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MS Word Files

Basics

  1. Provide alternative text for images.
  2. Use MS Word's built-in headings and text styles.
  3. Add meaningful hyperlink text.
  4. Use a simple table structure and table headers.

In-depth

To reach a broader online audience, follow these steps to improve the accessibility of your MS Word files.

1. Provide alternative text for images.

Good alternative text describes the purpose or function of the image (decorative images do not require alternative text). In MS Word, include alternative text (alt text) with all media (pictures, charts, shapes, groups, embedded objects, etc.). Read more about writing meaningful alternative text.

To add alternative text for a picture, or image, in MS Word (Windows and Mac): 

  1. Right click on the picture.
  2. Select Format Picture.
  3. Click on the Layout & Properties tab, and expand Alt Text.
    MS Word screen for adding alt text to images
  4. Put a brief description of the picture in the "Description" field (not the "Title" field).

To add alternative text to charts and graphs in Word (Windows and Mac):

  1. Right click on the chart or graph.
  2. Select the Format Chart Area.
  3. Click the Layout & Properties tab.
  4. Put a brief description of the chart in the "Description" field.

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2. Use Word's built-in headings and text styles.

Heading structure is important for all users, who often scan documents (visually or with a screen reader) to orient themselves.

In MS Word, the Styles gallery adds hidden tags to headings to identify them for people using assistive technologies (such as screen readers). Always format headings using MS Word's Styles gallery, which is located on the right side of the Home tab toolbar.

MS Word Styles pane for both Windows and Mac.

To make the text a heading, highlight the text, then click the heading level you want in the Styles gallery. You can expand the gallery to see more styles. Create headings in hierarchical order--don't skip heading levels.

Similarly, lists also help organize content. Always format lists using the bulleted or numbered list buttons on the Home tab toolbar. These add hidden tags to the list to assist users of assistive technology (like screen readers).

MS Word list buttons for both Windows and Mac.  

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3. Add meaningful hyperlink text.

Screen reader users can access a list of all the links in a document and can jump through a document link by link, so link text must make sense out of context:

  1. Descriptive: Link text should clearly describe the function or destination of the hyperlink. Avoid "click here" and "read more,"  as well as URLs (such as https://webapp4.asu.edu/catalog/course?s=AML&n=792&c=TEMPE&t=2197&f=&r=7...), which give little information. 
  2. Concise: Linked text should be brief. Keywords make concise yet informative link text. 
  3. Unique: Two or more links with the same text can be confusing, especially if they link to different destinations. Make links unique.
  4. Visually distinct: Users with color blindness and low vision must be able to visually identify linked text in a document by something other than color. Do not remove the default underline.

Read more on writing meaningful link text.

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4. Use a simple table structure and table headers.

Use a simple table structure, and specify table headers. Nested tables are difficult to navigate with a screen reader, so try to keep the table structure simple.

To add headers to table columns or rows:

  1. In Windows, click on the table and go to Table Tools > Design.
    OR In Mac, click on the table and go to Table Design.
  2. Select "Header Row" if you want column headers across the top of your table. Select "First Column" for row headers down the right side of your table.

MS Word table header screen for both Mac and Windows.

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Video Tutorials

If you prefer video over text tutorials, you may find the accessibility videos on the ASU LMS site helpful:

Resources