Microsoft Word Playbook

Make your Word documents accessible


Review quarterly

Just like security, digital accessibility requirements will evolve as software and technology develop.

Review quarterly:

Documents can be difficult for assistive technology users.  Use the web whenever possible. (69 prefer word 13 prefer pdf) 75% pdf a11y issues

Create and prove accessible templates to reduce issues (build in a11y from the beginning

Terms: double differentiation - color plus something, two ways to discern

Accessibility Checker

Quick scan of accessibility checks in the document. Will catch about 30-40% of issues, that's why we learn the details of creating accessible documents


Document Title and Language

Screen readers will hear the title File info properties, set language file options language office display language (for pronunciation)

Images and Visual Components

Manually verify all image alt text

Images of text are always inaccessible

Provide alt text for images or mark them

Right click the image add alt text or use the Mark as decorative

Alt text for images

  • Don't use AI generated alt text
  • Use context
  • describe for people who can't see
  • succinct try to keep short description
  • Logos - <brand> logo - For example UTMB logo


Use built in functionality

  • Headings are imperative in any length word document. They are key for cognitive understanding as well as assistive technology users.
  • Do not use implicit headings - text made to look like a heading with no heading style applied.
  • Heading levels have meaning and should be used in order


Use built in functionality (won't register in the A11y check.)

  • Do not use implicit lists - text made to look like a list with no list style applied, for example using a hyphen
  • List types have meaning, use a numbered list if there is an order necessary for the list items


  • Link text should make sense out of context
  • Links should always be underlined
  • Avoid - click here, read more, and duplicate link text


  • Use insert tab, and select the table dimensions
  • Use the table design and ensure header row is checked
  • No blank cells format with header
  • No merged cells
  • Only use built-in functionality

Text boxes

Should be avoided unless using the in-line with text which means they will be out of order for assistive technology users

Table of Contents

  • Every document with more than one section should have a table of contents
  • How To:  Select the References tab and select the desired style. The Table of Contents is based on heading styles
  • Update after updating the document -


  • Document needs to read in a logical order
  • Don't use the enter key to create blank spaces - each blank line is read to screen reader users
  • Line spacing is 1.5 lines
  • Paragraph spacing should be larger



  • Create meaningful, simple content
  • Avoid unusual words or jargon. Define all terms, abbreviations, and acronyms.
  • Put the most important content first, details can be provided later
  • Make things easy to find
  • Simple words and contractions are good

Use of color

  • One of the most common accessibility issues
  • Color can't be the only indicator of importance for example the text being red (also table cell colors)
  • Screen readers do not indicate colors
  • High contrast color toggle


Accessible PDFs

  • Tags must be present
  • Without tags, pdfs are completely inaccessible
  • Need to use Adobe Acrobat Pro to tag the pdf
  • If you must use Word
  • Select File Save As (File Print to PDF doesn't create an accessible PDF)
  • Verify Document structure tags for accessibility is checked

Microsoft accessibility help

Other related resources:

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