Making Microsoft Word Documents Accessible

Accessibility checker

Microsoft Word (2016 version for Windows and Mac) has a built-in accessibility checker. The tool is designed to aid an individual in determining a document’s accessibility issues. It does not cover all accessibility topics however, it does cover most of them and can be a time saver.

The tool will scan a document and present a series of errors and warnings. Any issue can be reviewed by clicking on it, allowing the user to be presented with information on why and how to fix. 

The accessibility checker can be accessed through the ribbon by going to File -> Check for Issues -> Check Accessibility.


Heading styles

Heading styles help your documents stand out, allowing a reader to quickly scan it for desired content. Additionally, the use of heading styles develops document navigation, allowing a reader to jump to a desired place in a document. This gives heading styles a significant advantage over simply increasing text font size to denote a document section.

Heading styles are found on the Home tab of the ribbon, in the Styles section. Highlight the desired heading text, then click the heading style. Headings should be used in a hierarchy, much like an outline.

Microsoft Word heading styles require an adjustment in color contrast. After designating text as a heading, select a darker text color. Next, right click on the heading style just used within the ribbon. Finally, Update heading to Match Selection. This will allow your darker heading color to be used throughout your document.



Images need descriptive alternative text (alt text) to ensure that a non-visual method of representing an image is available for those who need it. Word provides a method of creating an alt text title and description. Select an image within a document, right click, then select Format Picture. The Format Picture pane will appear. Toggle to the Layout & Properties section, then select Alt Text.



Using lists in a document help to give it structure. Ordered, or numbered, lists are typically used for processes like steps of a task, a series of assignments to complete, or anything that follows a sequence. Unordered lists, like bullet points, are used for items without a sequence.



Links to any external web site should be descriptive for a document read on a computer of mobile device. A fully visible link is needed for a printed document, preferably with context of its purpose.



Tables are best used for data purposes rather than document layout. Data tables allow for data to be displayed as a grid or matrix, or simply delineate data by relevant rows and columns.


Color contrast

Color selection should be considered when creating a document. When text is hard to read, individuals often bypass sections of a document or simply become unable to understand the document.

A general rule of thumb: If it’s hard to read for the person writing it, then it’s hard to read for the person reading it.

File names

It’s necessary to consider how a file is named when it is saved. Files using meaningful names are easier to find than those using complicated names. For example, a syllabus for College 101 during the Fall semester is better named as “College 101 Syllabus – Fall 2017.docx” rather than “C101sylf17.docx”.

Additional resources