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Accessibility Toolkit for Open Educational Resources (OER): Word documents

Accessibility guide for creating OER

General Word Accessibility Tips Creating Content [Updated 2020]

A few key Word Document accessibility points:

  • It is generally best to use standard fonts that are available on the end users device.
  • Using too many font faces can create a confusing visual layout.
  • For print materials:
    • Serif fonts such as Times and Times New Roman are generally regarded as the most readable font family for printed text.
  • For web-based content:
    • There is conflicting information about which font is the best to use for web-based content.
    • Conventional wisdom is sans-serif fonts are more suited to electronic formats.
    • Fonts such as Verdana, Tahoma, Trebuchet MS, and Georgia, were developed specifically for use in electronic media, and are now quite commonly used.
  • Use 12 point or larger.
  • Give documents descriptive titles.
  • Use the built in styles to structure and organize your document.
  • Use built-in headings.
  • Use built-in lists for related items.
  • Use page layout/columns to create columns, do not use tabs or spaces to create columns.
  • Use tables to display data, not for layout. Keep tables simple.
  • Use alt-text (alternative text) for images, tables, charts and graphs you include in your document so they are “visible” to everyone. 
  • For complex tables and charts provide a detailed transcript.
  • Use descriptive text for links, don’t use  “click here” or “more”
  • Include a table of contents for long documents (Word can generate if you use styles).
  • Be cautious as to the colors you choose.
  • Provide sufficient color contrast.
  • Don’t use color as the sole way you relay information.
  • Check how document looks for colorblind individuals.


Why create an accessible word syllabus?

  • Makes course and department materials readily usable upfront by as broad a student population as possible.
  • It’s proactive inclusive instruction instead of reactive accommodation.
  • It is also useful to students not requesting accommodations.
  • Saves you time if a student requests an accommodation.
  • Saves you time updating, revising, and reformatting documents.
  • By making your materials accessible, you eliminate some of the obstacles and cut down on some of the hassle it may take a person to navigate your content.
  • Doing as much work as you can on the front end eliminates the potential for a lot of work put into modifying your content when an accommodation notice arrives in your inbox the day classes begin. 

Attribution: [Alissa Sells] (2017, Sep 29) “5 Steps to an Accessible Syllabus” SBCTC Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges

Extra Info: If you create an accessible word version of your syllabus and then save it as a pdf, your syllabus will maintain the accessibility coding.


Here is a video showing the difference between an accessible word syllabus document and an inaccessible word syllabus.

Attribution: [Assistive Technology Showcase] (2014, May 1) Screen Reader User's Experience and MS Word. Retrieved at

Evaluate your Word docs


CUNY has a guide with detailed instructions on creating accessible Word Documents, - here are the best practices:

Keep this in mind if you plan to convert a document to a PDF:

  • Prep the Word document first so that it is accessible.
  • Then, if needed, convert it to a PDF.
  • If a document needs significant remediation, it is generally easier to remediate the source file within Word than to work with the PDF.

Creating Accessible Word docs

If you create a Word document, here are guidelines and checklists to follow to create accessible word documents.

Video created by the Algonquin College on how to create accessible Word documents.

Word Accessibility Check

Run Accessibility Checker

The Accessibility Checker is a great tool to check for problems in your Word document. It points out things such as missing alt text, missing table row headers, unclear hyperlink text, and more. It provides instructions on how to fix any items that have been flagged as inaccessible.

There are slightly different instructions on using the Accessibility Checker depending on whether you are on a PC or using a Mac.

PC Instructions:

  1. Open up your word document.
  2. Select the "File" tab
    • This will take you to the "Info" section
  3. Click the "Check for Issues" button in the "Inspect Document" area
  4. In the drop down menu select "Check Accessibility".

Mac Instructions:

  1. Open up your word document.
  2. Select "Review" tab in the document ribbon.
  3. Select "Check Accessibility" in the review ribbon.

or you can

  1. Open up your word document.
  2. Select "Tools" in the word ribbon.
  3. Select "Check Accessibility" in drop down menu.

Read Inspection Results:

  • A pane will appear on the right hand side of your word document.
  • The review panel provides a list of errors and warnings that it found in the document.
  • Under the errors section, click on an item.
  • Word navigates to the item in error.

Additional Information in Inspection Results Pane:

  • Information is given explaining why the item needs to be fixed and how to fix the error.
  • Under the warnings section, click on an item.
  • Fix the errors and warnings as appropriate.