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  

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". 

    This article will explain techniques you can use in MS Word to create accessible documents.

    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 sty;e

    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

    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

    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 

    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"


    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


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

    Preparing Your 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 


    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 Document

    1. Select "File" 
    2. Select "Save as Adobe PDF"
    3. You may be prompted to Save the Word Document
    4. The "Save Adobe PDF File As" dialogue box will open asking you to confirm where you would like to save the PDF file 
    5. Select "Options" and ensure "Convert document information", "Enable Accessibility and Reflow with tagged Adobe PDF" "Create Bookmarks" and "Convert Word Headings to Bookmarks" options are selected.
    6. Select OK 
    7. The PDF document will save and open in your default PDF viewer 


     PDF Options


     PDF 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

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