Word Documents

Sharing documents is extremely helpful, but if you plan to make documents available electronically as Word docs, they should be created so that they are accessible.

You can watch a video presentation made by Mark McCarthy to the IT Accessibility Liaison program, which explains this guidance in more detail.

Automated Checker

  • Microsoft Word has a built-in accessibility checker. It appears in the lower-left corner of Word near the word count. Office 365 has this on by default. If it does not appear, turn on the Check Accessibility tool under the Review tab of Word.
  • However, don’t rely on this checker to catch every accessibility issue in a Word document.
  • The Word automated checker is good for finding things like missing alt text for images, but it doesn’t understand if the alt text is helpful. The automated checker can also miss things such as proper use of headings.


  • Larger/bold text does not mean that something is a heading!
  • A heading must be made in Word using the heading options (located in the Styles section under the Home tab).
  • Creating headings via the built-in Word tool ensures they are recognized as such by screen readers.
  • For your title, use heading 1 (not the title heading, as Adobe Acrobat considers that a heading 4 for some reason).
  • If you want a specific style for heading 1 (or 2, 3, etc.), right-click heading 1 in Word while highlighting your heading 1 in the style you want. Then, select the option to “Update Normal to Match Selection.” This change affects the entire document!
  • Use header 1 first, then header 2, etc.
  • For information at the same hierarchy level, use the same heading type. You might have multiple items styled as heading 2. This is not true for heading 1, though. Use only one of those.
  • Aside: Strikethrough formatting is read inconsistently by screen readers, so try to avoid it or give extra explanation (ex.: add “deprecated” before strikethrough section).


  • Make sure your visual lists in Word documents are considered lists by Word! Otherwise, they will not be read as lists by screen readers.
  • To do this, make sure you are making a list using the Word tool (or that Word has automatically applied the list formatting to your document).

Alt Text

  • Make the image alt text useful for the given context.
  • An image that is purely decorative can be “marked as decorative” in the Alt Text menu by checking a box.
  • Keep alt text to a few sentences at most. Otherwise, the information is better included outside of the image.
  • Pretend you are describing the image to someone on the phone who does not have access to the image visually.

Cognitive Accessibility

Indent paragraphs and separate long paragraphs to give readers mental breaks.

Paragraph Markings

  • Use page breaks instead of using the Enter key to space out sections.
  • Using Enter generates paragraph markers that are read as “blank” by screen readers and take quite a while to remediate in a pdf.
  • Using page breaks also helps your content format better automatically when you add more content.

Table of Contents

  • In a large document with many different sections, a table of contents will help people navigate it.
  • Put your table of contents early in your document.
  • Under the References tab, use the automatic option to generate a table of contents.
  • If your content has headers, this automatically generated table will be pretty good!
  • Hold down the Ctrl key and click the desired content in the table to navigate to it.
  • Right-click the table and select “Update table” to mark changes to your headings in the table of contents.


  • A lot of these Word tips are also helpful for PowerPoint.
  • In PowerPoint, try to use the built-in styles and themes, as they are built to be read by screen readers (whereas custom ones may have issues).
  • Also, avoid animations and text boxes (text boxes don’t sit inline with text).
Cookie Settings