Creating accessible Microsoft Word documents

Estimated read time: 2 minutes 51 seconds

It’s important to make Word documents accessible to everyone, even if you're using them internally.

Who does this affect?

  • Alex has low vision due to age and small fonts are hard for them to read. 
  • Fernanda is blind and uses a screen reader to read Word documents. She needs documents to include headings and structure, so she can easily find the information she is looking for. 
  • Joowon has Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). He has a hard time reading long documents and remembering the details. Plain language helps him recall what he has read.

Steps to take

  1. Write in plain language
  2. Make sure your text is legible
  3. Structure your document
  4. Make sure any hyperlinks or tables are accessible
  5. Add alternative text to visual content
  6. Run the Accessibility Checker 

Make your content legible

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 
  • Use at least 1.5 line spacing
  • 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

Structure your content

People and assistive technologies scan written content looking for headings. Headings provide context for the reader to decide if the information is relevant.

  • Use a ‘Title’ attribute at the start of your document. Only use Title once
  • The 'Title' attribute is different than the file name of your document
  • Break content into manageable chunks using headings and sub-headings
  • New topics or chapters should use 'Heading 1 (H1)'
  • ​Subtopics within a section can be divided using 'Heading 2 (H2),' 'Heading 3 (H3)' and 'Heading 4 (H4)'
  • Write short headings that describe the content using keywords
  • Use sentence case for headings (start with a capital letter and the rest should be lower case)
  • Use bullet point lists to make content easier to scan. Only use numbered lists to show ordered steps

Watch Microsoft’s video on improving heading accessibility.

Use descriptive hyperlinks

Hyperlink keywords that describes where the link goes. For example: don’t use ‘click here’ or ‘read more’.

Add ScreenTips that provide a description when your cursor hovers over a hyperlink.

How to: File > Options > General > ScreenTips Style > Show Feature Descriptions in ScreenTips > OK

Watch Microsoft’s video on creating accessible links.

Add alternative text to visual content

Visual content includes graphics, images, pictures, SmartArt, shapes, groups, charts, embedded objects, ink and videos.

Alternative text (alt-text) helps people who can’t see the visual content understand the context of the image. 

Think how you would describe the image to someone over the phone.

  • Right click on the image
  • Select ‘Edit Alt-Text’
  • Write a short description of the image (5 to 10 words)

If the image you are using does not convey any additional information and is purely decorative. You can select the ‘Mark as decorative’ check box.

To find all instances of missing alt-text use the Accessibility Checker.

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

Using tables

  • Don’t use tables as a layout, they should only be used for tabular data 
  • Use table headers to clearly identify the content in rows and columns
  • Avoid merging, splitting or leaving blank cells in a table
  • Add alt-text to your table

Watch Microsoft’s videos on: 

Run the Accessibility Checker

Microsoft provides an Accessibility Checker to help you identify issues. This is meant to support you not to replace your own accessibility check. Once you have followed the steps outlined on this page, use the Accessibility Checker for a quick review.

Publishing on the web

Don’t publish Word documents on the web on their own. They can be difficult to view on mobile devices.

Provide the information on an HTML page as well.