Create Accessible Microsoft Word Documents

There are five basic techniques that will greatly improve the accessibility of your Word document:

  1. Add alternative (alt) text to images, SmartArt, graphs, tables, and other visuals
  2. Use built-in headings and styles
  3. Use built-in formatting options such as bulleted lists, numbered lists, spacing options, and indent options
  4. Create meaningful hyperlinks that inform readers about the link's content
  5. Use the Accessibility Checker

Add alternative (alt) text to images, SmartArt, graphs, tables, and other visuals

Alt text helps individuals using assistive technologies access images, graphs, and other visuals by describing important features of a visual. Follow the steps below to include alt text in your document’s images:

  1. Select the visual and right click, or select the menu key, to bring up a menu.
  2. Select Format Picture in the menu. A "Format Picture" dialog should appear.
  3. In the dialog, select the Text Formatting option.
  4. Insert alt text into textbox.

Use built-in headings and styles

Headings and other styles provided by Microsoft Word allow users with sensory and cognitive disabilities to navigate throughout the document, as well as provide comprehensive structure that makes a document easy to read. Follow the steps below to use headings and styles:

  1. Go to the Styles group, under the Home tab.
  2. Select the appropriate style based on the element (e.g. a document title as Heading 1, section titles as Heading 2, etc.). 

Use built-in formatting options such as bulleted lists, numbered lists, spacing options, and indent options

Formatting tools built into Microsoft Word help assistive technology like screen readers read a document accurately, alerting users of features such as bulleted lists and numbered lists. Spacing and indent tools provide accurate visual formatting, preventing the user from being confused. Follow the steps below to utilize built-in formatting tools:

To add bulleted lists:

  1. Select the bullet list icon (three bullets next to lines) from the Paragraph group in the Home tab.
  2. Use the dropdown to change the style of bullet.

To add numbered lists:

  1. Select the numbered list icon ( a series of numbers next to lines) from the Paragraph group in the Home tab.
  2. Use the dropdown to change the style of numbering.

To adjust spacing:

  1. Select the line spacing icon (two arrows pointing up and down next to lines) from the Paragraph group in the Home tab.
  2. Use the dropdown to change the amount of spacing.

To adjust indentation:

  1. Select either the Decrease or Increase Indent icons (arrows pointing to the left and right) from the Paragraph group in the Home tab.
  2. For more indentation options, open the entire Paragraph menu by selecting the arrow in the bottom right corner of the group.

Create meaningful hyperlinks that inform readers about the link's content

Hyperlinks that contain meaningful text instead of a URL provide much more context in a document, and inform users where the link will take them if they click on it. Follow the steps below to create meaningful hyperlinks:

  1. Select the text intended to be the link.
  2. Go to the Links group under the "Insert" tab.
  3. Select "Hyperlink." 
  4. In the dialog box, insert the desired website URL. (Your selected text should already be in the "Text to Display" field.)
  5. Click "OK."

Use the Accessibility Checker

The Accessibility Checker is a feature in Word that informs you about any accessibility concerns in your document, and instructs on how to address and fix these concerns. Follow the steps below to run the Accessibility Checker:

  1. Go to the File tab, then Info.
  2. Select "Check for Issues" to bring down a dropdown menu.
  3. Select "Check Accessibility."
  4. Follow the steps in the results pane as needed.

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