While Word documents are not recommended as the final version of an accessible course resource, sometimes, course instruction requires their use. Reading documents should always be in PDF format because of their enhanced screen reading capabilities, high document fidelity, and accessibility options. To read more about how to make PDF documents accessible, visit the PDF Accessibility Guide. It is important to remember that unlike PDF files, Word documents are far easier to edit and therefore can easily lose their accessibility enhancements. However, for documents that require student interaction, like self-reflection or responses in a provided activity, Word files can be made accessible. To do so, follow this guide:
Beginning the Accessibility Check
- Open your Word Document and initiate the Accessibility Checker to view accessibility issues. Click the Review tab in the top Word ribbon and click the Check Accessibility button.
- A new Accessibility pane will open to the right of the document viewer. You will be able see any accessibility issues under the Warnings or Errors section. Some issues can be automatically fixed by selecting the drop-down arrow button to the right of the issue and applying one of the recommended actions. Continue through this process and resolve each issue. If the issue cannot be fixed automatically, Word will provide assistance at the bottom of the Accessibility pane.
- After resolving all issues detected by Microsoft Word, you’ll need to correctly stylize text for screen reading. Since just making text larger or bold doesn’t alter how that text is conveyed to non-sighted users through a screen reader, you must change the style of text so a screen reader can differentiate between text in the document. To change the style of pre-existing text, click the Home tab in the top Word ribbon and click the Styles Pane Select the text you would like to update in the document viewer, click on the drop-down arrow of the corresponding style in the right-hand Styles pane and select Update to Match Selection. Continue this process for all text in the document.
Note - The best way to ensure your document is correctly stylized is to construct your Word documents following typical best standards, by using the appropriate text styling for the content in the document. Using title, headings, and body text styling correctly will help ensure that the document is correctly stylized and screen readers and accurately differentiate between different sections in the document and types of text.
- After correctly stylizing all text in your Word document, you’ll need to add alternative text to the images in your document. To do so, simply right-click on each image and click Edit Alt Text. A new accessibility pane will open to the right of the document viewer. Click through each image and write a description that accurately reflects what a sighted user would see. You should write this in the context of the instruction or lesson being given. For more information on how to write high-quality alternative text for images, read the alt-text support article.
Note – If an image is decorative or not needed to understand the course content, you may mark it as decorative.
Note – If the Edit Alt Text button is greyed out, the Word file type is too old to support alternative text. To fix this, create a new document in Microsoft Word, save the new document with your desired filename as a modern Word document by selecting .docx as the file extension, and copy the content from the old Word file into the new Word file. This will allow you to keep the content of your old document but enjoy the enhanced capabilities and features of the new Word .docx file type.
That’s it! You’ve successfully made your Word document more accessible for students. Making course resources accessible ensures that all students have equitable access to a quality education. For more information about making Word documents accessible, visit Microsoft’s support article on accessibility.