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Michigan State University

Creating Accessible Word Documents

Introduction

Microsoft Word is one of the most common word processing programs in the market. By following a few, simple steps, you can be sure that your Word document is accessible to everyone. This page will show you how to make .doc and .docx files accessible on both Mac and Windows platforms using Word 2004 and 2008 (for Mac) and Word 2007 and 2010 (for Windows). Documents can be made accessible by:

  1. Including paragraph headings.
  2. Providing descriptions for images.
  3. Providing descriptions for charts and graphs.
  4. Providing descriptions for tables.
  5. Identifying column headings in tables.
  6. Using phrases to describe hyperlinks.
  7. Grouping items in lists.

Headings

Paragraph headings provide context and a way to navigate documents. By just making your text bold and increasing the font size, a screen reader does not "see" this and therefore does not know the difference between sections. Instead, transforming this text to a heading will allow a screen reader to easily navigate your page and provide accessibility for all.

Headings should be selected based on their hierarchy, or importance, in the document. Start the page with a heading that describes overall page content (Heading 1), then follow it with sub-headings (Heading 2) and sub sub-headings (Heading 3). Headings 1, 2, and 3 can be selected in the Styles section of Word.

For Windows users

Word 2007 and 2010

Using the home tab in the top ribbon, select the appropriate heading

heading area ribbon

For Mac users

Word 2004 and 2008

Headings can be set from the drop-down menu or from the formatting palette, as shown in the screen shots below.

  heading menu in word 2008 for mac     formatting palette in word 2008 for mac

 

Images

Images, charts and graphs must have a description so that someone unable to see them will understand their purpose and content. This is what is known as alt text. Descriptions of images should be limited to approximately 20 words or 120 characters. Charts and graphs may require longer explanations.

*Note*  There is no option for adding alt text to images using Word 2004 or 2008 for Mac.

For Windows users

Word 2007

Right-click the image and select "Size".

menu shown when right-clicking on an image in Word 2007 for Windows

This will open a dialog box. Select the Alt Text tab, where you will see that the image file name is entered by default. Change this to a more fitting description of the image. In this case, "the Michigan State University wordmark" would be more appropriate.

alternate text box in Word 2007

Word 2010

Right-click the image and select "Format Picture".

menu shown when right-clicking on an image in Word 2010 for Windows

This will open a dialog box. Select the Alt Text tab. Do not enter alternative text in the Title box, but rather in the Description box.

alternate text box in Word 2010

Charts and Graphs

Charts and graphs may require longer explanations than simple images. There are two actions needed to make these items accessible. The first is to add a short caption preceding them that describes their content and the second is to add alt text.

For Windows users

Word 2007 and 2010

To add a caption:

Right click near the edge of the chart, graph or table and choose "Insert Caption".

insert a caption

In the Caption dialog box, type in a short description.

entering a caption

To add alternative text:

The option for adding alternative text to a chart or graph is not turned on by default. First, we must make the feature available and then add the alternative text description to our chart. To enable alternative text, navigate to the fly-out menu (known as the Quick Access Toolbar) at the top of the ribbon and choose "More Commands".

drop down menu showing options to customize the ribbon

Select "Customize" on the left (Word 2010 users will see "Quick Access Toolbar"). Use the drop-down menu, "Choose commands from" and select "Commands Not in the Ribbon" .

drop down menu showing options to customize the quick access toolbar

Select "Alt Text" and the "Add" button to add the option to your Quick Access Toolbar.

add alt text option to the ribbon

You will now have easy access to alternative text for charts and graphs from the Quick Access Toolbar.

alt text button added to the quick access toolbar

Highlight the chart or graph and click the alternative text button that you just set up in the Quick Access Toolbar. Select the "Alt Text" tab and insert an alternative text description. Word 2010 users will type the description in the "Description" box.

caption box

For Mac users

Word 2004 and 2008

To add a caption:

Control-click (right click) near the edge of the chart, graph or table and choose "Insert Caption".

insert a caption

In the Caption dialog box, type in a short description.

entering a caption

To add alt text:

There is currently not a way to add alt text to a chart or graph using Word 2004 or 2008 for Mac.

Tables

Tables may also require longer explanations than simple images.

For Windows users

Word 2010

Right-click on the table and choose "Table Properties".

table properties

Under the Alt Text tab, insert your description in the "Description" area.

alt text description box

Column Headings

Screen readers will identify column headings for table content if they are specified in Word. This is critical to blind people understanding table content. To specify column headings:

For Windows users

Word 2007 and 2010

  1. Click anywhere in the table.
  2. Go to the Table Tools Design tab at the top of the page. Check the Header Row check box.
  3. Type (or retype) your column headings.
  4. Press Enter key.

table design tab in Word 2007

Hyperlinks

Hyperlinks are often scanned by screen reader users so it is important to make sure they make sense without their surrounding content. For example, a link should say “Readings for the week of February 14” rather than “Readings for the week of February 14. Click here.”

When pasting a link into Word, it is automatically recognized as a link to an outside source. To edit the way in which a link is displayed, and read by a screen reader, right-click (control-click if on Mac) the url and select "Hyperlink", then "Edit Hyperlink". A dialogue box similar to the image below will appear, allowing you to give a more descriptive name for the link.

editing a link inside word

Lists

Group items in numbered (if they are sequential) or bulleted (if they are related) lists so they will be announced as lists by screen readers.

For Windows users

Word 2007 and 2010

Highlight the text, and using the home tab on the top ribbon, select either bulleted or numbered lists.

bullet formatting palette

For Mac users

Word 2004 and 2008

Highlight the text, and using the Formatting Palette, under 'Bullets and Numbering', select either bulleted or numbered lists from the Type area.

bullet formatting palette

Accessibility Checker

Word 2010 actually comes with a new accessibility checker that can aid in checking for problems in your document. This tool actually makes it easy to identify problems in your document and explanations what needs to be fixed.

To test your document, select File > Info > Check for Issues > Check Accessibility.

starting the accessibility checker

A dialog box appears on the right after the checker runs through the document presenting the accessibility errors. Feedback on each item, as well as tips on how to make the proper repairs, are included. Selecting an item in this report will take you to that item in your document.

the accessibility checker results box