How do I create accessible Word documents?

Make the title and headings accessible

Give each document a unique title that clearly describes what it is about. This title should be entered in the Title field under File Info Document Properties. This way screen reading software will read the document title rather than the filename, which provides a better user experience. 

Use the ‘Styles’ tool to apply heading levels to any headings used in your document. Avoid creating headings by manually changing text appearance. Heading levels should have a hierarchical / nested structure. Heading 1 should be applied to your document title. Avoid using the Title heading style. This seems counterintuitive, but it is lost when converting documents to PDF. Heading 2 should be applied to the highest level of headings within the document, Heading 3 to the next level of subheadings, etc. Select the text of the heading, go to the Styles toolbar and click on the heading level you want to apply.

Make sure any headings used in your document clearly describe what the section is about.

Make accessible text choices

  • Use a minimum font size of 12 point
  • Use a sans-serif font e.g. Arial and Calibri
  • Use the same font consistently
  • Use sentence case text – avoid writing in all capital letters
  • Avoid using italics, colour or underlining for emphasis – use bold instead
  • Left align text
  • Avoid text boxes to prevent software reading text in the wrong order
  • Avoid Word Art as this cannot be read by some screen reading software
  • Use short sentences and paragraphs – up to 25 words for each sentence and 5 lines per paragraph

Make links accessible

Use link text rather than the full URL of a link, unless the document is intended to be printed out. In this case, provide the full URL, ideally shortened (e.g. using Link text should describe where the link will take the user e.g. “More information on referencing” – do not use “Click here” or “More info”. Ask yourself if it makes sense out of context. Don’t use the same link text in different places within a document.

Use high contrast colour combinations

Use light-coloured text on a dark background or vice versa.

Examples of high contrast text, which include black text on a white background and white text on a dark blue background, with a tick next to them. And examples of low contrast colours, including lime green text on a grey background, with a cross next to them.

Choose accessible images

Give images an appropriate text equivalent (Alt Text)

Images which convey information need either:

  • An Alt Text label adding in image settings (Right click on the image > click on Edit Alt Text and enter a description in the text box), or:
  • An adequate description in the surrounding text or the Notes field

For images which do not convey information and are purely decorative, or where the same information is covered in the body text, these should be marked as decorative in image settings (Right click on the image > click on Edit Alt text > tick 'Mark as decorative').

Avoid using images of text

Screen readers will not be able to read the text within the image. The information should be published as normal page text instead. This does not include logos and brand names - it’s okay for those to contain text.

Avoid placing text on top of images

Text should have a solid background. If you do place text on top of an image, ensure contrast between the text and the background is high.

Avoid using colour as the only way to convey information

For example, if the bars of a bar chart have different colours to identify them, they should also have different patterns, or text labels.

Keep table structure simple and avoid merging cells.

Tables should be used for data, not to create document layout. Each table should have a header row set (click on the table > click on the Table Design tab on the top ribbon > check the Header Row box is ticked). See Microsoft Support on Creating accessible tables for further advice.

Limit document restrictions

For example, only use Read Only or Restrict Editing mode if you really need to. The fewer restrictions, the easier it will be for people to modify it so it meets their individual accessibility requirements and access it using assistive technology. 

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