Word Accessibility

Please note: All instructions below are designed for Microsoft Office 2016. If you are using an earlier verison, these steps may or may not be appropriate. To get Office 2016, please contact MTSU ITD software.

Word's Built-in Accessibility Checker

A great way to begin checking the accessibility of your Microsoft Word document is to use the built-in accessibility checker. (Mac users, you must have MS Word 2016 and the August 2016 update. Previous versions don't have the built in checker.) Please Note: The accessibility checker only checks .docx files

Office for Windows 2016

  1. Go to the File tab.
  2. Select Info from the sidebar menu.
  3. Click on the Check for Issues button.
  4. Select Check Accessibility from the drop-down list.File tab open, check for issues button pressed, check accessibility button highlighted

    Picture from D2L Brightspace blog

The Accessibility Checker panel will open to the right of the document. The accessibility checker provides you with a list of errors, warnings and tips.


Office for Mac 2016

  1. Go to the Tools menu
  2. Choose Check Accessibility
    Tools menu expanded, Check Accessibility option highlighted

The Accessibility Checker panel will open to the right of the document. The accessibility checker provides you with a list of errors, warnings and tips.

Full list of Accessibility Tips and Fixes


Use a font that is easy to read

  • Ensure your text is readable by using a minimum 10pt sans serif font, such as Calibri, Arial, Helvetica or Verdana. These font types will magnify well for those who have low vision.
  • If there is an image with text in it, make sure to put the text in the alternative text or in the body of the document so it will be accessible to screen reader users.
  • Refrain from using floating text boxes or floating images, which are not readable by assistive technology.


Format headings to add navigation structure to the page

 It isn't enough to make text big and bold to look like headings. Section dividers need to be formatted as headings.

  1. Place your cursor on the line that you want to become a heading.
  2. Go to the Home tab.
  3. In the Styles group, choose the appropriate heading level (see the next section on how to uise headings in the proper order).
    Word window with arrows pointing to the Styles pane and Styles area in the Home tab

    Picture from How To Geek

Warning: The default style called a normal template in MS Word uses light blue heading colors that have insufficient color contrast. Make sure to change those headings to a darker color. Here are instructions on how to change the default Normal template more permanently.

Heading Order

In addition to formatting headings as headings, the headings need to be used in the correct order. Headings chunk your content, making it easier for everyone to read. Headings are also a major way of navigating with a screen reader.

Headings must be used in the correct order for them to be useful.

  • Heading 1 is like the title of a book and there is just one Heading 1 per page. Heading 2s are like chapter titles. Heading 3s are sub-sections of those chapters, and so on.
  • Heading order is also similar to the order of an outline.
  • DO NOT skip heading levels. Eg. Heading 1 straight to Heading 4 could confuse screen reader users. Instead, only step down one level at a time.
  • See below for a visual display of correct heading structure.

Order of headings

Video: How to apply headings in the correct order

Changing Heading appearance

Sometimes you may want to change the font and formatting of a heading style. If you would like other headings of that same level to match these style changes throughout your document, follow these steps:

  1. On the Home Tab in the Styles area, right click on a Heading style
  2. Choose Modify
  3. Make adjustments in the style and click OK.
  4. If you would like all future documents to keep this style, be sure to:
      1. Word for Windows - choose "New documents based on this template" at the bottom of the modify style window.
      2. Word for Mac - choose "Add to template" checkbox at the bottom of the modify style window.


Format lists as lists

Page formatting (lists, headings and links) is read aloud to screen reader users so that the content is understood in context. If order is important in your list, make it a numbered list. If order is not important, a bulleted list is a better choice.

  1. Select the text that you want to make into a list.
  2. On the Home tab, in the Paragraph group, select the Number (ordered list) or Bullets (unordered list) icon.

The numbered (ordered) list in the picture above is highlighted to show that it would be better as a bulleted (unordered) list because the order of the items is unimportant.

Multilevel lists:

To make a multilevel list in Word, type in your first list item and then click the multilevel list icon. Continue typing your list levels knowing that Enter/Return will take you to the next item at the same level and Tab (or clicking Increase Indent within Word) will take you to the next indented level. MS Word indent button highlighted in the ribbon

Video: How to format lists in Word

Images and Graphics (including graphs, maps & shapes)

Provide alternative text descriptions (alt text) for images and graphics

Alternative text descriptions of images (alt text) allow screen reader users to benefit from the information being conveyed by an image.

What information should you include or exclude from alternative text descriptions? See the DIAGRAM Center's alt text resource.

  1. Go to the image and right click, then select Format Picture.
  2. A side bar will open on the right side of the Word window.
  3. Select the third icon from the left (Layout and Properties).alt text is typed in the description area, not the title fieldPicture from D2L Brightspace blog
  4. Type your alt text into the bottom Description field
  5. There is no Save button. You can either close the side bar or click on a different picture to add alt text to.

Video: Adding alternate text for images

See Complex Image Accessibility for images that cannot be adequately described in alternative text (which should be limited to one or two brief sentences).


Write meaningful link text that indicates the link’s destination

Links are a major method of navigating for everyone. If the links are embedded into meaningful text, they are much more useful.

  1. Type out text that describes the destination of the link.
  2. Select the text, right click and choose Hyperlink... from the menu.
    Word doc with "The MTSU One Stop is a great place to start when asking about anything campus-related." MTSU One Stop is highlighted with Hyperlink selected in the context menu
  3. The Insert Hyperlink window will open.
    link dialog open, URL typed in the edit box
  4. Type or paste the URL of the webpage in the Address field. For the example above, we would type out or paste, "http://www.mtsu.edu/one-stop"
  5. Then click the OK button to save the link.

Video: How to make meaningful links

Hyperlink Tips

  • If you think students will be printing the document and you want them to have the URL, put it in parentheses after the link, but don't hyperlink it.
  • Screen reading software can pull up all of the links in a page to aid the user in navigating the page more quickly. If a link pulled up by the screen reader is some indecipherable URL or ambiguous phrase like, "click here" the screen reader user will not know where that link goes.


Create data tables with column headers and alt text

Designating column headers in a table is essential to screen reader users understanding how the information is laid out. Unfortunately, Word (at this time) cannot handle a header column, only a header row. Save yourself some time 

  1. Put your cursor in the first cell of your data table.the first cell of a table is highlighted to show where to insert a bookmark
  2. Go to the Insert tab and choose the Link dropdown. Choose Bookmark.
    insert tab is highlighted as first step, links button is pressed as second step, bookmark button is activated as third step

  3. Type in a unique name for each table bookmark, beginning with "Title_". For the two tables in my example, I have used Title_Table1 and Title_Table2.
    Type in a unique name for each table bookmark, beginning with "Title_". For the two tables in my example, I have used Title_Table1 and Title_Table2.
  4. Choose the Table Design tab and make sure the Header Row check box is checked.Table design tab selected, header row checkbox checked
  5. Next, click on the Table Layout tab.
  6. Click on Repeat Header Row button (I know this isn't intuitive, but it's very important to designating that top row as the table headers.)Layout tab selected, repeat header row button pressed
  7. Right click on the table and select Table PropertiesDescribe the contents of the table by selecting the Alt Text tabIn the table properties window, give the table a title and provide an appropriate description.
    Table Properties - location of Alt Text

Please note:

  • Bookmarks in the first cell of tables, as shown in this YouTube Table Bookmarking video, will help screen reading software repeat the header row values for each cell below it (super useful in not getting lost in table data!). The video also mentions some things you should not do when creating a table in a Word document.
  • Microsoft Word now allows the top row and first columns to be marked as table headers! Unfortunately, the first column headers do not export to PDF. However, if you save the Word doc as HTML, the top row and first column headers DO export correctly!

Ensure a proper reading order in tables

Screen readers read tables from left to right, top to bottom, one cell at a time (no repeats). If cells are split or merged, the reading order can be thrown off.

Read your table left to right, top to bottom (never repeating a cell). Does it make sense? Screen reading software reads tables in this way.

Merged, nested, and split cells change the reading order of tables. Make sure you construct your table in a way that accommodates good reading order.


Don't use color alone to convey meaning

Don't use color alone to make a distinction, a comparison or to set something off or apart from the rest of the web page. If you categorize something by color alone, those who are color blind or blind will not benefit from the color distinction.

Instead, add some text that makes the element stand out to people with a vision impairment. I.e. "Don't miss the deadline!" is better written as "Important note: Don't miss the deadline!" because it announces "Important note" aloud to text-to-speech users, instead of using color alone.

Use sufficient color contrast

Make sure there is enough color contrast between foreground (font) color and background color.
Video: Color contrast in MS Word

For a stand-alone tool that can test things in many applications (not just Word), try the Colour Contrast Analyzer Tool

  1. Download Colour Contrast Analyzer Tool for Windows or Colour Contrast Analyzer Tool for Mac
  2. Make sure you are in the Result — Luminosity mode, not the contrast result for color blindness.
  3. Click the Foreground eye dropper tool, hover over and click the foreground color to select the foreground color.
  4. Click the background eye dropper tool, hover over and click the background color.

Video How to use the Colour Contrast Analyzer tools


  • MTSU's standards are to reach a pass in the AA standards.
  • Avoid these combinations:
    • Red & Black
    • Blue & Yellow
    • Red & Green

Flashing/Blinking Content

Eliminate or limit blinking/flashing content

Any flashing/blinking content (especially content in red) can cause seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy as well as other photosensitive seizure disorders, so it should be limited and used only when necessary. Web pages that do contain flashing content, should limit the flashing to no more than three flashes per second and not use fully saturated reds in the content.

If you do have content that flashes/blinks more than three times per second, freeze the blinking content momentarily so it falls below the three times per second limit.

If you have a web video with a scene involving very bright lightning flashes (or other scenes with flashes), edit the video so the lightning doesn't flash more than three times in any one second period.

Forms & Buttons

Label form fields and buttons

We recommend Dynamic Forms or another web form solution for creating forms and not MS Word. If you still want to use Word to create your form, start with a form template.

In order for a screen reader user to be able to fill out a form, the form needs to be electronic and the fields need to be associated with their corresponding labels.

  • Forms that are created in Word often use underscores (________) to create a space where people are meant to add text. This is an awkward way to fill out a form for everyone but especially so with a screen reader because the software reads "underline, underline, underline, underline" for each and every underscore you used on each line. 
  • Does the screen reader tell the user what to fill into the form fields?
  • If you don't know how to test with a screen reader, please submit your form to itdacad@mtsu.edu to test.

Check the reading order of forms

Tab order and proper labeling of form fields and buttons is important to those who are blind or physically disabled.

  • To check the reading order of a form, try tabbing through the form. Does it land on the form fields in the order someone would want to fill it out? If it doesn't you will need to edit the order of the form fields.
  • Can you submit the form without using the mouse? (The keyboard command to activate a button or link is the Enter key.)
    • If you cannot, is there another way, that is accessible to students who can't use a mouse or those who are blind, for students to submit this information that is accessible to them. Can they save it and email it to you, for example?

Math and Science

Write math and science equations accessibly

Mathematical equations and scientific notations must be written with MathType (an MS Office equation editor plugin) or Libre Office's native equation editor. Unfortunately, Word's native equation editor does not create equations that can be read by screen reading software.

Another option is the D2L equation editor. For more information, see the Math and Science Accessibility page.

Video: How to use the D2L equation editor.


Mark languages appropriately

  • Highlight a part of the document that is a language other than English
  • Go to the Review tab of the ribbon
  • Choose the Languages dropdown
  • Choose "Set Proofing Language" if you're using Word in Windows
  • Uncheck "Detect Language Automatically" checkbox
  • Choose the correct language for that section of the document
  • Repeat for any other sections of the document that are in a lanugage other than English

Video: How to change languages in Word.


Additional Resources

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