Making Word Processing Documents Accessible

Good use of Microsoft Word Styles, headings and specific formatting rather than TAB, Spacebar and Enter keys to present a document make it much easier for a screen reader user or someone requiring Braille or using other assistive technologies to work with your learning materials. Text to speech (where content is read aloud) and careful use of colour can also help those with specific learning difficulties and colour deficiencies. All this can also make it easier for you to convert documents into accessible PDFs or Web Pages. If you are using Office 2013/2016 and need to make a file backward compatible, use save as a .doc or .rtf as these formats can also be read in many other applications such as Open Office.


  • Use Styles. Create headings and subheadings (Heading 1, 2, 3 etc.) using styles, not just bolded, enlarged or centred text. Using headings in a document allows you to create a DAISY digital talking book that is divided into sections; these sections can be navigated by the reader. If you would like to change the appearance of a heading, select Format > Styles and Formatting (Format > Style in Mac). This will change the appearance of all instances of a certain element (e.g. every Heading 1). Make sure Fonts used are readable, preferably size 12/14
  • Use picture descriptions known as ‘alternative (alt) text tags’ for all graphics including graphs and clip art. Insert the image – Select the image, then Format Picture (or select Format > Picture from the menu bar), use the size menu > alt text tab. Make sure the text is short but conveys meaning. Microsoft Office support has screen grabs and more information
  • Do not forget page numbers and create bulleted or numbered lists using the menu button and built in styles not just symbols and spaces.
  • Make sure all tables have headers across the top. If you have one row across the top, you can set this row as a header by selecting the table and choosing Table >Table Properties > Row tab > Repeat as Header Row at the top of each page. Tables should have a uniform structure with no merged cells as these can upset the reading order for someone using a screen reader. Table row and column titles should be concise and if possible provide a summary of important elements.
  • Ensure good colour contrast within charts and images and for text, if this is important for explaining items. Check this by printing out in black and white.
  • Use Office Accessibility Checker to find and fix the elements within your document that are not accessible. This can be found under File > Check for Issues.

Additional Resources

3 thoughts on “Making Word Processing Documents Accessible

  1. For Dyslexic students I use buff coloured paper for handouts, double spacing and Arial font 12. When working on the computer I use a coloured background suited to the individual.

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