Accessible MS Word

When you spend time and effort creating meaningful content, you want to ensure that everyone can access it. Follow these steps to improve the accessibility of your MS Word files. Also see Microsoft's Make your Word documents accessible to people with disabilities.

Provide alternative text for images

Good alternative text (sometimes called "alt text") describes the purpose or function of an image for people unable to see it. Images that are merely decorative do not require alternative text. In MS Word, include alternative text with all meaningful images (pictures, charts, shapes, groups, embedded objects, etc.). Read more about writing meaningful alternative text.

To add alternative text for an image in MS Word (Windows and Mac):

  1. Right click on the picture.
  2. Select Format Picture.
  3. Click on the Layout & Properties tab, and expand Alt Text.
    MS Word screen for adding alt text to images
  4. If your version of Word has "Description" and "Title" fields, use only the "Description" field.

To add alternative text to charts and graphs in Word (Windows and Mac):

  1. Right click on the chart or graph.
  2. Select the Format Chart Area.
  3. Click the Layout & Properties tab.
  4. If your version of Word has "Description" and "Title" fields, put a brief description of the chart in only the "Description" field.

Read more about writing alternative text for charts, graphs, and infographics.

Use Word's built-in headings and text styles

Heading structure is important for all users, who often scan documents (visually or with a screen reader) to orient themselves.

In MS Word, the Styles gallery adds hidden tags to headings to identify them for people using assistive technologies (such as screen readers). Always format headings using MS Word's Styles gallery, which is located on the right side of the Home tab toolbar.

MS Word Styles pane

To make the text a heading, highlight the text, then click the heading level you want in the Styles gallery. You can expand the gallery to see more styles. Create headings in hierarchical order--don't skip heading levels. (See more on why headings are important.)

Similarly, lists also help organize content. Always format lists using the bulleted or numbered list buttons on the Home tab toolbar. These add hidden tags to the list to assist users of assistive technology (like screen readers).

MS Word list buttons

See more on the importance of lists.

Add meaningful link text

Screen reader users can access a list of all the links in a document and can jump through a document link by link, so link text must make sense out of context:

  1. Descriptive: Link text should clearly describe the function or destination of the hyperlink. Avoid "click here" and "read more," as well as URLs (such as, which give little information.
  2. Concise: Linked text should be brief. Keywords make concise yet informative link text.
  3. Unique: Two or more links with the same text can be confusing, especially if they link to different destinations. Make links unique.
  4. Visually distinct: Users with color blindness and low vision must be able to visually identify linked text in a document by something other than color. Do not remove the default underline.

Read more on writing meaningful link text.

Use a simple table structure and table headers

Use a simple table structure, and specify table headers. Nested tables are difficult to navigate with a screen reader, so try to keep the table structure simple.

To add headers to table columns or rows:

  1. In Windows, click on the table and go toTable Tools > Design.
    OR In Mac, click on the table and go to Table Design.
  2. Select "Header Row" if you want column headers across the top of your table. Select "First Column" for row headers down the right side of your table.
    MS Word table header option

See more on creating accessible tables.

Run the Accessibility Checker

Before sharing a Microsoft Office document, run the Accessibility Checker to ensure your content is accessible to people with disabilities and others using assistive technology. Go to the "Review" tab, then click the "Check Accessibility" button. 

MS Office Accessibility Checker button

Then follow the instructions to find and fix any accessibility issues. Read more about the Microsoft Office Accessibility Checker.

Creating a PDF from a Word document

If you need to create a PDF of a Microsoft Word document, follow the detailed instructions on how to make accessible PDFs from created documents.

Note: Never use "Print as PDF" to create a PDF from any software or browser. The resulting PDF is not accessible.



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