Create an Accessible Word Document

What makes a Word document accessible?

A Word document is accessible when it can be read by assistive technology, such as a screen reader. It has effective alternative text (alt text) and contains captioning for any embedded video/audio.

What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology are various tools and software able to adapt information into a format usable for some students with various learning needs. A couple of common examples of assistive technology include:  screen readers and screen enhancement software.

Tips for creating an accessible Word document

  1. Text should be at least 12-point type. Fonts should be simple and sans serif. Common sans serif fonts include Arial, Book Antiqua, Comic Sans MS, Courier New, Tahoma, Times New Roman or Verdana.
  2. Have black text on a white background.
  3. If you do use colours, use highly contrasting colours.  For example, use navy blue on white background but not yellow on white background.
  4. Make sure that the document can be interpreted in gray-scale should someone choose to print it in black and white.
  5. Use bold font to emphasize; do not use italics.
  6. Avoid using the “enter” key to create spacing. It is better to change the spacing for paragraphs.
  7. Avoid using Word text boxes. Screen readers cannot see inside them.
  8. Use hyperlinks and add a descriptive title for the link instead of a long web address.
  9. Avoid using watermarks as they obscure text.
  10. When designing your document, use the Word “Styles” menu as opposed to applying formats to the text directly.
  11. Avoid nested tables, merged or split cells inside tables.
  12. To create multi-column documents, always use the Word “Columns” feature.

What is Alternative Text (alt text)?

Alternative text (alt text) appears when you move the cursor over an image.  It describes an image allowing assistive technology to explain the image. By using alternative text, it ensures that no information is missed. Alternative text must be added to all photos, images, graphs, charts, clipart, autoshapes, etc., to ensure that a document is accessible. Alt text must be added to all graphics, images and multimedia content.

Effective Alt Text should:

  • Contain a short description of the image
  • Indicate if it is an image taken from a computer screen, eg. “screen shot of…..”
  • Indicate if it is a photo, eg. “photo of…..”
  • Use punctuation for full sentence descriptions of images

How to add Alternative Text (alt text) to Images

  1. Right-click on the image.
  2. Select “Size”, “Format or Format Picture”.  For tables, choose “Table properties”.
  3. Select “Alt Text” and type in the text that describes the image (eg. Brandon University logo)

Adapted from materials developed by the Council of Ontario Universities and York University