Microsoft Word

Like any document, it is easiest to make a Microsoft Word document accessible for digital distribution when you plan to do so from the start.

These instructions are based on Microsoft Word 365 Pro Plus, used on a PC. A Mac Word tutorial is also available.

Structuring Content with Paragraph Styles
Provide Text Equivalents with Alt Text
Using Columns
Creating Accessible Tables
Provide Contextual Hyperlinks
Run an Accessibility Check
Converting documents to a newer format
Converting documents to a PDF
Additional Resources

Structuring Content with Paragraph Styles

Microsoft Word includes built-in themes and styles that will allow you to properly structure content, so screen readers can better navigate the file.

  • In the main menu, select the Home tab.

  • In the Styles section, select the dropdown arrow to see all of the pre-set styles

The title and subtitle styles should only be used for a document with a title page. Otherwise, the main heading of the document should be “Heading 1.” All subheadings of the same importance should be “Heading 2.”


Apply Paragraph Styles Text

These directions assume that no styles have been applied. Do not worry about what the visual style is—you can customize this later (see the Customize Paragraph Styles section below). The default style is “Normal Text.” The normal text style should be used for basic paragraph text.

  • Highlight all of the text in the document.

  • From the Home tab, choose “Normal” from the styles menu.

  • Highlight the text that serves as the main heading of the document. Choose “Heading 1” from the styles menu.

  • Select a subheading, then choose “Heading 2” from the styles menu. Repeat this process for all headings in your document.

  • Highlight any text that is meant to be a list.

    • If the list is meant to be sequential choose numbered list from the Paragraph styles section.

    • If the list is not sequential choose bulleted list from the Paragraph styles section.

Pro Tip

  • Select the style you want to apply before adding new content to save a step. For example, select “Heading 2” from the styles menu before typing in the subheadings.

Customize Paragraph Styles

It is possible to change the default styles associated with Microsoft Word and/or within a specific document. For example, you can change the font, size, and spacing associated with the “Normal” style or any of the headings.

  • Highlight text with the style you want to modify applied (i.e. if you want to change the “Normal” style, select paragraph text with that style already applied).

  • Modify the size, font, or spacing.

  • Right click on the specific style in the style menu, and select "Update Normal to Match Selection".

Formatting Tips

  • Paragraph text should be 12pts or larger.

  • Heading text should be 14pts or larger.  Generally, Heading 1 should have the largest font, Heading 2 should have the next largest font, and so on.

  • Small print should be 10pts or larger.

  • Line spacing is the amount of space between lines of text in a paragraph. Users with visual impairment or cognitive disabilities have trouble tracking lines of text that are too close together. If lines of text are spaced too far apart, they seem unrelated and can be difficult to read.

    • Keep paragraph text lines at a spacing of 1.5.

    • The space after a heading should be slightly less than the space above the heading. To change the spacing, select Line and Paragraph Spacing from the Paragraph styles section of the Home tab main menu.

  • Don’t use more than one font.

  • Use a font designed for the screen like Georgia, Verdana, Droid Sans, Droid Serif, Montserrat, Roboto, or Source Sans.

Pro Tip

  • If you like the styles you have set and want to reuse them in each new document you create you can save them as your default styles.

    • Right click on the style you’d like and select modify.

    • Be sure “Add to the styles gallery” is checked.

    • To be able to use the style in other documents, also select “New documents based on this template”

Provide Text Equivalents with Alt Text

All images in a Word document should have alternative text assigned.

  • When an image is added, a Format tab appears in the main menu

  • Choose Alt Text

**If you do not see an Alt Text option, look for Layout and Properties then Alt Text**

  • Or right click on the image and choose Edit Alt Text

**If you do not see an Alt Text option, look for Format, then Layout and Properties then Alt Text**

  • Provide a full description in the “description” box. In the case of the SUNY Oswego logo, you would write “State University of New York at Oswego.” If the image is more complex, like a chart, provide a title for the chart in the “title” box and a full description of the chart in the “description” box.

    • If the image is purely decorative and adds no additional information to the slide, check the “Mark as decorative” box.

    • It is not recommended to use the “Generate a description for me” button. As the designer of the presentation, it is important to know why an image is included, and the alt attribute should be generated based on that reason, or what the image is meant to relay to the audience.

Using Columns 

Due to the complexity of accessibility issues, it is not recommended to use tables. Setting up columns is easier and more readily inclusive. Be sure to use the true Columns function in Word rather than making them manually.  In the example image below, compare how the table and the columns look.

To create columns:

  • Highlight the information you would like placed in columns.

  • From the Layout tab, choose Columns.

  • Select the number of columns you’d like.

Formatting Tip:

  • Styles can be applied to any information in columns, so headings and subheadings can be created.

Creating Accessible Tables

Tables should be used for tabular data, not layout purposes. Screen readers identify the number of columns and rows in a data table, read column and row headers, and provide table navigation. Proper markup allows screen readers to navigate through a table one cell at a time.

  • From the main menu, select the Insert tab

  • Select Table. A drop-down table and menu will appear.

    • Highlight the number of rows and columns you’d like in the table

    • OR choose Insert Table from the menu below and enter in the appropriate number of rows and columns

For a data table, be sure headers are defined:

  • Place the cursor inside the table. From the main menu, under Table Tools section, choose Design.

    • The Header Row and First Column boxes should be checked

  • From the main menu, under Table Tools section, choose Layout, then choose Properties

    • Select the Alt Text tab in the dialog box

    • In the description box, enter a short description of the information that is contained in the table

    • A title can be added for more complex tables

Styles can be used within tables

  • Highlight the cell or row you wish to style

  • From the main menu, select the Home tab

  • In the Styles section, choose the appropriate style

    • Heading styles should be used in a header row


Provide Contextual Hyperlinks

Hyperlinks in an electronic document should be embedded within the text to aid in readability and accessibility. Imagine you have the sentence “I work at SUNY Oswego” in your document and you want the words SUNY Oswego to link directly to the college’s website.

  • Highlight the text you would like to convert to a hyperlink (in this example, SUNY Oswego).

  • From the Insert tab, choose the Link option in the Links sections of the menu. Or right-click the highlighted text and select Link.

  • You can link to external web pages or to a heading within the document.

    • To link to an external page, choose Existing File or Web Page, and include the full URL in the Address field (in this case,

  • To link to a heading within the document, first, make sure the text you want to link to is a Heading (see Structuring Content with Paragraph Styles). Highlight the appropriate text and open the Link option. Choose Place in this Document, and select the Heading you want to link to. In this example, the word “resume” would link to the My Resume heading.

  • Select “OK.”

Run an accessibility check

Microsoft Word has a built-in accessibility checker.

  • From the main ribbon, select the Review tab.

  • Choose Check Accessibility.

  • As another option, go to File menu, choose Info, and go to Check for Issues option, then Check Accessibility. This will show you errors, warnings, and tips to follow.

  • Address each issue one at a time throughout the document.

  • Select the Check Accessibility button from the Review tab again when you have completed each task to receive an updated report.

  • Continue to revise until all checks have passed.

Converting documents to a newer format

When you’re using a version of Word that is newer than the version the document was created in, the Accessibility Checker won’t work, and you’ll receive an error message.

To convert the document to a newer version:

  • Select the File tab from the main menu

  • Select the Convert button

  • A dialog box will open stating that the document will be upgraded to the newest file format. Select Ok.

  • Save the new version of the document.

  • Run the Accessibility Checker again.

Converting documents to a PDF

Once your document has passed an accessibility check, you can save it as a tagged PDF. This helps maintain the accessibility settings.

  • From the main menu, select the File tab

  • Choose Save As

    • OR from the Home tab, select Create and Share Adobe PDF

  • Select where to save the document

  • In the Save As dialog box, from the document type drop down menu, choose PDF

  • Select the Options button

  • Another dialog box will open. Be sure the Document structure tags for accessibility option is checked.

  • Select Ok

  • Select Save

Additional Resources