Word Accessibility Quick Tips

A few simple techniques can greatly improve the accessibility of Microsoft Word documents:


  1. Headings - Use "Styles" for headings.
    • Find "Styles" on the Home menu. Right-click a style and use "Update to Match Selection" or "Modify..." to customize it's appearance.
    • Use Heading 1 for the title of the document, Heading 2 for main section headings, Heading 3 for sub-section headings, etc.
    • Check "Navigation Pane" on the View menu to see the headings in your document.
  2. Lists - Use "Bullets" or "Numbering" for lists.
    • Lists are pretty automatic, but don't insert blank lines between list items.
    • Use Paragraph Settings to uncheck "Don't add space between paragraphs of same style" and change before/after spacing if needed.
  3. Columns - Use "Columns" for columns.
    • Find "Columns" on the Layout menu. Don't use spaces, tabs, or tables to make columns.
    • Insert "Column Breaks" to control where new columns start.
  4. Tables - Use "Table" for tables.
    • Find "Table" on the Insert menu. Don't use spaces, tabs, or columns to make tables.
    • Keep tables simple, with column headers in the first row and row headers in the first column.
    • Don't merge cells or use blank rows, columns, or cells to control table appearance; adjust border styles and/or cell margins instead.
    • When pasting a table from Excel, paste it as a table rather than an image, link, or object.
    • For tables that run on to additional pages, set "Repeat Header Rows" on the Table Layout menu.
  5. Pictures - Add "Alt Text" to Pictures (and Shapes, Smart Art, etc.)
    • Right click a picture, select Edit Alt Text (for older versions, select Format Picture, Alt Text), and enter the Alt Text.
    • Enter alt text that communicates what the picture communicates. Ignore any instructions to "describe" the picture.
    • If there are words in the picture, put them in the alt text.
    • If the picture is a decoration and doesn't communicate anything, check "Mark as decorative".
  6. Positioning - Use "In Line with Text" for Picture Positioning/Wrapping.
    • Don't position meaningful Pictures or Text Boxes "Behind text" or "In front of text".
    • Test the reading order of objects that are wrapped by text.
  7. Check Accessibility - Use Word to do three accessibility checks.
    • Find "Check Accessibility" on the Review menu. Click the bottom half of the button to show its menu:
      • Check Accessibility - review and fix any errors and warnings the accessibility checker finds. 
      • Alt Text - with the Alt Text pane showing, click on each image in the document to check (and if necessary correct) its alt text.
      • Navigation Pane - check that all the headings in your document show in the Navigation pane at the correct level.
    • Be aware that the Accessibility Checker can find many but not all accessibility issues and sometimes makes mistakes.
  8. Check Color Contrast - Use the free Colour Contrast Analyser to check colors.
    • Check that all text/background color combinations "Pass (AA)".

References