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NCDAE: The National Center on Disability and Access to Education

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Creating Accessible Microsoft Word 2016 Documents (Mac)

This resource is designed to be printed as a one page PDF file. An HTML version is also available below.

Heading Styles

Create a uniform heading structure through use of styles in Word. This allows screen readers to navigate a document and improves accessibility for everyone.

screenshot of heading options in Styles ribbon
  1. Start a new line to create a heading, or select text to change to a heading.
  2. Open the Home tab, and choose the appropriate heading in the Styles panel.
  3. Headings 1, 2, or 3 can also be assigned using ⌘ + Option + 1, 2, or 3, respectively.

Alternative Text

screenshot of the Format Picture window, emphasizing inserting Alt text in the Description field.

Images can be given appropriate alternative text in Word. This text is read by a screen reader in a Word file and should remain intact when exporting to HTML or PDF.

  1. Right-click on the image and select Format Picture. A dialog will appear.
  2. Select the Layout & Properties icon and choose Alt Text.
  3. Enter appropriate Alt text only in the Description field (not the Title field).


screenshot of Columns options in Page Setup panel

Always use true columns. Don’t create columns with Tab.

  1. Select the Layout tab on the ribbon.
  2. Select Columns in the Page Setup group.
  3. Choose the number of columns.


screenshot of Numbered and Bulleted List icons in Paragraph tab

Use true numbered and bulleted lists to emphasize a point or a sequence of steps.

  1. Select the Home tab on the ribbon.
  2. Choose the Numbered List or Bulleted List option from the Paragraph group.


screenshot of the Display field in the Edit Hyperlink window

Word automatically creates a hyperlink when a user pastes a full URL onto a page. These may not make sense to screen reader users, so make sure the link text is unique.

  1. Select a hyperlink, right click, and select Hyperlink or hit ⌘ + k.
  2. Change the text in the Text to Display field to a more meaningful description.

Data Tables

screenshot of selecting correct options in Table Properties window

Accessible tables need a clear table structure and table headers to help guide a screen reader user.

screenshot of selecting 'repeat header rows' in Layout ribbon
  • Select the Insert tab on the ribbon, then select Table > Insert Table.
  • To add table headers to the first row, select Table Tools > Layout on the ribbon, then choose the Repeat Header Rows option in the Data section.

Options in the Design tab may be used to change appearance but will not provide the necessary accessibility information.

Accessibility Checker

screenshot of selecting 'Check Accessibility' in the 'Review' tab

Word includes an accessibility resource that identifies accessibility issues.

  1. Select the Review tab on the ribbon, and click Check Accessibility.
  2. The checker presents accessibility errors, warnings, and tips for making repairs.

Select specific issues to see Additional Information at the bottom of the task pane.

Other Principles

  • Ensure that font size is sufficient, around 12 points.
  • Provide sufficient contrast.
  • Don’t use color as the only way to convey meaning.
  • Provide a table of contents for long documents.
  • Use simple language.