Making Word Documents Accessible

The directions on this page apply to Word 2013, the current version available TCC.  Unless specifically noted, the directions will also work for Word 2010

Heading Styles

It isn't enough to make text big and bold to look like headings. They need to be formatted as headings.

Why use heading styles?

Using Word Default Heading Styles

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  1. Highlight (select) the text that you want to make into a heading.
  2. Go to the Home ribbon.
  3. In the Styles group, choose the appropriate heading level from the Styles gallery.

Heading Order1

In addition to formatting headings as headings, the headings need to be used in the correct order. Headings chunk out your content making it easier for everyone to read. Headings are also a major way of navigating with a screen reader.
  1. Heading 1 is like the title of a book and there is just one Heading 1 per page. Heading 2s are like chapter titles. Heading 3s are sub-sections of those chapters, and so on.
  2. Heading order is also similar to an outline. It can be helpful to view the Navigation Pane while applying structure to a word document, so you can see the headings in an outline style format to make sure you haven't skipped a heading level.
  3. Don't skip heading levels.

Modifying Heading Styles

The good news is that you are not "stuck" with Word's blue default heading styles.  There are two easy ways to modify the heading styles.

The Design Ribbon

In the Design ribbon, you will find multiple pre-made heading style options.  The options include changing fonts, colors, and paragraph spacing.  Once you've identified a style you like, there is also a button to set the style as the "default" style so you won't have to choose a style each time you open a Word document.
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Update to Match Selection

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You can also create your own style by
  1. typing some text
  2. formatting it the way you want
  3. right-clicking on the desired heading style and selecting "Update --- to Match Selection"
With this method, you cannot set a default style

Lists

Page formatting (lists, headings and links), is read aloud to screen reader users, so the content is understood in context. It's important then to properly format lists as lists.2

Why use lists?

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To format a list:
  1. Highlight (select) the text that you want to make into a list.
  2. On the Home tab, in the Paragraph group, select the Numbering or Bullets list icon.

Images

Alternative text descriptions of images (ALT text) allows screen reader users to benefit from the information being conveyed by an image.

Why add alt text?

In Word 2013

After inserting the image on the document,

  1. Right-click on the image and select "Format Picture" from the menu.
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  2. A side panel will open.
  3. At the top of the panel, select the third icon.
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  4. Click on the words "Alt Text" to expand the area.
  5. Type your text in the DESCRIPTION area.  Do not type in the Title area.  A screen reader will not read text in the Title area.
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In Word 20103

  1. Go to the image and right click, then select Format Picture....
  2. The Format Picture window will open.Select Alt text from the left menu.
  3. Type in description text in the Description field. (Not in the Title field.)
  4. Click the Close button when done.
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Links

Links are a major method of navigating for everyone, but especially screen reader users. If the links are embedded into meaningful text, they are much more useful.

If you think students will be printing the document and you want them to have the URL, put it in parentheses after the link, but don't hyperlink it.4

    Example: Tulsa Community College (www.tulsacc.edu)

Why is link text important?

Create Linked Text

  1. Type out text that describes the destination of the link.
    1. Example: Tulsa Community College
  2. Highlight (select) the text, right click and choose "Hyperlink..." from the bottom of the menu.
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  3. The Insert Hyperlink window will open. Type the URL of the webpage in the Address field.
    • Example: type out, "http://www.tulsacc.edu"
  4. Then click the OK button to save the link.

Remove the Automatic Link on Typed URLs

Word automatically creates hyperlinks when a URL is typed. 

To remove the automatic link:

  1. Right-click on the linked text and select "Remove Hyperlink."
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Tables

If you use tables in your Word documents, they need to be accessible, also.  This information can be found on Portland Community College's Web Accessibility website.

Testing Accessibility

A great way to begin checking the accessibility of your Word document is to use the built-in accessibility checker.

Please Note: The accessibility checker only checks .docx files

  1. Go to the File tab.
  2. Select Info from the sidebar menu. (this is the default view)
  3. Click on the Check for Issues button.
  4. Select Check Accessibility from the drop-down list.
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The Accessibility Checker panel will open to the right of the document. The accessibility checker provides you with a list of errors, warnings and tips. 


When you click on an error or warning, instructions on how to fix it appear below in "Additional Information."5
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Convert Word Document to PDF Document

The benefit of a pdf document is that it preserves the layout, formatting, fonts and images of your document.  The content of the document cannot be easily changed.  Free viewers (like Acrobat Reader) are available on the web.

Word 2013: Convert to PDF

  1. Check the final version of the document with the built-in Word Accessibility Checker.
  2. Click the File tab in the top right corner of the window.
  3. Select Export.
  4. Click the Create PDF/XPS button.

    click the create pdf button in the Export area of the File tab

  5. In the bottom right corner of the Publish as… window, click on the Options button.

    click the create pdf button in the Export area of the File tab

  6. Make sure all boxes are checked in the option section called Include non-printing information.  Click OK.

    Make sure all boxes are checked in the option section called Include non-printing information

  7. Then click Publish.

Word 2010: Convert to PDF

  1. Check the final version of the document with the built-in Word Accessibility Checker.
  2. Click the File tab in the top right corner of the window and select Save as.
  3. In the Save as type field, select PDF (*.pdf).
  4. Click on the Options button and make sure the Document structure tags for accessibility checkbox is checked.  Click OK.
  5. Then, click Save.

Technical Directions for Word 2011 for Mac

Technical directions for these items can be found on Portland Community College's Web Accessibility website.


1 Sorensen, Karen. "How to make a Word document accessible." Portland Community College. 2000-2014. Web. 20 Nov 2014. <http://www.pcc.edu/resources/instructional-support/access/word.html>.
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