Word Accessibility Quick Tips

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


  1. Headings - Use "Styles" for headings.
    • Open "Styles" from 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.
    • Create New Styles with "Style based on" the built-in heading styles if needed.
  2. Lists - Use "Bullets" or "Numbering" for lists.
    • Don't insert blank lines between list items; Adjust paragraph "Before/After" spacing if desired.
    • Modify the "List Paragraph" style to customize all headings.
    • Uncheck "Don't add space between paragraphs of same style" if needed.
  3. Columns - Use "Columns" for columns.
    • 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.
    • Don't use spaces, tabs, or columns to make tables.
    • Don't use blank rows, columns, or cells to control table appearance; adjust border styles and/or cell margins if desired.
    • Keep table structure as simple as possible, with column headers in the first row and row headers in the first column; avoid merging cells.
    • When pasting a table from Excel, paste it as a table rather than an image, link, or embedded object.
    • Set each table to "Repeat Header Rows".
  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.
    • Don't describe the picture; enter alt text that communicates what the picture is meant to communicate.
    • For decorative images (those that don't really communicate anything), check "Mark as decorative".
  6. Positioning - Don't position meaningful Pictures or Text Boxes "Behind text" or "In front of text".
    • Position objects "In line with text" whenever possible.
    • Test the reading order of objects that are wrapped by text.
  7. Check Accessibility - Use Word's Accessibility Checker to find common errors.
    • Be aware that Word's Accessibility Checker is helpful but not perfect; it may miss problems or provide unnecessary warnings.
  8. Check Color Contrast - Use the free Colour Contrast Analyser to check colors.
    • Check that all text/background color combinations "Pass (AA)".

References