Why should I make my Word documents accessible?

Blind and visually impaired users rely on screen readers to translate text into recognizable speech and braille. Following accessibility best practices for your Word docs will ensure that your content has a proper structure to assist screen readers—and will also help ensure that any PDFs created from your Word docs are accessible.

Best practices

  • Use Heading styles. Headings allow screen readers to navigate Word docs by viewing a listing of all headings on a page and jumping to different heading levels. Headings also help users scan to get a feel for a document’s structure and content. Heading hierarchies should always be followed (e.g., a Level 3 head should not contain Level 2 subheads). While it is common to create a visual hierarchy of “pseudo headings” by styling regular text to be larger and bolder, these pseudo headings do not provide the document structure needed by screen readers. 
  • Provide alt text for images. Alt text can be added to photos, illustrations, shapes, charts, and SmartArt in Word docs. Use either the Description field in the Alt Text field or provide information about the content or function of the image in the surrounding text. 
  • Identify column headers in tables. Properly labeling headers in a table allows screen readers to make associations between data in the table and their related headers. Unfortunately, support for table headers is limited in Word. You can add properties to identify column headers (the first row in a table) but not row headers (headers in the first column in a table).
  • Follow best practices for links. Use descriptive text for links, not raw URLs. Keep link text to a minimum, and avoid ambiguous phrases such as “Click here.” 
  • Use list types correctly. Do not use the Tab key to create manual indents. Use ordered lists (1, 2, 3, etc.) for numbered items or those in a sequence, and unordered lists (bullets) for items that are not numbered or part of a sequence.
  • Run the accessibility checker. Word provides a built-in accessibility checker that will identify common issues.



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Alternative assessments

Faculty/instructors are encouraged to consider alternative assessments, such as projects and portfolios, without requiring proctored exams.

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