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Accessibility in Document Creation

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Microsoft Word is one of the most used document creation tools. The primary purpose of this guide is to illustrate common practices to make accessible Microsoft Word documents. If documents are not accessible, it can be frustrating for people using assistive technologies such as screen readers, mouth sticks, etc. Furthermore, accessible documents are more straightforward and organized, and the clear and structured layout helps everyone. This video, "Screen Reader User's Experience and MS Word," by Assistive Technology Showcase demonstrates how screen readers read Word documents. Authors often convert Word documents to PDF, but for the PDF documents to be accessible, they need to be created from accessible Word documents. If the Word document is not accessible, the PDF document will not be accessible.

Consider and apply accessibility best practices to make your Word documents accessible:

If you are using keyboard-only navigation to make Microsoft Word documents accessible, view the keyboard shortcuts for Microsoft Word.

Accessible Templates

Microsoft Word offers accessible templates that are improved with better color contrast, alt text, larger fonts, simple tables, etc.

Here is how you can find the accessible templates:

  1. Go to File > New
  2. Type “ accessible template” in the search bar and click on the search icon.

    Accessible Templates Search
  3. A list of accessible templates will appear. You can also find Accessibility Office Templates on the Microsoft website.


Use appropriate heading levels for headers so that screen readers can create an ordered list of all headings in the document. This way, users can choose which heading they want to navigate to.

There should only be one heading 1, but there can be more than one heading 2, heading 3, or heading 4.

You should not skip heading levels when creating documents. Long paragraphs without headings make it more difficult to scan information and introduce a topic. For example, heading 3 should be used after heading 2, heading 2 should be used after heading 1, and so on.

Bad example:

Bad example of headings


Good example:

Good example of headings


To apply a heading style to the text,

  1. Select the text for your heading (make it short and concise).
  2. From the Styles panel in the Home tab, select the heading type you want to apply.

List of styles


Microsoft Word offers built-in Styles to add headings, paragraphs, quotes, etc. You can also create custom styles for a document. But you cannot create custom styles for headings. Here is the process to modify the existing heading styles offered by Word.

  1. Right-click on the style you want to change and click Modify.

    Modify styles
  2. A new window will appear, allowing you to edit the style of the headings.

    Modify style window
  3. You can choose to apply this style only in this document, or you can select New documents based on this template.

Note: Modifying a style will change the style of the content in the whole document. For example, if you change the style of heading 2, the style of all the heading 2s in the document will change.


Hyperlinks are one of the most important pieces of information. Visit the accessible content page to learn how to write accessible hyperlinks. To add hyperlinks:

  1. Select the link text.
  2. Right-click the selected link text and select link.
    Adding a hyperlink
  3. The following window will appear. Add the hyperlink text in the Text to display field and URL in the Address field.
    Insert hyperlink window


Lists help to organize information. Use ordered lists where the order matters; otherwise, use unordered lists. To use lists,

  1. Go to Home > Bullets (unordered list) or Home > Numbering (ordered list). This is important because a screen reader will read out the number of an ordered list to help the listener keep track of the information.

    List in Home tab
  2. Click on the little arrow button beside the lists to choose the type of symbols/numbers.
    Example of all three lists

Tables, Charts, and Graphs

Learn how to create accessible tables, charts, and graphs.


It is a common practice to use the TAB, SPACEBAR, or ENTER keys to add space between the text or to move the text around for visual purposes. Using these keys to control spacing, however, makes the text confusing for screen reader users and people with reading disabilities. Instead, Microsoft Word offers multiple tools to format the text.

Learn how to add space correctly.

Alternative Text

This section includes a step-by-step process of adding alt text to images, tables, charts, and graphs. The alt text is crucial for screen reader users. Without the alt text, users will not know what the image is about. Visit the accessible content page to learn about how to write proper alt text.

Learn how to add alt text to your document contents.

Table of Contents

Add a table of contents at the beginning of the document for navigation purposes. The table of content uses the headings to create navigation links. Make sure the document has appropriate headings. Here is how you can add a table of contents:

  1. Click on the References tab.

    Table of contents
  2. Click on the little arrow beside the Table of Contents to view all the layouts.
  3. Choose a layout and click on it.

This will generate the table of contents for the document. You can update the table if you make changes to the document.

Document Properties

The document properties to consider in a Word document are title and language. The title defines the title of the document. If you do not add a title, the screen reader will announce the name of the file instead. Adding a language ensures that the screen reader will read the document correctly.

To add the title:

  1. Go to File > Info.
  2. On the right side, you should see a Properties panel.

    Adding document title
  3. Click on “Add a title” to add the title.

To edit the document language:

  1. Go to File > Options > Language. You can also access Language from the Review tab.
  2. Select the correct language in the Editing, Display, and Help Language sections.

    Adding document language
  3. If you do not see the language in the list, click on Add additional editing language, find the language, and click Add.

If you want to change the language for specific pieces of information, select the text, go to Review > Language > Set Proofing Language, and select the correct language.

Set proofing language

Accessibility Testing

Learn how to perform accessibility tests on your document.

Converting to PDF

Use Microsoft Word format if possible. If you need a PDF document, there are many ways to convert a Word document to a PDF. But to maximize accessibility, use Save as PDF, Save as Acrobat PDF, or Export option. You can also use the create PDF option in Acrobat. Do not use the Print to PDF option because the accessibility features you added to your Word document will not carry over to PDF documents. If your Word document includes complex tables, complex lists, etc., you might need to remediate the PDF further by using PDF remediation tools.

Here's how you can convert your Word document PDF:

  1. Click on File > Save As.
  2. Choose your destination folder and type your File Name.
  3. Choose PDF in Save as Type.
    Save as PDF
  4. Click on Options and make sure the checkboxes Document Properties and Document structure tags for accessibility are checked.
    Save as PDF options

Additional Resources

The following are additional resources for accessibility in Microsoft Word.