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Editing Word for Accessibility

Text documents: Word

Text documents created using standard word processing applications (ex. MS Word, Wordpad, OpenOffice) can usually be accessed using screen reading software. These documents are made more completely accessible by following these principles and practices.

Heading styles

Use headings in sequential order (One heading 1 for the main document title, heading 2s for main sections, heading 3's for subsections within those main sections, etc.).

Select desired heading text and

  • Press Ctrl-Alt1 for heading 1, Ctrl-Alt2 for heading 2 or Ctrl-Alt3 for heading 3.
  • For subsequent headings (4-6) select the desired heading from the Styles section of the Home ribbon.

The order can be reversed by selecting heading level and then typing the text of the heading.

Word headings - select the text and choose the desired heading style from ribbon


There are two approaches to creating lists:

  • Type a #1 or an asterisk to start your ordered or unordered list respectively. Type your item and press ENTER. Word will format the first item as a list item and will continue to create list item formatting each time the ENTER key is pressed at the end of the previous list item. Finish the listing by pressing ENTER twice.
  • Type a list. When the list is complete, select the entire list and click on the desired list type button.


  • First bulleted list item
  • Second bulleted list item
  • Third bulleted list item
  1. First ordered list item
  2. Second ordered list item
  3. Third ordered list item

These are shown in the image above in order from left to right: bulleted and numbering.

  • Do not use an image of text in place of text, particularly if the text is greater than one sentence.
  • Ensure that all images have an "alt" tag specifying what the image depicts. If the image is meant to convey text, the alt tag must provide the same text.
  • Do not use a picture of a table to provide data.
Alt tags for Images
Word 2007:

Right-click on the image, select Size and then the Alt tag tab. Add the alt text.

Word 2007 right-click on image, select size and then the alt text tab

Word 2010:

Right-click on the image, choose Format Picture dialog (Word 2003 & 2010) and then Alt text or Web. Add the alt text.

Word 2010 - right click on the image, choose Format Picture then Alt

  • Create regular tables that have simple rows and columns without merged cells.
  • Add a bookmark (see below)
  • Use tables only when absolutely needed and introduce with some “orienting” text

Add a Bookmark to the first column heading so that JAWS recognizes the headers. Place the insertion point in the cell where the row and column headings meet. Open the Insert menu and choose Bookmark. Type:

  • Title (for both row and column headings),
  • ColumnTitle (for only column headings), or
  • RowTitle (for only row headings).

Select the desired table cell, select Insert Ribbon and Bookmark options

Don’t place a bookmark in each cell. Screenreaders recognizes all cells in the marked row and/or column as headings. Word doesn’t allow two bookmarks to use the same name. If there are more than one table, use a number or descriptive name to indicate the headings. Examples: Title_1, Rowtitle_Revenue, or ColumnTitle_expenses.

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