Creating an Accessible Microsoft Word Document


We want to make your document accessible to everyone, especially to people who use assistive devices. Below are some key components on how to make your document more accessible within Microsoft Word 2016.

  • Headings & Title
    • Headings create a hierarchy in the document that a screen reader can follow.
    • You need to set a default document title for a screen reader to be able to scan and read out loud to its user.
  • Hyperlinks
    • The Hyperlinks need to have a clearly defined label of the destination of the link so that a screen reader can read them out loud when scanning the document.
  • Tables
    • There needs to be clear table structures and headers for the screen reader to be able to scan the document.
  • Alt Text
    • This allows the screen reader to scan a description of tables, figures, or images that may be on the document.
  • Lists
    • The built-in formatting tools of Word make it easier for the screen reader to scan the document.
  • Color Contrast
    • It is important for the document to not use color to convey information because people who are blind, colorblind, or who have low vision can miss the information conveyed with the color used.
  • How to Check the Accessibility
  • Things to look out for
  • Exporting to a PDF

Below we will go over each individual key component.

Headings And Title

To start make sure to set a default document title.

  1. In your main software ribbon select File.
  2. Next, select Info, and under Properties select the Title field.
  3. Write the title of your document there.

Heading styles let the screen reader know what order to scan the text in the document. To do this you need to:

  1. Open the Home tab in the main software ribbon.
  2. Select the heading from the styles section.
  3. Then feel free to change the font style, size, and color.

Like mentioned before you need to make sure that your hyperlink has a clear label of its destination. To do this we need to:

  1. First, we need to check that it is hyperlinked (with either http or https at the beginning of the link).
  2. Then, select the hyperlink and select the hyperlink in the menu that opens.
  3. The “Insert Hyperlink” dialogue box will open, move to change the text in the “text to display” field to a more descriptive title.


Tables should not be used to layout or style content on a page. Tables need to have clear structures and headers to be scanned by a screen reader. The simpler you keep the tables the easier it is for a screen reader user to scan them. Header information cannot be identified by screen readers, which makes it difficult for a user to know the table information if the table is not well structured.

To create a table header we need to:

  1. First, select the insert tab on the main software ribbon, select table, and then insert table.
  2. With the first cell in your table selected choose the layout tab in the main software ribbon that opens when the table is selected.
  3. Select Repeat Header Rows in the Data section. This specifies the cell you are typing is in the header of that row, and it also allows the header to repeat if the table stretches onto other pages.

Alt Text

Alt Text For Visuals

Alt Text for Images, Clip-art, figures, etc. (for a full list of visuals go to Make your Word document accessible), this allows a screen reader to scan a description of the visual and state what is important about it a person who may not be able to see. To do this you need to:

  1. Select the image and select Format Picture.
  2. In the dialogue box that appears select the “Layout & Properties” icon and choose Alt Text.
  3. As a last step input the Alt text you want for the image in the Description field. (This needs to be done for all images used in the document).

Note: For the last step make sure to not add anything in the title field, only add the Alt text in the Description field.

Alt Text For Tables

The first thing to keep in mind is that the simpler you keep the tables, the easier a screen reader can scan it. Once you have your table created you need alt text. To add alt text to your table you need to:

  1. Assure that it is selected and then select Table Properties.
  2. A Table Properties dialogue box will open, select the alt text tab, and insert a description into the Description field.

Note: For the last step make sure to not add anything in the title field, only add the Alt text in the Description field.


Always make sure to use the different list styles that Microsoft provides as it allows the screen reader to easily scan the document. To use the styles provided:

  • Choose from the bulleted and numbered lists provided in the Paragraph section of the Home tab found in the main software ribbon.

Color Contrast

Do not use color to convey information, and make sure to use colors that will allow the user to read the font. Please avoid bright colors on a white/light background.

Use the Colour Contrast Analyser to check if you are not sure about your documents’ color contrast.

How To Check The Accessibility

To make sure that your Word document is accessible within Word you need to:

  1. Select the “File” tab in the main software ribbon and then select Info.
  2. Next, Check for Issues and then Check Accessibility.

It will provide you with an overview of any of the issues, what they are, and even how to fix them.

Things To Look Out For

  • Don’t use a font smaller than 12pt
  • Make sure there is sufficient color contrast
  • Don’t strictly use color to convey information
  • For longer documents provide a table of contents

Make sure to use the available style and formatting tools provided within the program.

Exporting To A PDF

If you want to export your Word document into a PDF here are the steps:

  1. Select the “File” tab in the main software ribbon.
  2. Then choose “Export”
  3. Then select “Create a PDF/XPS Document”
  4. Lastly, a window will appear, make sure to name your document in the “File name” field and then select Publish.

Jump to Top

References Most of the information from this web page was created with the help of this resource. If you want further readings on how to make documents and PDFs accessible, use this site.

Make Your Word Documents Accessible provides tips on how and why we should make Word documents accessible.

UM Accessibility U: Documents and PDFs: This has more information on different kinds of documents that can be converted to PDFs. It also has useful information that you use to check if your PDF is accessible.


  • Accessible Word Documents
    Source: Great Lakes ADA Center

    This presentation explores the key principles, techniques, and tools needed to make your documents accessible to all.

    Categories: Documents & Presentations, Resource, Word Tags: Video
  • Word and PowerPoint Accessibility Evaluation Guide
    Source: WebAIM

    A guide to automated and manual checks for Word and PowerPoint. 

    Categories: Documents & Presentations, PowerPoint, Resource, Word Tags: Video