Create Accessible Word Documents


  • Use built in tools in Microsoft Word to format your documents to be accessible to all.
  • Use the accessibility checker to find and resolve potential accessibility issues in your documents.
  • For further support, submit a request for an Accessible Document Design Consultation.

Initial Document Set Up

  • Create a concise file name that does not contain spaces or special characters.
    • You will be prompted to enter a file name and select a save location the first time you save or if you close the document without saving.
  • Set document properties: Title, Author, and Tags
    • Go to File > Info and Properties will be listed on the right
    • Title: Insert a short descriptive title for the document
    • Author: this will be added automatically, it can be removed if necessary
    • Tags (optional): enter a few key words that may help you search for this document
  • Set document language
    • This is most likely set automatically based on your computer language.
    • To change it go to Review > Language > Set Proofing Language and select the correct language
    • Additional languages can be added by going to File > Options > Language, then under "Office authoring languages and proofing" select "Add a Language"

Document Content and Formatting

Font Size and Color

  • Use Sans Serif fonts such as Montserrat, Calibri, Arial, or Veranda; avoid Serif fonts such as Times New Roman
  • Font size should be at least 12pt
  • Choose a text color with sufficient contrast
    • Use the Microsoft Accessibility Checker to identify any text that may be difficult to read due to poor contrast.
    • NOTE: the default red in Microsoft products does not have sufficient contrast for regular sized text on a white background.
    • Do not use color alone to communicate information.
  • Reserve underlining for hyperlinks, use bold or italic formatting for emphasis

Paragraph Spacing

Do not use an extra return to add blank space between paragraphs. Instead adjust the formatting either for a single paragraph or modify the Normal style of the document.

  • Right click on the paragraph where you want extra space
  • Select Paragraph from the context menu
  • Increase or decrease the "Before:" and "After:" spacing as needed
  • Leave the "Don't add space between paragraphs of the same style" box unchecked
  • Click OK

Document Structure

Use the built-in styles options to apply a logical heading structure to your document. This will allow screen reader users to scan the contents of a document and quickly move from one section to another. Visual formatting alone (i.e., changing the text size, color, or boldness) is not accessible to screen readers.

This will also allow you to generate a table of contents from your heading structure and use the navigation pane to quickly move around in the document.

Heading Structure

  • Heading 1 should be the title of your document or the first and most important heading
  • Heading 2 identifies major sections of your document
  • Headings 3 through 6 can be used to create subsections as needed
  • Do not skip heading levels in your document structure. You can skip backwards (e.g., heading 4 followed by heading 2), but not forwards (e.g., heading 2 followed by heading 4)

Applying Styles

Styles are located in the Home tab of the upper ribbon. Move your text cursor to the line that is a heading and then select the appropriate heading level from the Styles menu using one of the following techniques.

  • With the Word window maximized select a style directly from the ribbon
    Home ribbon in Microsoft Word highlighting the styles options
  • If menu options have been collapsed due to the size of the program window, click on the Styles button to open the style selection menu
    Home ribbon in Microsoft word showing the Styles drop down menu
  • Open the Styles panel by selecting the small pop-out button in the bottom right of the Styles section or press CTRL + ALT + SHIFT + S. The panel can be free floating or fixed to the right side of your document window. Click and drag the top of the panel to reposition.
    Home ribbon in Microsoft Word highlighting the Styles button
    Styles pane in Microsoft Word

View Navigation Pane

The navigation pane shows the document outline based on your current heading structure and allows you to easily move between sections by selecting a heading.

  1. Click the View tab of the upper ribbon
  2. In the Show section, check the box for Navigation Pane
  3. The Navigation Pane should open on the left of your screen
  4. If necessary, select Headings near the top of the Navigation Pane

You can also view page thumbnails and search your document from this pane.

Modify Heading Styles

You can change the formatting of headings if the style is not to your liking. By using the built in styles you can update the formatting for all headings at the same level at once.

  • In the Styles menu, right click on the heading style you wish to modify, then select Modify...
    Context menu for Styles with Modify highlighted
  • A new window will open where you can adjust the formatting. Additional formatting options can be found by selecting the Format button in the lower left corner.
    Modify Style window in Microsoft Word
  • Leave "Automatically Update" unchecked
  • If you want this to be the default style for future documents check the option for "New documents based on this template"


When inserting images into a Word document they should be positioned in line with text rather than using text wrapping. Sighted readers may prefer to use floating images with text wrapping, but this causes issues for screen readers and is not recommended.

An inserted image should be placed in line with text by default. To change the image positioning:

  1. Select the image
  2. Go to the Picture Format tab on the upper ribbon
  3. Select Wrap Text from the Arrange section of the lower ribbon
  4. Select In Line with Text from the drop-down menu

Alternative Text

Adding alternative text to your images make them accessible to screen reader users. While Word can automatically generate alternative text, you should always review it for accuracy and relevance to your document.

  1. Add a picture, chart, or shape to your document.
  2. Right click on the object to open a context menu
  3. Select Edit Alt Text
  4. In the Alt Text panel on the right type a detailed description of the image or object.
  5. If the image or object is purely decorative, leave the text field blank and select the "Mark as decorative" box so that it will be ignored by a screen reader.


  • Use underlining to format hyperlinks in your document.
  • Do not use color alone to indicate text is a link

Printed documents

If you plan to print your document insert the full URL as a link in your document. Following the Metro State editorial style guide, do not include the https://, www., or a final / at the end of the URL. Attempt to keep the URL as short as possible.

Example:, NOT

Electronic documents

If your document is only intended for electronic use, embed the link with descriptive link text rather than the full URL. Descriptive link text should clearly communicate the purpose of the link and be unique from other links in the document. Avoid using phrases such as "click here", "this link", or "read more" that do not tell the reader where the link will go.

Embed a link:

  1. Select the descriptive link text.
  2. Right click on the text that was selected.
  3. Select Link from the context menu.
  4. Enter the URL in the Address: field
  5. Select OK


Use the built-in bullets or numbering styles when creating lists in your document so that the information is communicated clearly when read aloud.

Bullet and list options can be found on the Home tab in the Paragraph section of the ribbon. Word will likely apply numbering automatically if you type 1) or 1. at the beginning of a line.

Screenshot of list options highlighted on the home ribbon in Microsoft Word


Tables should only be used to present data, never to control the layout of a document. Keep tables as simple as possible.

Table Properties

Repeat Header Row

If your table will be split across multiple pages it is helpful to have the row headers displayed at the top of each page.

  1. Right click on a cell in the top row of the table
  2. Select Table Properties, which will open a new window
  3. Select the Row tab at the top of the window
  4. Check the box for "Repeat as header row at the top of each page"
  5. Click OK

Do not break row across pages

In some tables you may have rows that contain multiple lines of text. You do not want these rows to be split on a page break.

  1. Click on the table
  2. Select Layout from the upper ribbon
  3. Select Table Properties
  4. Select the Row tab in the pop-up window
  5. Make sure it says "Rows" below the tabs (if it says "Row: [1]" it will apply the setting only to the specified row)
  6. Uncheck the box for "Allow row to break across pages"
  7. Click OK

Alternative Text/Description

While not required, adding Alternative Text to a table can give screen reader users information about the table so they can decide whether to read it in more detail.

  1. Right click on the table
  2. Select Table Properties
  3. Select the Alt Text tab
  4. Add a short description of the table in the "Description" field

Table Design

Row and Column Headers

Appropriate use of row and column headers will provide important contextual information when a screen reader is used to navigate a table.

  1. Click on the table
  2. Select Table Design from the upper ribbon
  3. Check "Header Row" if the first row provides information about the contents of each column
  4. Check "First Column" if the first column provides information about the contents of each row


Do not split or merge cells in tables in Microsoft Word, as it is not possible to properly associate data with row or column headers that have been split or merged. If you will be converting your file to PDF and you are prepared to properly tag the table in Adobe Acrobat Pro you can use split or merged cells in the table.

Avoid leaving blank columns, rows, or cells as this can cause confusion for screen reader users.


If you choose to use a table style with color/shading be sure to use colors with sufficient contrast so that the text is easy to read. Some of the default table styles in Word do not have sufficient contrast and will be flagged by the accessibility checker. Do not use color alone (cell shading color, text color, or highlighting) to communicate information in your table.

Accessibility Checker

  • On the Review tab select Check Accessibility
    Review ribbon in Microsoft Word with Check Accessibility highlighted
  • A panel will open on the right with the results of the accessibility check.
  • Select an error or warning to view a list of content affected by the issue.
  • Select the down arrow next to the item to view recommended actions that will resolve the issue.
    • In the following screenshot the accessibility check found that the document contains an image without alternative text. The recommended actions are to add a description or mark the image as decorative.
      Accessibility pane in Microsoft Word with inspection results and recommended actions
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Article ID: 143437
Tue 1/31/23 4:29 PM
Thu 9/28/23 3:47 PM

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