Accessible Word Documents 101

Content structure

Make sure your document has a clear structure, organized hierarchically. Prepare a properly-structured outline of the document with a single top (Level 1) heading representing the main idea of the document. Nest other subheadings under that, with parent-child relationships.

Keep all headings short, relevant to the text that follows, and clear. Don’t skip heading levels in your outline. For example, Level 4 headings should nest under Level 3 headings, not directly under a Level 2 heading.

Using Microsoft Word headings

To indicate headings in Word, select heading text, open the Home tab in the ribbon, go to the Styles box, and choose the heading style corresponding to its heading level (Heading 1 through Heading 6). Once you’ve added styles, you can check yourself by opening the Navigation Pane and making sure all headings show hierarchically.

You can find more on Microsoft Word heading styles from:

Other ways to structure content

When presenting content in a list, use Word’s bulleted or numbered lists. Find more information at “Use Built-in features to create lists” from

Only use tables for data that have row and/or column headings – don’t use tables for page layout purposes. The first row of your table should contain column headings describing the column below, and the first column may contain row headings, describing the information in the row to its right. In the Design tab, choose “Table Styles Options,” then check the “Header row” box to make sure your header row is identified, and select “First Column” if your first column contains row headers. Give each table a descriptive title as follows:

  1. Right-click the table
  2. Select “Table Properties”
  3. Click on the “Alt Text” tab
  4. Add a meaningful title in the “Title” field

Keep table structure simple and avoid merged cells. Learn more at “How to Create Accessible Tables in Word” from Best Practices in Accessible Online Design.

To presenting text side-by-side in newspaper-style columns, select “Columns” from the “Layout” ribbon.

Media descriptions

Add concise alt text to describe any images (or other media objects) that convey meaning. If an image is strictly decorative and adds no meaning, mark it as such by checking “Mark as decorative” in the alt text pane. If the image already has a descriptive visible caption, mark the image as decorative. If an image consists entirely of text, replace it with actual text.

Be sure to place images “in line” with text as follows:

  1. Select your image
  2. Click the Layout Options icon next to the selected image
  3. Select the “In Line with Text” option in the pop-up window

Descriptive links

Make sure all hyperlinked text describes the target (or action) of the hyperlink. Replace “read more,” “click here,” or other generic text with meaningful text that describes the link’s target or action. For example, instead of “To read the latest UT Health news click here,” try “To read the latest UT Health news, visit our Newsroom.”

Likewise, replace displayed URLs with hyperlinked text that describes the link’s target or action (i.e. the title of the target page). For example, instead of “,” use “Word help & learning.”

Make sure that link text is unique for all hyperlinks in the document, unless the links with the same text lead to the same destination. Hyperlinked buttons, graphics and/or images should also include target descriptions. Learn more at “Create Unambiguous Names for Links” from


Make sure there is sufficient color contrast between foreground text (or objects) and the background. When you are selecting a font color, pause over a color selection and Word will pop up a tip showing whether that color has “Good contrast" or “Low contrast.” You should select colors with “Good contrast.”

Avoid conveying meaning exclusively with color. If you want to indicate or bring attention to certain text in a paragraph or objects in a group, make sure you don’t just indicate them with color. Add other formatting, symbols or explanatory text to point out the text you’re indicating.

Learn more from the Texas Health and Human Services guide, “Color and Contrast Guidelines for Word.”


When providing instructions, make sure they are not dependent on a single sense. For example, don’t indicate objects solely by their shape, position, location, size, orientation or sound – make sure they are identified in a way that is understandable by users who can’t see or can’t hear the object.

Avoid text or elements that blink or flash more than twice a second, as blinking or flashing objects can be distracting, and can cause problems for readers with photosensitivity.

Use consistent fonts that are optimized for readability. Sans-serif fonts tend to be most legible, but simple serif fonts are also acceptable. Where appropriate, consider fonts that were designed for accessibility or legibility, such as Andika, Atkinson Hyperlegible, or Lexend (download these font families for free from Google Fonts). Minimize or avoid script or display fonts.

Microsoft Word Accessibility Checker

Before finalizing your document, check it over with the Microsoft Word Accessibility Checker. If the results show any Errors or Warnings, address them using the “Recommended Actions” drop-down menu, or fix them yourself and recheck. Be sure to resolve all errors and warnings before distributing your document. Learn more at “Check document accessibility in Word” from Microsoft Support.

Additional resources


Article ID: 92244
Tue 2/6/24 7:55 AM
Thu 2/8/24 12:39 PM