Make a Word Document Accessible

For documents created in Microsoft Word for Office 365, check the following accessibility guidelines for each document element to make sure that your document is accessible.


Use a text font that is easy to read

  • Ensure your text is readable by using at least 10 pt. san serif fonts, such as 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 include that text in the alternative text for the image so it will be accessible to visually impaired students.
  • Refrain from using floating text boxes, track changes, or commenting - these features are not accessible.


Use properly formatted headings to structure the page

It isn't enough to make text big and bold to look like headings. They need to be formatted as headings.
  1. Select the text that you want to make into a heading.
  2. Go to the Home tab.
  3. In the Styles group, choose the appropriate heading level (see information below on using headings in the proper order) from the Styles gallery.
    Shows the Word Styles gallery with Heading 1 selected.

NOTE: 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. 

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.

  1. Heading 1 functions like the title of a book; there is just one Heading 1 per page. Heading 2s function like chapter titles. Heading 3s function like sections of those chapters, and so on.
  2. Heading order is similar to an outline. It can be helpful to view the Navigation Pane while applying structure to a Word document. This allows you to see the headings in outline format to make sure you haven't skipped a heading level.
  3. Don't skip heading levels. 
  4. See below for a visual display of a possible heading order:Shows how headings should not skip levels.  Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, Heading 4, Heading 5, Heading 5, Heading 4, Heading 3, Heading 2


Format lists as lists

Page formatting (lists, headings, and links) is read aloud to screen reader users, so the content is understood in context. So it is important to properly format lists.

  1. Click the Home tab.
  2. In the Paragraph group, select the Numbering or Bullets icon.
    • Use Number lists if a sequential order is important to the list
    • Use Bullet lists if all items are equal value.
 Icon for a video. Video:  How to format lists.

Images and Graphics (including Graphs, Maps, & Shapes)

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

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

  1. Right click on the image and select Edit Alt Text.
  2. The Alt Text pane opens on the right side of the document.
  3. Enter your descriptive alternative text into the field provided.
    Shows the Alt Text pane.
See Complex Image Accessibility for images that cannot be adequately described in the alternative text (which should be limited to one or two brief sentences).


Write meaningful link text that indicates link's destination

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

  1. Highlight text that describes the destination of the link.
  2. Right click and select Link.
  3. In the Address field, type the link URL.
    Indicates Address field for the Mac version of WordIndicates Address field for the Windows version of Word
  4. Click OK.
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 an indecipherable URL or an ambiguous phrase like "click here," the user will not know where that link goes.


Create data tables with column headers

Designating column headers in a table is essential to allowing screen reader users understanding how 
the information is laid out.


  1. Put your cursor in the top row of your data table. The Table Tools tabs display.
  2. Under the Table Tools tab, click the Design tab.
  3. In the Table Style Options group, verify the Header Row box is checked.Identifies Header Row checkbox
  4. Next, click the Layout tab under the Table Tools tab.
  5. In the Data group, click Repeat Header Rows.Identifies Repeat Header Rows


  1. Put your cursor in the top row of your data table. Two tabs displays, Table Design and Layout.
  2. Click the Design tab, and then verify the Header Row box is checked..
    Indicates Header Row Checkbox
  3. Click the Layout tab.
  4. Click Repeat Headers Rows.Indicates Repeat Header Rows

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. 
To test the reading order of your table in Word, place your cursor in the first cell of the table. Now press the Tab key repeatedly to navigate through the table. This will be the reading order that assistive technologies will use.
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, to make a comparison, or to set something apart from the rest of the document. If you categorize something by color alone, those who are color blind or have other visual disabilities will not be able to benefit from that information.

Use sufficient color contrast

Make sure there is enough contrast between the font color and the background color.

If you print your presentation on a black and white printer, would it be understandable? Without sufficient color contrast, people who are color blind or have other visual disabilities will not be able to benefit from that information.

How-to Install and Use the Colour Analyser tool

  1. Download and install Colour Contrast Analyser Tool
  2. Open the Colour Contrast Analyser application
  3. Click the Foreground eye dropper tool, hover over and click the foreground color (usually text) to select it.
  4. Click the Background eye dropper tool, hover over and click the background color.
  5. If you have a 12pt font you are testing for color contrast, you must get a (AA) Pass for regular text.
    If you have font larger than that, you must get a (AA) Pass for large text.
    Colour Contrast Analyser Tool showing colors as passing for regular and large text.

Colour Analyzer Tips:

  • LSC's standards are to reach a pass in the AA standards.
  • Don't worry if you fail the AAA standards, though you might want to consider something with more contrast.

Flashing/Blinking Content

Eliminate or limit blinking/flashing content to 3 seconds

Any flashing/blinking content (especially content in red) can cause seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy as well as other photosensitive seizure disorders. This content should be limited and used very rarely. Web pages that do contain flashing content should limit the flashing to no more than three flashes per second and should not use fully saturated reds in the content.
If you have a video containing 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 the D2L quiz tool 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 blind person 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. 
Make sure you check whether the screen reader tells the user what information to fill into the form fields?

Check the reading order of forms

The tab order (or reading order) is important to those who are blind or physically disabled.
To check the reading order of a form, try tabbing through the form. Does the cursor land in 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.
If you are just making questions and leaving a space for answers instead of formatting your document as an actual form, make sure it is clear what you want the students to do. For example, if you want students to fill in their responses to your questions below the question, write that out so it's obvious to someone who cannot see.

Math and Science

Write math and science equations accessibly.

Mathematical equations and scientific notations must be written with MathType (an Microsoft Office equation editor plugin) and saved in a source folder in your course files. This enables Disability Services to access those files and convert them to an accessible format for a visually impaired student. 

Run the Built in Accessibility Checker

A great way to begin checking the accessibility of your Word document is to use the built-in accessibility checker.

NOTE: The Word accessibility checker only checks .docx files.

For Windows:

  1. Go to the File tab.
  2. Select Info from the sidebar menu.
  3. Click the Check for Issues button.
  4. Select Check Accessibility from the drop-down list.
    Indicates Check Accessibility

For Macs:

  1. Click Tools.
  2. Click Check Accessibility.
    Identifies Check Accessibility

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. When you click on an error or warning, instructions on how to fix it appear below the list of errors, in "Additional Information."

Additional Resources