Creating Accessible Word Documents

Creating Accessible Word Documents

Accessibility enables online documents and web pages to be equivalently accessed by people who are blind, have low vision, focus difficulties, dexterity limitations and a variety of other disabilities. Use these guidelines when creating new documents and reformatting existing ones. If the Word document is then made into a pdf, the pdf will most likely be accessible as well.

Contact Information

If you would like accessibility training or one-on-one assistance contact, AST (Accessibility Support Team) at 281-283-2470

Getting the Mindset

  • Neumann Library Room 32: ADA Compliant Workstation
    View Impromptu video of an UHCL student with low vision introducing accessibility tools available in the Library.

References and Sample Documents

  1. WebAIM
    Microsoft Word, PowerPoint

  2. Microsoft Office 2010
    Accessibility Overview

  3. CSU
    Word 2010 Video Tutorials

  4. Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans (MNCDHH)
    Using Microsoft Word 2010 to Create Accessible Documents

  5. Try It - Sample Word Documents:
    Syllabus.docx, Syllabus.doc
    Open in a new tab or window and try out the recommendations.

Accessible Word 2010 Techniques

Headings: Convey Document Structure

Screen reading programs, like Jaws, use Headings to determine a document's structure. Everything else to the reading program is mostly links and (Normal) text. Blind users rely on Heading Styles and do not use the visual cues of larger-sized text to understand and navigate within a document. Apply Heading 1 to a document title and Headings 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 to lower levels as they apply. Use Headings in the same way you would use an outline where

  • Heading 1 for the title
  • Heading 2 for main sections
  • Heading 3 for subsections under a main section
  • Normal for paragraph text

How: Highlight the word or words to be a heading. On Home tab, Styles section > click Heading 1 (2, 3, 4, 5, or 6).

If the heading choice is not visible, click the down arrow beside the displayed Styles.
Note: If you want a Heading 3 and only Heading 1 and 2 are visible, select Heading 2 and then you can select Heading 3.

Modify All Instances of a Style: To modify all instances of a style in a document, do the following:

  1. Right click the style > Select All, then

  2. Right click the style again > click Modify
    After making changed, make sure the option for Only in the Document is selected, and click Ok.

Navigation Pane: The navigation pane in Word 2010 shows the headings in a documents. You can promote or demote a heading by right clicking the heading in the navigation pane.

Background: The displayed Styles are associated with a document's template. The font, size, color and other characteristics of a style like Heading 1 and Normal can be changed by right-clicking the particular Style and modifying it. There are also options to applying this style to all within the document, which is recommended.

Older Documents: If you have an older document, sometimes it is easier to Clear Formatting and define Headings and Normal text.

  1. Select the text to be cleared of formatting. To select all, Ctrl+A.
    Click the More drop down in the styles panel.
  2. Select Clear Formatting

Reference: WebAIM's Microsoft Word

Graphical Text and Text Boxes: Confusing

Use regular text if possible and avoid using text inside graphical text boxes. Some items like logos that contain text are ok. If a document created before Word 2010 contains Word Art, the Word art is an image, not text.

What you see may not be what you get. Text boxes may visually appear correctly within a document, but when converted to a pdf or read by a screen reader, they may be read out of order or missed completely.

Fonts: Easy-to-read with Good Spacing and Contrast

Font Selection

Sans-serif fonts are typically easiest to read with a recommended size of 11, include Verdana, Tahoma, Arial, Suicidal Sans, Century Gothic, Bookman Old Style, Book Antiqua, Comic Sans, and Trebuchet MS

Verdana font is much larger than the others. It is also one of the clearest fonts to read because of the character shapes and spacing. Fonts vary in their darkness, which impact readability. If using the default Calibri font, size it up to a minimum of 11 or 12. Other fonts, like Impact, can be used provided it is a large size.

Line Spacing

Keep white space between the lines, especially for longer text and paragraphs. Use Word's paragraph option to Add Space Be fore or After Paragraphs, and/or increase the spacing using Line Spacing Options as shown below:

Contrast and Luminosity

The highest level of contrast is black and white. Text size does make a difference when considering contrast and luminosity. The following table from Accessibility and Usability at Penn State shows color schemes with too little contrast and sufficient contrast:

Overly Subtle Color Schemes
Color Scheme Too Little Contrast Sufficient Contrast


gray on white

gray on white

dark gray/light gray

light gray on dark gray

light gray on dark gray


teal on white

teal on white

sea green/green

sea green on green

sea green on green


orange on white

red-orange on white


Contrast and Luminosity Tools:
The Colour Contrast Analyser is the easiest tool to use, but it has to be downloaded. Use the eyedropper to pick existing colors to evaluate luminosity.

Snook allows users to enter either a hex color value and to use sliders to adjust color components.

Juicy Studio's Luminosity Colour Contrast Ratio Analyzer does not require a download, but you must input the hex value of colors. To find a hex value for a color, go to, Color Names Supported by All Browsers. Note: Black is #000000 and white is #FFFFFF.

What Not to Use in Word

  • No italics except when it is required to be grammatically correct.
  • No blinking or moving text.
  • No all caps text for sentences or phrases.
  • No unlimited font styles. Limit styles to 3 or 4. 

Reference: WebAIM's Fonts

Images: Alt/Description, and Position In-Line with Text

Screen readers say the description text as part of reading the document. It's equally important to provide meaningful information when an image conveys information and to indicate when a decorative image occurs.

  • Alt/Description Text
    In Word 2010, right click image > Format Picture > Alt Text > leave Title blank, add Description.
    If image is purely decorative, make Description blank.

    In Word 2007, right click image > Size > Alt Text tab and add the alternative text.
    If an image is purely decorative, make the Alt Text blank.

  • Position (Text Wrapping)
    For images that are not just decorative, use the default In Line with Text option to ensure the image is read at the correct location.

    In Word 2010, right click image >Text Wrapping > In line with text (default) or
    Click image > click Picture Tools in ribbon > Position > In Line with Text (default)

  • Watermarks/Background Images
    Do not use unless necessary. Low-vision users or those who have trouble focusing have difficulty because the background or watermark image interferes which their ability to read the text.

  • Captions
    In Word 2012, References > Insert Caption > choose above or below item. Above is strongly preferred.

References: WebAIM's Appropriate Use of Alternative Text

Margins: Left-Align

Regular left-aligned margins are especially helpful for all sighted users because it imposes a predictability within a documents that enables it to be scanned readily. Centered headings or a small amount of centered text, if used consistently within a document is fine. Avoid justifying text to both right and left margins as the spacing within a line is irregular.

How: Highlight text, Home tab > Paragraph section > Click Left-justify icon

Links: Meaningful Names

Vague Link Example: Click here
Meaningful Link Example: Visiting Museums in San Francisco

Meaningful link names are clear to all users, including screen reading programs and they are independent of all the content around it. Remember that online documents for blind users can be viewed by headings, links and all text by screen reading programs. A vague link requires special coding or knowing the content around it to give it meaning.

How: Select text > Ctrl+K (or Insert > Hyperlink). With Existing File or Web Page selected, put the appropriate link beginning with http:// or https:// in the Address field as shown below:

Document Structure: Table of Contents (auto creation)

How: When you are finished with your document, position the cursor on the top of a blank page. Click References > Table of Contents. Select an automatic table to have Headings 1-3 displayed with links to the headings in your document.

  • Add Text
    Word 2010 provides a quick way to not include a heading in the Table of Contents.
  • Update Table
    If your document changes, you can update it in Word 2010 by clicking the Table of Contents icon after changes. In older versions, you may have to generate a new table.
  • Table of Contents > Insert Table of Contents
    Enables you to choose which Headings are displayed and/or the format of each.

How: Microsoft's Create/Update a Table of Contents
Reference: WebAIM's Microsoft Word

Word's Built-In Accessibility Checker

Word has an Accessibility Checker that can flag potential problems while a document is being created. It works a little like spell checker.

To turn on the checker, click
File > Info > Check for Issues > Check Accessibility

A right-side panel indicates potential errors and shows reading order.

While a good start, the accessibility checker may not flag some errors like the alt text for an image should be in the Description box (not Title line).


  • Accessibility Support Team

    AST -
    a component of Disability Services

    Phone: 281-283-2470

    Bayou 1632
    2700 Bay Area Blvd, Box 258
    Houston, TX 77058-1002

    Office hours:
    Mon. - Fri., 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.

    Please call ahead during holidays and semester breaks.