Creating accessible Microsoft Excel documents
Last updated: October 26, 2022
It’s important to make Excel spreadsheets accessible to everyone, even if you're using them internally.
Who does this affect?
- Anju is blind and uses a screen reader. She's using a budgeting spreadsheet that does not have proper column headings. Because of this she cannot tell if the amounts are expenses or not so she does not know if the total is correct.
- Greg is colour blind. He is looking at a pie chart that only uses colour to separate data, he cannot 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
- Start with an accessible template
- Rename the ‘Sheet’ tabs with descriptive titles
- Delete any unused tabs
- Make sure your text is legible
- Check your colour contrast
- Add alternative text (alt text) to images such as charts or graphs
- Use descriptive hyperlinks
- Create accessible tables
- Create accessible charts
- Run the Accessibility Checker to review your work
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 (external link).
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.
Some text is easier for people to read:
- Use a size 12 point font or larger
- Use a sans serif font like BC Sans, Arial or Calibri
- Do not write in all capital letters
- Do not use bold unless you're using it to emphasize a few words or a short sentence
- Avoid italics, they're difficult to read
- Only underline text if it's a hyperlink
- When using a text colour other than black, test the colour contrast to make sure it's easy to read (Microsoft recommends the free app Colour Contrast Analyser)
- Do not use colour alone to convey meaning as it may not be visible to people who are colour blind and will not be communicated to someone using a screen reader. For example: writing in red to indicate something is important
If your spreadsheet has a high level of contrast between text and background, more people will be able to 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 (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 are not informative, you can mark them as decorative.
To do this:
- Select the visual and open the alt text pane
- Select the Mark as decorative text box.
Watch Microsoft’s video on improving accessibility with alt text (external link).
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 (external link).
- 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 cannot 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 (external link)
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 (external link)
Review your document using Microsoft’s built-in Accessibility Checker.
- Go to File, select Info, and then select the Check for Issues button
- From the dropdown select Check Accessibility
- Review the results and make edits as needed
- Review Microsoft's guide on making your Excel spreadsheets accessible (external link)
- Use Ryerson University's Microsoft Excel Accessibility Tipsheet (PDF, 151 KB)