Creating Accessible Word Documents with Office 2010


A few simple steps can make all the difference in making Word Documents usable for all students. Two of the most important things you can do are to use styles and headings to show important sections, and to add alternate text to images.

Downloadable Guides

If you prefer to use a downloadable, printable version, guides for both Office 2010 and Office 2013 are available in Word and PDF format below. The online instructions are for Word 2010 only. The downloadable guides provide more detail than this online guide, including instructions on how to format tables.

  • Creating Universally Designed Word 2010 Documents: Download Word Version of Word 2010 Guide Download PDF Version of Word 2010 Guide
  • Creating Universally Designed Word 2013 Documents: Download Word Version of Word 2013 Guide Download PDF Version of Word 2013 Guide

Use Built-In Styles

Styles add a clear structure to documents, making them easier to navigate, both visually and using a screen reader (software that reads the screen aloud for visually impaired users).

It is important to use the built-in styles rather than simply increasing the size and boldness of text, since extra code is needed behind-the-scenes to build the navigation structure.

If nothing else, use the 'Heading' options to mark important sections in your document. Headings are automatically added to a Table of Contents, providing bookmarks throughout. Be consistent in your hierarchy, as this helps students determine the level of importance or detail of the content.

Word Styles Toolbar

The same goes for lists. Instead of typing the number or letter for each line, use the built-in list button.

Word List Menu

Styles to Avoid

Not all styles in Word are accessible, meaning that text will not be read by a screenreader. Avoid using text boxes, drop caps, and word art. They are not accessible.

Screenshot of formatting tools to avoid in Word

Add Descriptive Text to Images

This is another important step to help screen reading software represent fully what is visible on the page. If you include any pictures in your document, add a short text description to the properties of the image.

The text should describe the meaning of the image in context. Ask yourself what meaning the image adds to the page that a non-visual user would miss.

Right-click on the picture to get the "Format Picture" menu option:

Format Picture Screenshot

In the box that pops up, click on the "Alt Text" menu on the bottom left. Your text goes in the "Description" section on the right (not the "Title" section).

Add Alternate Text to Images

Run the Accessibility Checker

If you're not sure about all of this, Microsoft has a built-in tool that will check your document for you. The Accessibility Checker is located under File > Info > Check for Issues > Check Accessibility.

Accessibility Checker Screenshot

The Accessibility Checker will give you a report beyond what is discussed on this page. What you find here are merely the two most important steps needed to build in accessibility from the start. Instructions on other steps can be found at the links below.

Further Resources

In-depth tutorials on these steps and more can be found here:

Microsoft Word, Universally Designed by CSU's ACCESS Project

Word 2010 Accessibility Tutorial by Microsoft

Word 2010 Tutorial by WebAIM

Video Tutorials by Atomic Learning