Creating accessible Microsoft Excel documents

Estimated read time: 3 minutes 15 seconds

It’s important to make Excel spreadsheets accessible to everyone, even if you are emailing them internally.

Who does this affect?

  • Anju is blind and uses a screen reader. She is using a budgeting spreadsheet that doesn’t have proper column headings. She doesn’t know if the amounts are expenses or not so she doesn’t know if the total is correct.
  • Greg is colour blind. He is looking at a pie chart that only uses colour to separate data, but he can’t tell the different parts of the chart apart.
  • Rowan’s colleague sent them an excel spreadsheet with 12 tabs. None of the sheet tabs are labeled so they have to go through each sheet individually to find what they’re looking for.

Steps to take

  1. Start with an accessible template
  2. Rename the ‘Sheet’ tabs with descriptive titles
  3. Delete any unused tabs
  4. Make sure your text is legible
  5. Check your colour contrast
  6. Add alternative text (alt text) to images
  7. Use descriptive hyperlinks
  8. Create accessible tables
  9. Create accessible charts
  10. Run the Accessibility Checker to review your work

Use an accessible template

To find a template, select File, then New. Search for accessible templates. To start using one, select Create.

Watch Microsoft’s video on starting with an accessible Excel template.

Organize the sheet tabs

Screen readers read sheet names, which provide information about what’s on the worksheet. Rename sheet tabs (default: Sheet 1, Sheet 2, etc) with descriptive titles.

Delete any unused sheet tabs.

Make your text legible

Some text is easier for people to read: 

  • Use a size 12pt or larger
  • Use a sans serif font like BC Sans, Arial or Calibri 
  • Don’t write using all capital letters
  • Don’t use italics or bold unless you are using them to emphasize one or two words
  • Don’t underline text unless it is a hyperlink
  • When using a text colour other than black, test the colour contrast to make sure it is easy to read (Microsoft recommends the free app Colour Contrast Analyser)
  • Don’t use colour alone to convey meaning. For example: writing in red to indicate something is important, as this may not be visible to those with colour blindness or that are using a screen reader

Colour contrast

If your spreadsheet has a high level of contrast between text and background, more people can see and use the content. To find insufficient color contrast, use the Accessibility Checker.

When using a text colour other than black, test it to make sure it’s easy to read. You can use the free app Colour Contrast Analyser.

Add alternative text to visual content

Add alt text to images, such as pictures, screenshots, icons, SmartArt, PivotCharts and 3D models.

Do one of the following:

  • Right-click an image and select Edit Alt Text
  • Select the image. Select Format > Alt Text
  • Use the Alt Text button on the Excel for Windows ribbon

The Alt Text pane opens on the right side of the document body. Type 5 to 15 words to describe the image and its context.

Mark as decorative

If your visuals are decorative, such as borders that add visual interest but aren't informative, you can mark them as decorative.

To do this:

  1. Select the visual and open the alt text pane
  2. Select the Mark as decorative text box.

Watch Microsoft’s video on improving accessibility with alt text.

Use descriptive hyperlinks

Links should convey clear information about their destination. For example, instead of linking to the text Click here, include the full title of the destination page.

Watch Microsoft’s video on creating accessible links.

Tables

  • Use header information to identify rows and columns
  • Use a simple table structure. Screen readers keep track of their location in a table by counting cells. If a table is nested within another table or a cell is merged or split, the screen reader loses count and can’t provide helpful information
  • Limit your use of blank cells
  • Use the Accessibility Checker to ensure your table doesn’t contain split cells, merged cells, or nested tables

Watch Microsoft’s video on creating more accessible tables

Create accessible charts

The charts and graphs you create in Excel help make information easier to understand.

  • Make sure chart labels are clear and useful
  • Use a descriptive title for your chart
  • Check your data labels by selecting the chart and then selecting Chart Elements. Select Axis Titles to add titles to the horizontal and vertical axes
  • Add alt text to your chart

Watch Microsoft’s video on  creating accessible charts in Excel

Accessibility Checker

Review your document using Microsoft’s built-in Accessibility Checker.

  1. Go to File, select Info, and then select the Check for Issues button
  2. From the dropdown select Check Accessibility
  3. Review the results and make edits as needed

Resources