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Creating Accessible Word Documents: Part 2

Aaaand we’re back!  In the interest of brevity (LOLs, I know), I’ll skip the intro and let you get on to reading the awesomeness that is the rest of Creating Accessible Word Documents.  In case you missed the first installment, you read Part 1 here.


Lists are amazing things. They break up a document and make it easier to read, and it helps categorize information for people. To make sure that lists are noted as such by technology, however, there are a few tips to follow.

  • Use the styles pane to create your lists
  • Avoid making your own list elements, such as tying a dash at the beginning of each line.  These will not include the correct metadata to be noted by screen readers as a list
  • Update the list bullet characters to be Unicode character 2022.  Information about this is in the Bulleted Lists section

Bulleted Lists 

Okay, this is one of the trickier parts.  Start by creating a template document with the correct bullet style so you won’t have to add it every time (unless you just really want to).  If you need to remediate a document, then you can add a Bullet List style featuring the Unicode character 2022.  That way it’s on hand and ready to go when you need it! 

To set the bullet style in Word, follow these steps:

  • Select the list bullet style, then either right-click or click the drop-down menu
  • Select “Modify Style”
  • Select “Format” dropdown
  • Select “Numbering”
  • Select the “Bullets” tab
  • Select “Define New Bullet…”
  • Select “Symbol”
  • In the “Font” section (top left on my view), either select “(normal text)” or “Calibri”
  • In the “Character code” section (bottom right corner on my view), type in 2022
    • The “From” section here should say “Unicode (hex)”.  If it doesn’t, change that value to “Unicode (hex)”
  • Click “Ok” in each of those boxes to close out and save the style
  • Make sure you do this for each level of bullet
  • Now you’re all set!

Alt Text

Alt text is more art than science, at this point. But with a few very limited exceptions, alt text is always necessary Always include relevant alt text for images, graphics, tables, and charts. It conveys the relevant information of an image, so be sure to keep it simple. When considering alt text, consider how you would explain the image to someone over the phone, in one to two sentences, what would you say?

Determining appropriate alt text can be very subjective. For example, consider an image of George Washington’s portrait. A US history textbook might describe the image as “Portrait of George Washington”. A visual arts class, however, might also include the artist and the year of the painting.

Be sure to keep alt text to fewer than 120 characters, as some screen readers will not read more than 120 characters in alt text areas. For reference, this is ½ an original Tweet size, ¼ of a current Tweet size.

Note: Alt text should be added when the image is put in the document, but can also be updated using the Accessibility Checker.

Adding Alt Text (Office 365) 

  • “Insert”
  • “Pictures”
  • Choose photo selection option
  • A new tab named “(Picture Tools) Format” should open in the toolbar
  • “Alt Text” (right middle of toolbar), or Right click on the image and select “Edit Alt Text”
  • Enter your alt text, or check the image as decorative
    • Decorative images are merely there to look pretty, and they do not add anything meaningful to the material.  If you’re not sure an image is decorative, add alt text instead just to be safe
    • There is an option for Word to generate alt text for you.  Use with caution – and always be sure to check the description and make sure it is what you want
  • Move on to the next thing!

Adding Alt Text (Online) 

  • “Insert”
  • “Picture”
  • Choose photo selection option
  • Choose file, click “insert”
  • New tab named “Picture” should open in the toolbar
  • “Alt Text” (right side of toolbar)
  • Enter your alt text in the “Description” box.  You can include a very brief alt text in the “Title” box; if the description is very brief, it can be the same as the title
  • Move on to the next thing!


Give hyperlinks relevant names (not just “click here”), and always underline hyperlinks. For example: Learn more about Solutions @ CPM

Adding a Hyperlink (Office 365) 

  • Highlight the word/phrase to be hyperlinked
  • Right click on the highlighting
  • Select “Link”
  • Add in the destination link 
    • This can be an existing file, an online link, a link within the document, or an email address 
  • Enter an online link in the “Address” field (you can ignore the rest, unless you are using it instead) 

Adding a Hyperlink (Online) 

  • Highlight the word/phrase to be hyperlinked
  • Right click on the highlighting
  • Select “Link”
  • Add in the destination link
  • This is an online link


Tables are intended to be used for tabular data only, not for design.  They are also one of the easiest things to mess up when creating an accessible document.  Keep them simple, avoid nesting tables, and always set column header rows.  Describe them well in a surrounding paragraph(s).  Make sure every cell has content – no blank cells! 

Adding Tables (Office 365) 

  • “Insert”
  • “Table”
  • “Insert Table”
  • Select number of rows and columns and click “OK”
  • A new tab named “Table Design” should open in the toolbar
    • In the “Data” section of the toolbar, click the “Repeat Header Rows” button (far right side)
  • Within “Table Properties”, select “Alt Text”
    • Enter the title of the table (i.e. Table 2.1; employee pay history; etc.)
    • In the description box, describe the table. This will be required for any complex tables, which is why it is best not to use anything but simple tables.  Feel free to include the following elements:
      • Column names
      • Row names
      • Cell contents

Adding Tables (Online – not recommended) 

I discourage trying to do anything with tables online.  The features just aren’t as advanced as they need to be to work on table accessibility. 

Things to (Generally) Avoid

As we are avoiding these, I am not going to describe how to create them.  Just know they can be problematic for the reasons noted. 

  • Watermarks: paled out text or images that are not necessarily recognized by screen readers and cause contrast issues for visual readers
  • Floating objects: images that are just there, laying over the text, so when you type the text moves but the image stays in place.  Since they’re not inline with the text, screen readers may not (likely will not) recognize them
    • There is some discussion around floating objects, because from a design standpoint, it may be necessary.  Know that how the object is anchored is important.  There will be a post about this topic in the future, and you are welcome to reach out in the meantime using the form on this page

Reminders Before We Finish

Almost there…

  • Use the accessibility checker. It is your other best friend.
  • Still do manual checking. The accessibility checker might be your best friend, and your best friend has great intentions, but it doesn’t catch everything that you can.
  • Fix the things that need to be fixed before calling your document complete.
  • Bonus reminder: Save regularly. It’s a huge bummer to lose all your hard work. I know this should be common knowledge by now, but some people still surprise me sometimes.

…and we made it! Ten points to you if you actually read this entire post.

Coming Up 

Come back next week, for a post about making accessible PDFs.  Expected arrival date is Wednesday, March 27th. You can look forward to another amazingly long post about creating accessible documents!

In the meantime, feel free to let me know if there are any questions by contacting me via the form on this page.