Learn to use Microsoft Word’s accessibility checker tools

In MS Word, creating accessible documents is largely a matter of using the tool as intended. The layout of features in Word will depend upon which version of MS Office you use, but you’ll generally find a version of the features we discuss across most versions of the program.

Important aspects to consider during your check

Language

In MS Word, you can define the language of your document in the options menu. Additionally, you can change the language of individual sentences if the natural language for part of a document changes. In most cases, you will be able to see the selected document language at the bottom of the window.

Document title

Document information like title, author, and keywords can also be added. For instance, in MS Word 2010 this feature is available in ‘Document properties,’ found in the file menu.

Tagging text

Text that is not actively tagged by the author will automatically be tagged as paragraph text. 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 Word 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.

Images

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 Word 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 Word. 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 define table headings. In MS Word, simply label the top row as column headings. Then, in table properties, use the setting ‘Repeat as header row at the top of each page’ to tag these table headings, making them recognizable for screen readers and other user agents.

Columns

If you wish to present content in columns, there is a built-in “Columns” feature most often available directly through the top menu. Avoid using the tab key to move content in a position that looks like columns. This method of creating columns is not only more difficult for you, but also makes the reading order very poor for assistive technologies.

Reading order

A document’s reading order can vary depending on software version and conversion type. If the document originates in MS Word 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

You can create bookmarks in two ways: 
  1. Ticking a box in the “Options” menu when saving the document as a PDF. This option bookmarks the headings in the document. 
  2. Using a remediation tool after the document has been converted to a PDF.

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 Word 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

Making Accessible PDFs hosted by the Siteimprove Academy

Video thumbnail for the Accesibility for Mircosoft Word course
  1. Overview: This course teaches skills you can start using today to make your Microsoft Word documents more accessible for everyone.
  2. Objectives:
    • How to find accessible Office templates
    • How to format accessible styles, lists, images, links, and tables
    • How to use the built-in Accessibility Checker
  3. Estimated Length: 30 minutes
  4. Modules: Accessibility for Word Accessibility for Word Assessment
Register with the Web Team »

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