Creating Accessible Word Documents

Creating accessible content includes simple and basic steps. The primary steps needed to create accessible documents are the same whether you are using Microsoft, Canvas, or Adobe.

  • Font: The font should be clean and easy to read. Sans serif fonts such as Arial, Tahoma, Calibri, Helvetica, and Verdana are preferred. Make sure the font is large enough that it can be read without assistance.
  • Appearance: Make sure there is a high contrast between the text and background. Standard requirements is typically 4.5:1 Also, create lots of white space to improve readability.
  • Color for emphasis: Related, one in 12 men are color blind (and 1 in 200 women). Information should never be conveyed only by color; for example, red font to emphasize a deadline. Use color-agnostic features such as bold or font size.
  • Built-in Functionality: Use built-in functions like columns, numbered and bulleted lists, page breaks, and indents. Also, check your work with Office’s built-in accessibility checker to highlight and fix potential issues.
  • Alternative text (alt-text) for images: Alt-text provides information about the picture for screen readers; for example, a picture of FDR might say “Franklin Roosevelt, surrounded by aides and photographers, signing the Lend-Lease Act into law in 1941.” You can add alt-text to an image by right-clicking, choosing “Format Picture” and adding your description.
  • Descriptive hyperlinks: Remember that screen readers will read the text of the link. Instead of hyperlinking “Click her to download the document” or “…” use descriptive words in the hyperlink, like “Click here to see a graph of enrollment over the last five years.”
  • Document Properties: Screen readers are multilingual. You can set your language in the document properties.
  • Descriptive Filename: Opening and closing files can be very difficult for some individuals. Make sure you have a descriptive file name such as “Potential Student Financial Aid Information” rather than “Doc1”

Additionally, here are some specific principles for Word.

  • Headings: Use Word’s headings and styles to indicate section breaks and subheads. This allows a person using a screen reader to just read the headings in order to quickly locate information. It also organizes your document for all readers. Note: You must use the headings function in Word to utilize this feature; simply bolding or centering will not create the metadata necessary for screen readers.
  • Accessible tables: Screen readers have difficulty reading tables if the columns and row headers are not clearly identified. To further explain, read more about creating accessible tables here.


Links for more detailed information


Video: How to create an accessible Word document