This article will explain functionality available to create accessible documents in MS Word. Select a link below to quickly locate the information you need.

What is Accessibility?
Legal Requirements
General Concepts
Applying styles in MS Word
Applying Alternative Text in MS Word
Adding Hyperlink Display Text in MS Word
Creating Accessible Tables in MS Word
MS Word Accessibility Checker
Preparing a Word Document to become a PDF
Convert a Word Document to a PDF
Checking the Accessibility of a PDF Document
Useful Links

What is accessibility?

Making a website and its contents accessible, such as downloadable documents means ensuring the site can be used by as many people as possible. This includes users who have disabilities and those who use assistive technologies such as screen readers.

Ensuring accessibility standards are met is vital. 1 in 5 people in the UK have disabilities including:

  • impaired vision
  • motor difficulties
  • cognitive impairments or learning disabilities
  • deafness or impaired hearing

Legal requirements

There is legislation regarding accessibility, including:

  • The European Accessibility Act which ensures equal access to information and communication technologies for people with disabilities
  • The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations. These require online content to be perceivable, operable and robust".

General concepts to follow when creating word documents

  1. Write Clearly
    • Keep the language simple
    • Keep sentences and paragraphs short
    • Avoid all caps text and italics
    • Introduce acronyms
  2. Use the corporate font (Calibri)
  3. Ensure text is left aligned and not justified
  4. Avoid underlining, except for links
  5. Do not use colour alone to get across meaning
  6. Avoid using footnotes
  7. Avoid floating elements such as text boxes
  8. Use Page Breaks (not hard returns to create a new page)
  9. Save the document with a meaningful title
  10. Use sufficient contrast between text and the background colour

Creating accessible documents using MS Word

Microsoft Word has a range of features that can be used to make a document accessible.

Applying styles in MS Word

Styles are used to add structure to an MS Word Document. Styles should be used to identify headings and subheadings throughout the document, this will create a document hierarchy which screen readers can access.

Applying styles

  1. Highlight the heading you wish to style
  2. Ensure the Home tab is selected and select a Style
  3. Styles should be used to structure a Word Document in a hierarchical manner. Heading 1 will usually be the title or main content heading and generally should be used once. Heading 2 styles should be used for major section headings throughout the document, Heading 3 styles will be sub-sections of Heading 2 etc.
Image shows how to add a style

Applying alternative (alt) text to graphical content in MS Word

The purpose of alt text (alternative text) is to provide an alternative way to convey the meaning of an image/diagram/chart to users who cannot see the image. Typically these users will be using a screen reader which will read out the alt text.

Adding Alt Text to Images

  1. Right-click the image
  2. Select Format Picture
  3. In the Format Shape pane select the third icon, Layout and Properties
  4. Select the arrow by Alt Text
  5. Type in a Title and Description
Format Picture dialogue box

Adding Alt Text to Shapes and SmartArt Graphics

Add alt text to shapes, including shapes within a SmartArt graphic.

  1. Right-click on the SmartArt graphic
  2. Select Format Object
  3. In the Format Shape pane select the third icon, Layout and Properties
  4. Select the arrow by Alt Text
  5. Type in a Title and Description
Format shape dialogue box

Adding Alt Text to Charts

  1. Right click on the chart
  2. Select Format Chart Area
  3. In the Format Shape pane select the third icon, Layout and Properties
  4. Select the arrow by Alt Text
  5. Type a title and description
Format chart dialogue box

Guidance for writing effective alt text

  1. Describe the information the picture conveys rather than just identifying the image
  2. Images that are used for links require descriptive text eg. Click here to email
  3. Keep Alt text succinct and accurate

Adding hyperlink display text to links

Screen readers will often read hyperlinks letter by letter which can be difficult for a user to understand. Adding hyperlink display text will avoid this issue.

  1. Select the hyperlink which you want to add display text to and right-click
  2. Select Hyperlink
  3. The link you selected will display in the Text to display field
  4. Change the text in the Text to display box to something meaningful
  5. The Address field contains the URL which will open when the link is selected
  6. Select OK
Inserting a hyperlink

Creating accessible tables

Screen readers keep track of their location in a table by counting table cells. If a table is nested within another table or if a cell is merged or split, the screen reader loses count and can’t provide helpful information about the table after that point. Blank cells in a table can also mislead someone using a screen reader into thinking that there is nothing more in the table.

Specifying header rows

Screen readers also use header information to identify rows and columns.

  1. Insert the table as normal
  2. Right click on the table and select Table Properties
  3. Select the Row tab
  4. Ensure Repeat as header row at the top of each page is selected and Allow row to break across pages should be deselected
Table properties

Applying Alt Tags for tables

Tables should also include Alternative text (Alt text).

  1. Insert the table as normal
  2. Right click the table and select Table Properties
  3. Select the Alt Text tab and type in a Title and Description

Table alt text

MS Word accessibility checker

The MS Word Accessibility Checker will identify potential accessibility issues that you may have with your document. Potential issues will be displayed under three categories:

  • Errors relating to content in the file that will makes it very difficult or impossible for someone with a disability to use
  • Warnings relating to content that will make it difficult for people with disabilities to understand
  • Tips relating to content that could be improved to give users of assistive technology a better experience

Using accessibility checker

  1. Click on File
  2. Select Inspect Document
  3. Select Check Accessibility
  4. The Accessibility Checker pane will open

Accessibility check

The Video below is from Microsoft and shows how to use the Accessibility Check.

Preparing our word document to become a PDF

If your MS Word document will be converted to a PDF, there are some additional actions that you will need to complete to make it accessible.

Adding a title to your MS Word document

  1. Open a MS Word file
  2. Select File
  3. In the Properties, section click in the Title field and type in a meaningful title for your document

Title Property in MS Word

Bookmarks

Accessible PDF documents should have bookmark. These work in a similar way to Styles in MS Word. Bookmarks create structure to a PDF document and allow users of assistive technology to easily navigate through the PDF. It is possible to map the styles set up in MS Word to Bookmarks in a PDF document.

To convert a MS Word document to a PDF

  1. Select File
  2. Select Save as Adobe (you may be prompted to save your Word Document if you have not saved it)
  3. The Save Adobe PDF File As dialogue box will open
  4. Select the Options Button
  5. Ensure the following options are selected and click on OK
    • Convert document information
    • Create PDF/ A
    • Create Bookmarks
    • Convert Word Headings to Bookmarks
    • Convert Comments
  6. The PDF document will open with a banner across the top "This file contains compliance with the PDF/A standard and has been opened read-only to prevent modification"
  7. Select Enable Editing
  8. A warning box will appear alerting you for the need to save the PDF using File --> Save As Other -- >PDF/A once you have finished editing the document.

PDF A options

Checking the accessibility of a PDF document

  1. Open the PDF document in Adobe Acrobat DC
  2. Select the Tools tab
  3. Locate Accessibility which is located in the Protect and Standardize section
  4. Click on Add
  5. Return to your document by clicking on the tab with the file name
  6. Click on Accessibility and the Accessibility Tools pane will open
  7. Click on Full Check
  8. Keep the default settings and click on Start Checking
  9. The Accessibility Checker pane will open which will alert to you any issues with the document
  10. Please note that several of the tests such as Logical Reading Order will require a manual check, right click on these to display options

Useful Links

JISC information about UK law on web accessibility from JISC
Understanding WCAG 2.1 An article from the UK Government on understanding WCAG 2.1
Make your public sector website or app accessible: An article from the UK Government
How we're helping public websites meet accessibility requirements: A blog from the Government Digital Service


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