Nothing beats a table for concisely organizing a large set of data. The columns and rows of a table can be scanned visually for quick comprehension, while headers help users track their location in the table grid. But for a reader who is blind and uses screen reader software, a table can pose some unique and serious challenges.

Many of the accessibility challenges associated with tables can be resolved through the proper use of column and row headers. Headers are created differently according to the software used; the tools and methods in Microsoft Word are different from those in Microsoft PowerPoint and HTML.

While many authors try to indicate a header row by changing its appearance (e.g., font and background color), a change of this type provides little or no information about the structure of the table. A document that relies entirely on visual formatting will, when converted to HTML or PDF, lack the structural information needed by readers who use assistive technology.

Fortunately, Word offers a setting for table headers that provides this important structural information. This brief tutorial shows you how to set this table header property.

To define the header row on a table in Word, right-click on the top row of the table and select Table Properties.

Table context menu. Table Properties is the final option.

In the dialog box, switch to the Row tab. Check the box to Repeat as header row at the top of each page.

Table Properties, row tab. Repeat as header row at the top of each page checkbox is checked.

To set the header row on a table in PowerPoint, first Select the entire table.

Select the Design tab in the ribbon under Table Tools.

Check the checkbox titled Header Row at the top left of the Design ribbon.

Table Design ribbon with Header Row checkbox checked.

  1. Use tables for tabular data only, not as a framework for page layout.
  2. Keep tables as simple as possible, and try to avoid nesting tables inside one another.
  3. Add captions to tables using the <caption> tag. A caption will typically provide an adequate summary of the table’s contents. Complex tables may need a more detailed explanation using the <table> tag’s “summary” attribute.
  4. In the header row of the table, replace <td> (table data) tags with <th>(table header) tags to indicate the special function of those cells as column labels.