This guide was written to support Microsoft Word 2021 and later. Some of the functionality will be difference for older versions of Word.
Accessibility note for screen reader users: this guide bolds actionable items in Microsoft Word. Screen reader settings should be adjusted to ensure bold emphasis is read.
Keeping the accessibility checker running will notify you of errors as your work. This will save you the time and effort of having to remediate your entire document for accessibility in the final stages of document creation. The Navigation Pane is great way to see your headings as you work. This helps to ensure headings are well written and structured appropriately.
How to run the Accessibility Check and keep it running while you work:
How to set up the Navigation Pane to ensure your headings are properly structured:
Make sure you save your Word document using a descriptive filename. This is the first thing a screen reader will read out when accessing a file and should give the user a good idea about the document’s content.
To save a Word document:
Document titles are essential for PDF accessibility, but adding good metadata helps a variety of users.
To edit document level metadata such as author, title, and subject:
Headings provide essential document structure for all users. Accessible headings need to be formatted using Styles, written effectively, and structured correctly.
Using Styles to create headings ensures that users of assistive technology can identify them programmatically (i.e., without the need for visual cues). This allows more users to effectively navigate Word documents.
To create or modify a heading using Styles:
How to set heading structure:
How to write effective headings:
Smart font choice is often an overlooked aspect of document creation; however, careful consideration of fonts creates a much more accessible document.
Considerations for choosing an accessible font:
Using Word’s built-in formatting options for paragraphs and lists creates more accessible documents. Additionally, it does a much better job of preserving accessible formatting if you export to PDF.
Some general tips for formatting:
Avoid using hard returns to create white space in your document. Hard returns are sometimes read by screen readers and can create inaccessible content when exported to other formats.
How to check Paragraph marks and hidden formatting in your document:
To adjust line spacing for the entire document:
To adjust white space before or after specific paragraphs or headings:
To create a page break:
Structural markup is essential to accessible tables. This provides users of assistive technology the context needed to locate where they are in a table. Word provides limited options for providing structural markup as compared to other formats such as HTML and PDF.
Rules for using tables in Word:
How to create a table:
How to format table headers:
Charts and graphs are great ways to summarize data in a visual format. However, there are some ways to optimize your chart or graph for accessibility.
Optimize chart and graph white space and legibility:
Note: you can also select elements within your chart or graph (e.g., legend or data points) and use the Font formatting options to increase legibility.
Adjust colours that have poor contrast:
Ensure colour is not the sole means of representing information by:
Links within documents should always be formatted and written properly to be useful for users of assistive technology.
To make your link text accessible make sure it is:
There are three different link options for Word documents:
How to add a link:
Adding links to documents that are intended to be printed:
When placing an image in a Word document you must ensure that it is formatted in line with text. This ensures that screen readers recognize the image as a part of the document.
To ensure an image is in line with text:
All images that provide a function or have important content will need alternative text. If the image does not provide either of these it can be marked as decorative, so screen readers know to skip it.
To add alternative text:
Simple rules for alternative text:
Always run the Accessibility Checker prior to finishing your document and make sure all errors, warnings, and tips are resolved.
To run the Accessibility Checker:
Accessibility Checker results are categorized into four areas:
The Accessibility Checker cannot ensure a fully accessible document. To ensure accessibility, you will need to run some manual checks:
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