Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word is a common file type that offers many accessibility features. When used properly, these features improve your document's accessibility.


A uniform heading structure is often the most important accessibility consideration in Word documents.

  • Headings should be created using the Styles Ribbon. When styles are used, a screen reader will relay the Heading information to the listener, giving them an outline of the document and allowing them to navigate from heading to heading.
    Styles Ribbon in Word outlined in red

    • A Heading 1 is usually a document title.
    • A Heading 2 is usually a major section heading.
    • A Heading 3 is usually a sub-section of the Heading 2.

    • A Heading 4 is usually a sub-section of the Heading 3, and so on, ending with Heading 6.

Heading structure should follow a logical hierarchy. You may repeat headings, but should not skip headings.

Table of Contents

Headings are used by Microsoft Word to create an automatic table of contents. Documents over 10 pages in length should have a table of contents.

Images and Graphics

Images should:

  • use a high-contrast text to background ratio (if text or chart elements are present)

  • have alt text

Best Grad Schools US News logo with MS Word format picture menu openAdding Alt Text*

  1. Right click your image within the document and select Format Picture.

  2. Within the Format Picture menu, select the option for Alt Text in the sidebar.

  3. Describe the image in the Description field, not the Title field.

*These instructions are for Microsoft Word 2016. Visit the Microsoft Support website to see instructions for other versions.

Lists (Bulleted or Numbered) and Columns

Lists and columns add important hierarchical structure to a document.

  • Use the bullets and numbering tools on the Home tab to create lists. Do not use the tab key or spaces to indent text — this does not provide the document structure needed for assistive technology users.

  • Use the columns tool on the Layout tab to create columns


Visual spacing should be created with built-in tools such as set tabs, padding, and line spacing options. This prevents a screen reader from reading out “blank” for extra spaces.

  • Tables should used for data only, never for layout.
  • As with all text in the document, color combinations must pass WCAG 2.0 AA standards for color contrast.
  • Do not paste images of tables.
  • Do not merge cells.
  • Do not use the table for notes or extra information that is not directly related to all data in the associated row or column. Notes may be provided above or below the table.
  • Under the alt text column, a brief description or summary of the table may be added to enhance clarity to complicated tables. The title field may remain blank.
  • Create headers in table properties (below). Header cells are accurately explaining the data directly below (columns) or to the right (rows).

Adding table properties

  • You can add properties to a table in a Word document. The first row in a table should be identified as a header row. This will provide a screen reader user with helpful information as they are navigating the table.

Next Steps

Once you have created your accessible Word document:


Microsoft Check Accessibility buttonUse the built-in accessibility checker to identify and repair accessibility issues.

The checker's Inspection Results (usually located on the right in a column next to your document) classifies accessibility issues into three categories:

  • Errors: content that makes a document very difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to access. Example: an image with no alt text.

  • Warnings: content that in most—but not all—cases makes the document difficult for people with disabilities to access. Example: a link with text that is not descriptive of its function.

  • Tips: content that people with disabilities can access, but that might be better organized or presented. Example: skipping from a first-level heading to a third-level heading.

Clicking an item in the results locates and highlights the corresponding item in the document and displays additional information.

If you are unable to fix an error, contact

Export to PDF (optional)