Eight Ways to Create a More Accessible Microsoft Word Document

Add a Document Title

  1. Choose File tab
  2. Select "Info" at left
  3. Find "Properties" section
  4. Enter title into the Title field

Microsoft Word 2013 Title field in Info menu

Use Word Heading Styles

  1. Choose Home Tab
  2. Select "Heading 1", "Heading 2", "Heading 3", etc. in the Styles Group

Each Heading Style should match the logical heading structure of the document. Heading levels rank sections and subsections. A Heading 2 can contain multiple Heading 3's, Heading 3's can contain multiple Heading 4's, etc. Headings should not skip from Heading 1 to Heading 3. They should always be in sequence.

Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3 and Heading 4 in Style pane

Add Alternative Text to Meaningful Images and Figures

Alternative Text conveys the intended meaning of an image or figure.

In Office 2019/365:

  1. Select the image
  2. Right click or Shift+F10
  3. Select "Edit Alt Text"

Image selected in Word 2019, context menu open, "Edit Alt Text..." option highlighted.

Or open the alt text menu by selecting the Alt Text button in the Format Picture tab in the Ribbon.

Word 2019 Format tab as it appears when image selected. Button in Ribbon labeled "Alt Text" in "Accessibility" Group.

Type alternative text into the Alt Text Field. Note that you can check the box labeled "Mark as decorative" in the 2019 version. Unfortunately, this is not backward compatible.

Word 2019 Alt Text field with checkbox labeled "Mark as decorative".

In Office 2013 and 2016:

  1. Select the image
  2. Right click or Shift+F10
  3. In Format Picture menu select Layout & Properties (the square with a line above and to the side of it)
  4. Expand the Alt Text drop-down
  5. Type alternative text into the Description field

Microsoft Word Image Properties, Layout & Properties submenu, Alt Text menu expanded. Title and Description fields visible.

In Microsoft Office 2019 and 365, Word may add what it thinks is alternative text to your image automatically. Be sure to check this. Usually it is a description of the picture that Word tries to create. It can be very off the mark. And, you may not want a description to begin with.

You can turn off the automatic alternative text:

  1. Select File
  2. Choose Options
  3. Choose Ease of Access
  4. In the Automatic Alt Text section, select or un-select the "Automatically generate alt text for me" option
  5. Select OK

Use Word List Structure

Bulleted list

  1. Select Home Tab
  2. Choose Bullets button in Paragraph Group

Basic Numbered List

  1. Select Home Tab
  2. Choose Numbering button in Paragraph Group

Multilevel List (for more complex nesting of list items)

  1. Select Home Tab
  2. Choose Multilevel button in Paragraph Group

Word list formatting buttons in Paragraph group

When Color Conveys Meaning, Use Color Plus Another Visual Cue

Use markers, text labels or different patterns for charts and graphs

Line graph, 3 lines, one red, one blue, one green. Labeled to the side.
Line graph with 3 lines. Series 1's line is blue, Series 2's is red and Series 3's is red. Each is labeled in a key to the side of the graph.

Line graph with 3 lines. One is blue with triangle markers, one red with diamond markers, one green with square markers.
The same line graph plot now with triangles added to the blue Series 1, diamonds added to the red Series 2 and squares added to the green Series 3.

Use additional formatting for text, or a symbol such as an asterisk

Only color:

Required fields are in dark red

First Name

Color plus another indicator:

Required fields are in red and marked "required"

First Name (required)

Use Good Color Contrast

Check that contrast between text and background colors is at least 4.5:1 for regular text and 3.0:1 for large text.

If you use Office 2016 or older, then The Paciello Group Colour Contrast Analyser lets you easily check color contrast. Office 2019 has a contrast check built into its Accessibility Checker.

Use Descriptive Link Text

Active links should tell people where the link will take them. Make sure that you use descriptive link text to meet this goal.

You can create a link in a couple of ways. To insert a link when link text is not already in the document:

  1. Select the Insert Tab
  2. Choose the Link drop-down in the Links Group
  3. Select Insert Link (may be at the bottom of that menu)
  4. Type your link text in the "Text to Display" field
  5. Type the website address in the "Address" field

To create a link from existing text in a document:

  1. Select the link text
  2. Right click or Shift+F10
  3. Select Link
  4. Choose Insert Link (may be at the bottom of that menu)
  5. Type the website address in the "Address" field

Whichever way you create a link, make the descriptive link text the active link in a document, and put the actual web address (URL) in plain text. This makes sure that people can use the link whether the document is digital or printed.

Word Insert Hyperlink menu. Text to Display field reads "Oklahoma ABLE Tech". Address field reads "http://ok.gov/abletech".

Don't Forget: Check Accessibility with Accessibility Checker

Microsoft Office has a built-in Accessibility Checker. It is not perfect, but it is useful. And with Office 2019's regular updates it gets better from time to time.

Here's how to start a check:

  1. Select File Tab
  2. Select Info
  3. Activate Check for Issues button
  4. Select Check Accessibility

This will kick off automated checks to look for things like missing alternative text or possible problems with reading order. Don't rely on the checker to find everything, but it is a good idea to make sure it's part of your process to use it.

Microsoft Word 2019 Accessibility Checker kickoff