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 Making Accessible Microsoft Office Content

 Information on crating and maintaining accessible Microsoft Office content.

In this article:
   About creating accessible documents 
   Before you start
Check your software version
       o   Check your file format
       o   Check your file name
Check your document name
       o   Organize information into outlines

   Step One: Run the Accessibility Checker
      o   What is the Accessibility Checker?
      o   Open your document in Word and Check for Accessibility

   Step Two: Review your Accessibility Checker Results
      o   Where are the Results Displayed?
      o   What do the Inspection Results mean?

   Additional Resources
Microsoft Video Tutorials
Accessibility Questions


About creating accessible documents

The most important thing to keep in mind about creating accessible documents, or incorporating accessibility into current documents, is how your information is conveyed. An individual who uses a screen reader typically cannot visually access the electronic information at a glance. A screen reader reads information in the document aloud in various ways–by headings or links or images–so the individual can get a sense of what is contained in the document (see the Screen Readers article for an example of how a screen reader reads documents). Screen readers can only read the information provided and cannot interpret semantics, intent or document structure. It is up to the document creator to convey that through how the information is organized and described.


Before you start

Check your software version

Accessibility tools have been incorporated into the following versions of Microsoft Office:

    Office 2013
    Office 2016
    Office 365


Check your file format

Ensure the file format is in .docx, .pptx, or .xlsx in order to preserve accessibility features. Other formats (RTF, DOC, TXT, and ODF) may not be accessible.


Check your file name

Best practices for file names are as follows:

·         A continuous string of characters – e.g., 2018-09-12-eaccessibility-syllabus.docx

·         Contain no special characters – i.e., do not use: ! , ; : ? ( ) { } @ / \ = or +

·         Only one period should appear in the name and this should be located just before the file extension – e.g., 2018-kb-best-practices.docx


Check your document name

Adding a descriptive document name to your file allows the user to more clearly identify what document they are listening to/looking at. Document names should be short and do not have the same characteristics as a file name. For example, the file 2018-09-12-eaccessibility-syllabus.docx could have the title “eAccessibility Syllabus September 2018”.


Add the document name to the “Title” field in the properties of the document. For how to steps, please visit the Office support article View or change the properties for an Office file.


Organize information into outlines

If your information is organized in an outline, you will have an easier time translating it into an accessible format. Organizing your content into an outline form allows people using a screen reader to navigate through the section headings of your document to pinpoint the specific information needed.


Headers are used just like a formal outline. It may help to think of structuring your document in the following way:

1.  Heading 1
          a.   Heading 2
                         i.   Heading 3
                         ii.   Heading 3
                                    1.   Heading 4
                                    2.   Heading 4

           b.   Heading 2
                       i.    Heading 3
                       ii.   Heading 3
                                  1.    Heading 4
                                  2.    Heading 4

           c.   Heading 2
                      i.    Heading 3
                      ii.   Heading 3
                                  1.   Heading 4
                                  2.   Heading 4


Often it is helpful to view your document in outline view after incorporating headings. You may find that you need to add, delete or re-organize content.


Understand the purpose of your visuals

Images, graphs, and tables are elements that require a written description in order to be understood by a person using a screen reader. Thinking about and understanding why you have used a certain visual in your document will help you prepare for describing it. In addition, knowing what information you are trying to convey in a table or more complex chart or graph will help you to write a suitable description. Both of these descriptions are important for screen reader users, as the screen reader cannot describe the visual aspect of these elements unless a written description is provided.


Step One: Run the Accessibility Checker

Before sending your email message or sharing your document or spreadsheet, run Accessibility Checker to make sure your content is easy for people of all abilities to read and edit.


What is the Accessibility Checker?

The Accessibility Checker is a diagnostic tool incorporated into the Microsoft Office Suite. This tool is useful for catching common accessibility errors; however, no automated tool can catch all issues. Manual checks may be needed for certain issues. If you have complicated document and wish to receive advice, please submit an accessibility service request form online.


Open your document in Word and Check for Accessibility

1.  On the ribbon, click the Review tab. (NOTE: Don’t see the ribbon? View Show or Hide Ribbon in Office.)

2.  Click Check Accessibility. (NOTE: Don’t see the Accessibility Checker? You may have a different version of Word. View the Accessibility Checker article in Microsoft Support for how to access the Accessibility Checker.)

A screen grab of the Check Accessibility button in the Review ribbon toolbar.

The "Check Accessibility" button is part of the "Review" ribbon toolbar.


3.  Review your results. (NOTE: Explanations of specific results are included in the next step.)


Step Two: Review your Accessibility Checker Results

When accessibility issues are found in your document, you'll see a list of errors, warnings, and tips with how-to-fix recommendations for each. Use the in-program suggestions to adjust your document information, or refer to the list included in this section.


Where are the Results Displayed?

After activating the Accessibility Checker, the errors, warnings, and tips results are displayed in a frame on the right-hand side of the screen.

Screen grab showing the Accessibility Checker Inspection resutls.

After the Accessibility Checker is run, the accessibility errors, warnings and/or tips are displayed in the side pop-up box. In this image, the Accessibility Checker was activated from within a Word document.

What do the Inspection Results mean?

The Accessibility Checker compares the information in your document to a set of accessibility rules that identify potential barriers for individuals with disabilities. The issues are then classified into three severity categories: errors, warnings, and tips.


Explanation of issue severity categories

  Error: Content that makes the document difficult or impossible to read and understand for individuals with disabilities.

  Warning: Content that in most (but not all) cases makes the document difficult to understand for individuals with disabilities.

•  Tip: Content that people individuals with disabilities can understand but that could be presented in a different way to improve the user’s experience.


Explanation of issues

The following tables list the Accessibility Checker rules within Word, PowerPoint and Excel; how the rule is broken; why it needs to be fixed; and a what to fix. Keep in mind that no automated tool can catch all issues.

For a comprehensive list of how to fix all accessibility issues in each program visit the following Microsoft Office support articles:

    How to make Word documents accessible

    How to make PowerPoint presentations accessible

    How to make Excel spreadsheets accessible

    How to make Outlook email accessible



If content in the file makes it very difficult or impossible for someone with a disability to use, the Accessibility Checker classifies it as an error.

Accessibility Rule

How the rule is broken

Why fix this issue?

What to fix

All non-text content has alternative text (alt text).

The listed element(s) do not have an alternative description listed in the image settings.

Screen readers speak the alternative text to describe images and other non-text content that users can’t see. Based on the alt text of non-text content, users should understand the purpose and meaning.


Include alternative text with all visuals.

Visual content includes pictures, SmartArt graphics, shapes, groups, charts, embedded objects, ink, and videos.


Tables specify column header information.


The listed table element(s) and/or blocks of cells do not have the header box selected or a header row indicated.


Users rely on the table headings to understand the content that is subsequently read by the screen reader. Also, assistive technology often uses the table header row to help convey to the user the current cursor location in the table and to provide information that enables the user to navigate the table.


Specify column header information in table layout properties or use a table template.



All slides have titles.


The listed slides do not have titles

Slide titles enable users to navigate within a presentation, including finding and selecting a single slide to immediately go to.


Give every slide a unique title. You may use a technique to hide a slide title, if needed.


Documents use styles.


Content is not organized with headings, bullets and/or a Table of Contents (TOC).


Headings, bullet lists and TOCs provide structural context to users and enable navigation and easier searching within the document.


Use built-in headings and styles, use ordered or unordered bulleted list styles, and use a TOC for longer documents.





If the content in most (but not necessarily all) cases is difficult for people with disabilities to understand, the Accessibility Checker gives a warning.

Accessibility Rule

How the rule is broken

Why fix this issue?

What to fix

Hyperlink text is meaningful.


Link text does not make sense as standalone information, and does not provide accurate information about the destination target.


Based on the text, users decide whether to click a hyperlink. The text should provide clear information about the link destination.


Add meaningful hyperlink text and ScreenTips.


Table has a simple structure.


Tables are not simple rectangles and contain split cells, merged cells, or nesting.


Users navigate tables via keyboard shortcuts and assistive technology, which rely on simple table structures.


Break complex tables into multiple smaller tables.


Tables don’t use blank cells for formatting.


There are some entirely blank rows or columns in the table.


Blank table cells can mislead a user into thinking that there is no more content in the table.


Use a simple table structure


Sheet tabs have meaningful names.


Sheets in the workbook do not include descriptive information and there are blank sheets.


Descriptive sheet names, such as “October sales totals,” make it easier to navigate through workbooks than do default sheet names, such as “Sheet1.”


Give all sheet tabs unique names, and remove blank sheets.


Avoid the use of repeated blank characters.


There are runs of blank spaces, tabs, or carriage returns.


Spaces, tabs, and empty paragraphs often are read as blanks by assistive technology. After hearing several “blanks,” people might think that they have reached the end of the information.


Avoid unnecessary spaces, tabs or character returns.

Avoid the use of text color that doesn't stand out from the background color.


The contrast between text and background colors is not sufficient.


People with low vision often find it hard to read text that does not contrast with the background.


To find insufficient color contrast, look for text in your document that’s hard to read or to distinguish from the background. Or, use a color contrast checker.




When there is content that people with disabilities can understand but that could be better organized or could be presented in a way that can improve their experience, you see a tip.

Accessibility Rule

How the rule is broken

Why fix this issue?

What to fix

Closed captions are included for inserted video and transcripts are included for audio.


Audio and video objects do not have transcripts/closed captioning.


Without transcripts or captioning, the information in a video or audio segment may be entirely lost to people with disabilities.


Add closed captioning to video and create a transcript for audio.

The reading order of a slide presentation is logical.


Slides do not appear in a logical order.


Assistive technology reads slides and the elements on them in the specified order. If the reading order isn’t logical, the content doesn’t make sense.


Set the reading order of slide contents.


Slide titles in a deck are unique.


Non-blank slides do not have unique titles.


Users rely on titles to know where they are in the deck and to navigate the deck.


Use unique slide titles or hide a slide title.

No image watermarks are used.


There are no watermarks present.


Watermarks might be misunderstood as being part of the main content on the page and could cause confusion.


Avoid the use of watermarks.

All headings are in the correct order.


Headings do not follow a logical order.


Sequential headings with appropriate levels help users navigate, search, and understand the document’s organization.


To preserve tab order and to make it easier for screen readers to read your documents, use a logical heading order and the built-in formatting tools.

For example, use Heading 1, Heading 2, and then Heading 3, rather than Heading 3, Heading 1, and then Heading 2. And organize the information in your documents into small chunks. Ideally, each heading is followed by only a few paragraphs.



Additional Resources

Microsoft Video Tutorials

Do you learn better by watching videos? Microsoft Office has created an Accessibility video training available online.

Accessibility Questions

Do you have a specific or general eAccessibility question about your electronic materials? Would you like someone to speak with a group about eAccessibility? Please submit an accessibility request or visit the Accessibility Network website for more information.

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