Knowledgebase: Accessibility
Microsoft Word Accessibility
Posted by on 16 September 2020 12:21 PM

Microsoft Word documents are used for all sorts of reasons, and it is important that we ensure they are usable by everyone. This article will touch on a few easy things that can be done to get the process started. If you are interested in more about this topic, there is additional training on Buckeye Learn. Contact the Accessibility Coordinator at for more information.


Word Documents as Web Content

Word documents are often the first step on the path to web content, so it is important to utilize as many of the accessibility features as possible before converting to such formats as PDF, HTML, etc. Simple documents can be made fully accessible in Word alone, but documents that are more complex will need to be touched up in the final format. The types of features that make a document "complex" include:

  • Text boxes
  • Data tables with multiple layers of headers
  • Floating elements in the drawing layer, such as charts, word art, shapes, SmartArt, etc.
  • Math expressions
  • Headers or footers


Accessibility Checker

The Check Accessibility tool is very useful in identifying some commonly seen issues. The Checker can only identify some accessibility issues, however, so it is important to also review your documents for any potential issues.

Enabling the Checker

In the Ribbon, you will find a section labelled Review. Within this, you should find a Check Accessibility button. If you do not, however, you will need to add it. In order to add the tool to the Ribbon, do the following:

  1. Right click the Ribbon, select Customize the Ribbon
  2. In the right-hand list, select Review
  3. Under that same list, select New Group. This is where the new option will be added
  4. In the left-hand list, find the Accessibility Checker option. You may need to change the filter to All Commands or Commands Not in the Ribbon to find it
  5. Select Add, then OK. You should now see the Check Accessibility option in the Review section of the Ribbon

Using the Checker

  1. Select Check Accessibility in the Review section of the Ribbon
  2. The Accessibility Checker panel will appear with the results listed
  3. Select a specific issue to see more information and steps to remediate

Semantic Elements


Headings are useful elements that can help break up a document into sections. For a screen reader user, however, these are often the first way to navigate through a document to find out what is in the document. If the document has a well-organized heading structure, this helps screen reader users make a mental map of the document.

It is important to use the built in headings for this purpose as screen readers cannot gather meaning from text styles like bold or underline. These heading elements can be found in the Ribbon under Home > Styles. A good way to check the organization of your headers and document as a whole is to look at the Outline View, found in the View section of the Ribbon.


Luckily, if a link is copy + pasted into Word, it automatically designated as a link. It is important this is preserved and not removed via the Remove Hyperlink option. Screen readers will not be able to navigate to links if the hyperlink is removed.


Any tabular data needs to be placed within a table, not using columns and other formatting to make it look like a table. To add a table, navigate to the Insert section of the Ribbon and select Table. It is important not to use the Draw Table option, as that creates a graphic and not a data table a screen reader can navigate. Currently, Word only supports simple tables, so if nested or split tables are required these features must be added in another format such as PDF.



Screen readers cannot gather meaning from an image, so it is important that all images have alt text. This text should be clear, concise, and meaningful. This addition will not be seen by sighted users, only read aloud by screen readers.

How to add alt text

  1. Right click the image.
  2. Select Edit Alt Text.
  3. Type the alt text in the description box


These are the basics of making an accessible Word document. More in depth training on this topic can be found on Buckeye Learn. Contact the Accessibility Coordinator at for more information.

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