Learn to use Microsoft Excel’s accessibility checker tools

In MS Excel, creating accessible documents is largely a matter of using the built-in tools and features as intended. When using Excel keep in mind that a user of assistive technology is going to be navigating by cell, therefore it's important to ensure your sheet begins using the 'A1 cell' so that they can immediately begin accessing the content.

Important aspects to consider during your check

Language

In MS Excel, the overall document language can be set by default. You can adjust your language settings by choosing the 'File' tab and then select 'Options.'

Document properties

Document properties like title, author, subject (brief description) and tags (keywords) can also be added. You can view and edit the document properties by choosing the 'File' tab and then selecting 'Info' from the menu.

In addition, a descriptive filename that identifies the document or its purpose is helpful to everyone. The document should be saved in a '.xlsx' format.

Cell formatting

If the text is a heading, make sure you select a level of heading (Heading 1, Heading 2, etc.), rather than just changing font size, color, or format. The most efficient way to tag the various elements of content is by using the 'Styles' feature in the 'Home' menu of MS Excel toolbar. Simply highlight text and select the style needed to tag each section appropriately. After structuring your content, you can then change the font types and colors of these headings by modifying the heading style within the 'Styles' menu.

It's also important to provide unambiguous names or context for links that describe the destination, function or purpose. For example, if you have several links and you name them all 'click here,' then a screen reader will not be able to convey information that distinguishes distinct links.

Images and graphics

To make images accessible, you simply must provide the correct alternative text. In ‘Format Picture’ there is an ‘Alt text’ tab available. Please note that in versions of MS Excel where you have both the 'title' and 'description' option, to use the description.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to define images as 'artifact' (decorative) in MS Excel. To do this, you'll have to use a remediation tool after converting the document to a PDF.

Tables

When using tables, make sure to do so using the 'Table' tool. Define table headings. Create only one table per worksheet. Typically, tables should be labeled with a title that consists of a number and short description to appear above the table. You should also include a blank row between the title and the table. Include a cell with 'End of Worksheet' in the last row/cell of the table.

If the table spans two or more pages, repeat the header row at the top of the table on each page. This enables screen readers to re-state the header information as the table continues from one page to another. To freeze the header row, select the 'View' tab on the Excel toolbar and then select the 'Freeze Panes' tool.

Avoid using blank cells, rows or columns. If a cell truly has no data, type something like 'This cell intentionally left blank,' 'No data,' 'Not applicable' or 'N/A.'

Graphs

Charts, graphs and maps use visuals to convey complex images to users. But since they are images, these media provide serious accessibility issues to colorblind users and users of screen readers. See the examples on this page for details on how to make charts more accessible.

Generally speaking an ALT tag cannot do justice to a complex chart. One way to describe a chart is to provide both a text summary and a properly coded data table near the chart. This serves multiple audiences because a chart can show trends but a table can provide exact data for those who are interested.

Tips:
  • If the data in a chart, graph or map is crucial to the content of a Web page, then you must provide a text description of the image. In some cases, a numeric table replicating the chart data could provide additional accessibility.

  • Supplement color-coding of charts with texture, differences in line style, text in graphs or different shades of color to improve accessibility for colorblind users. Charts should be readable in black and white.

  • Don’t convert tables of data into images—use an actual data table instead.

Reading order

A document’s reading order can vary depending on software version and conversion type. If the document originates in MS Excel it will often have a logical structure. However, in some cases, images are prioritized last. This means if an image with alternative text conveys information and its position in the reading order doesn’t make sense, it should be moved to the correct position in the sequence. This is also possible through remediation tools.

Bookmarks

A bookmark in Excel is similar to a hyperlink except that it is used to create a link to a specific area on the current worksheet or to a different worksheet within the same Excel file.

While hyperlinks use file names to create links to other Excel files, bookmarks use cell references and worksheet names to create links.

The anchor text in the worksheet cell is now blue in color and underlined to indicate that it contains a bookmark. Select the bookmark and the active cell cursor moves to the cell reference on the sheet entered for the bookmark.

Conversion (exporting)

When the document is complete and you are ready to turn it into a PDF, there are several options available. Depending on the method, it will create either a tagged PDF or a non-tagged PDF (the latter being less accessible). For instance, if you choose 'print to PDF,' you are telling the program that the document only needs to go on a piece of paper and that tagging is of no importance. Therefore, tagging is not included, and the file size is smaller.

If reducing the file size is your goal, there are other ways to accomplish this without removing accessibility features. To retain tags in the document and preserve accessibility, use the 'save as PDF' or 'convert to PDF' features. In later versions of MS Excel this is readily available from the file menu. In older versions, there are various plugins to download for this purpose.


Have you created an accessible document in Word, Excel or InDesign? 

Congratulations - but you are not done yet! Always open the PDF in Adobe Acrobat and perform the Make Accessible feature. This is the final check needed to ensure that your document is in compliance. In most cases, this is where you will add/confirm the title of the document.

To run the Make Accessible feature in Adobe Acrobat:

  1. Open the PDF in Adobe Acrobat
  2. Select Tools in the upper right hand corner
  3. Expand the Action Wizard and select Make Accessible 
  4. Select Start and follow the prompts 


Recommended Training

Accessibility for Excel hosted by the Siteimprove Academy

Video thumbnail for the Accessibility for excel course
  1. Overview: This course teaches skills you can start using today to make your Microsoft Excel spreadsheets more accessible for everyone.
  2. Objectives:
    • How to name and structure spreadsheets in an accessible way
    • How to make accessible tables, charts, and other spreadsheet items
    • How to use the Accessibility Checker
  3. Estimated Length: 30 minutes
  4. Modules:
    • Accessibility for Excel
    • Accessibility for Excel Assessment
Register with the Web Team »

Need more help?

Watch video tutorials to learn how to make your Excel documents accessible »