open.
  3. Select the Layout and Properties (grey box with crosshairs) icon and click on the ALT TEXT to open the Alt Text Field.
  4. Enter image description in the Description field (NOT the title field).

For images that can't be described in one or two short sentences, look at how to address complex images.

If an image is ONLY for visual decoration and does not convey any information, type the word "decorative" in the Description field.

Here is an additional resource to help you write effective alt text. Diagram Center's Accessible Image Sample Book

In addition to describing visual materials, it may be necessary to present information in a tactile format. Science courses may already have 3-D models of some of the concepts they cover. the Access Center may have access to already created tactile graphics or can create some simple raised-line graphics.

At this point, the need for tactile graphics is dealt with as an accommodation. If the Access Center contacts you regarding a need for a specific student you may need to meet with an Access Center staff member to assess the need and determine what resources are available. 



When adding items that are in a list use the built-in list tools. When the order of your list doesn't matter, use the bullets button. When the order is important, use the Numbering button.

  1. Select the text that you want to make into a list.
  2. On the Home tab, in the Paragraph group, select the Bullets or Numbering list.



Write meaningful link text that indicates the link's destination.

  1. Type out text that describes the destination of the link.
  2. Select the text, right-click and choose Hyperlink… from the menu.
  3. The Insert Hyperlink window will open. Enter a URL address in the Address field (Mac: Link to field).
  4. Click the OK button to save the link.


Math and Science Content

Use the MathType plugin for MS Word to create math and science equations, formulas and notations. Contact IT to install MathType on your computer. Note: MathType objects do not need alt text. Do not use Microsoft's equation editor.

Video: Word 2016 and MathType Tutorial


Use tables for comparing data, not layout. Make sure you create a table, don't just paste an image of a table. Do not split or merge cells, tables must be simple. All cells should contain data, no cell should be empty or blank. Tables need to be placed inline with text. Be sure to indicate the column headers and add alt text describing the table.

Add a table:

  1. Click on the Insert tab on the ribbon.
  2. Click on the Table button and select Insert Table.
  3. Select the number of Columns and Rows you want to start with and click OK.

Indicate column headers:

  1. Place the cursor in the top row of your data table.
  2. Click on the Layout tab under Table Tools (Mac: Table tab)
  3. In the Data group, click the Repeat Header Row button.

Add Alt Text:

  1. Place the cursor in your data table.
  2. Right-click and select Table Properties…
  3. In the Table Properties window click on the Alt Text tab.
  4. Enter table description in the Description field, not the title field.


Color and Contrast

Use sufficient color contrast between the font and its background color.

Without sufficient color contrast, people who have low-vision or are colorblind will not benefit from the information. Check your color combinations using the Color Contrast Analyser tool. Contact IT to install it on your computer.

Note: Color combinations need to have a green checkmark next to the WCAG 2.0 AA boxes in the Color Contrast Analyser tool.

Don't use color alone to convey meaning.

Don't use color alone to make a distinction, a comparison or to set something apart from the rest of the page. If you categorize something by color alone, those who are color blind or blind will not benefit from the color distinction.


Columns can be difficult to work with. Use the built-in columns tool to make them as accessible as possible.

  1. Enter all of your text into the document.
  2. Select the portion of text that you want formatted in columns.
  3. Click the Layout tab then click the Columns button.
  4. Select the number of columns you would like or click More Columns... for additional options.




Avoid using blank spaces or lines to create formatting or space. If you tend to hit "Tab" or "Enter" over and over again to create formatting, it causes reading issues for screen readers. Hearing a bunch of white space (identified by a screen reader as “blank”) can be annoying and might give users with disabilities the impression that the document has ended. Instead, use the built-in document formatting tools. Rely on indentations, line spacing, Styles, and page breaks to create the effect you want.

Space Before and After a Paragraph (or List Item)

To create extra space after lines without pressing enter, right click and go to Paragraph. Under Spacing, adjust the before, after, and line spacing options as desired to get the layout you want. This Line and Paragraph Spacing Tutorial explains it in detail.

Move Text to the Next Page

Use the Page Break button to push all of the contents to the top of the next page. To add a page break to your document, click the Insert tab, and then click pages and choose Page Break.

Tab Stops

Tab stops can be used to move a text horizontally in the document rather than using multiple spaces or tabs. It is also helpful for visually aligning text when you don't need to use a full table. This Indents and Tabs Tutorial explains it in detail.

Checking Your Spacing

One way to check how your document might “look” to a screen reader is to select the option to show all non-printing characters so that you can see the paragraph symbol that appears every time you hit the enter key and the dot that appears every time you hit the space bar. Ideally, these should only appear when you truly are stopping an old word or paragraph and starting a new one. They shouldn’t be there when you just want to create extra space.


Using the Accessibility Checker

The built-in accessibility checker provides you with a list of errors, warnings and tips. When you click on an error, you will be moved to the correct location in the document and instructions on how to fix the error appear below in Additional Information. Although the built-in checker cannot catch all accessibility issues it does provide valuable feedback on your document.

For PC:

  1. Go to the File tab.
  2. Select Info from the sidebar menu.
  3. Click on the Check for Issues button.
  4. Select Check Accessibility from the drop-down list.

For Mac (Word 2016):

  1. Go to Review.
  2. Click Check Accessibility.



Article ID: 57046
Mon 7/9/18 11:36 AM
Wed 6/28/23 2:32 PM

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