Learn how to create compliant Word documents in 10 easy steps.

Use Word’s built-in heading styles

  1. Blind users depend on headings to navigate a document. Screen readers are programmed to find heading styles.
  2. You can modify the built-in styles, but do not create your own.
  3. To see if headings are in correct order, go to View > Navigation Pane.
  4. Microsoft offers a video on accessible headings.
Headings buttons in Word

Add Alt Text to images

  1. To add alt text, right-click any image and select Edit Alt Text.
  2. Keep the description short. Do not add “Image of” because the screen reader will announce this automatically.
  3. If the image is a link, the Alt Text should describe the destination.
  4. Microsoft offers a video on alt text.
  5. These instructions are for Word 365. Learn how to add alt text in Word 2016.
Screenshot of alt text in Word

Create meaningful links

  1. Links should be meaningful and describe the destination.
  2. Highlight the text you want to make into a link, right-click, select Link and then select Insert Link. Add the URL you want into the Address bar.
  3. Examples of bad links:
  4. Examples of good links:
  5. Don’t display the entire URL in your document. Screen readers will read the URL out letter by letter. Use link text instead.
  6. Microsoft has a video on accessible links.

Add column headings on tables

  1. Give every column a heading. This helps screen readers make sense of the data contained in a table.
  2. Then you need to designate a header row. Here’s how: highlight the header row, right-click the table, and select Table Properties. Under Row, check this box: Repeat as header row at the top of each page.
  3. Don’t split or merge cells.
  4. Read more on creating accessible tables.
  5. Microsoft has a video on accessible tables.
Check the Repeat as header row box in Table Properties

Use lists whenever possible

  1. You must create lists using the built-in tools in Word. If you do not, the list is not detected as a list by screen readers.
  2. Screen readers announce how many items are in a list, allowing blind users to skip long lists if desired.
List buttons in Word

Use sans serif fonts

  1. Use sans serif fonts (e.g. Arial, Calibri). They are easier to read than serif fonts (e.g. Times New Roman).
  2. Use a minimum font size of 12 pt.
  3. Use real text rather than text in images. If you have to use an image with text, write the text you see into the alt text.
  4. Limit the use of font variations such as bold, italics and uppercase letters.

Add a title and author in document properties

  1. To add a title and author, go to File > Info > Properties.
  2. You can also enter tags. Tags are keywords that are used by search engines to rank your document for relevance. Separate tags with commas.
Document Properties

Use colors and contrast correctly

  1. Don’t use color alone to convey meaning because some users are colorblind or blind users won’t see colors at all.
  2. Colors need to have enough contrast. Use a contrast checker.

Run the built-in accessibility checker in Word

  1. To run the checker, click on File > Info > Check for Issues > Check Accessibility
  2. Microsoft has a video on how to check accessibility in Word.
Info > Check for Issues > Check Accessibility

Save as PDF

  1. Post documents as PDFs because they are more accessible than Word documents.
  2. Go to File, then select Save As. Choose a storage location. Then change the file type to PDF (*.pdf) in the dropdown menu.
  3. Never use “Print to PDF”. This action will convert the document into one large image–losing all text and accessible features.
  4. Check and correct PDF accessibility using the PAVE tool.

More Tips

  1. A general rule is to use the built-in tools in Word to create everything.
  2. When naming a file, use hyphens not spaces or underscores.
  3. Here’s a helpful 5-minute video on accessible Word documents from NC State.
  4. Microsoft has videos on how to make accessible PowerPoint presentations and accessible Excel spreadsheets.
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