Word Accessibility Checklist

Word files are often the beginning document of a larger project. For example, many Word files are uploaded to web sites for viewing or downloading, or they may be converted to PDFs to be placed on a web page or shared with others.

Regardless of how your Word file is to be shared, ensuring it is accessible will benefit all users. This is especially true if the file is to be converted to a PDF document. There are some types of content items that cannot be remediated within a PDF. In these cases, the original source file will need to be remediated for accessibility then reconverted into a PDF to ensure the content is accessible.

Using the checklist questions below as a guide to creating and checking Word files for accessibility prior to converting them to alternative formats such as PDF, can have a significant impact on the resulting PDF and the work needed to make it accessible

Checklist Questions

  1. Was the document given a descriptive file name?
    • Descriptive file names help all users easily locate, open and switch between documents.
    • File names need to be different than the title set within the document properties. Assistive technology will read the file name when the document is accessed, if the file name and the title are the same it may lead to confusion for the user as they may think they did not actually open the file.
  2. In the document properties, was the document given a contextual title in the Title Field?
    • Contextual document titles allow users of assistive technology to quickly determine if the file contains the information they are seeking without having to read through the content.
    • Many organizations use templates created to maintain consistency and branding across company presentations. Oftentimes the title field will be pre-populated with a generic title that will not be reflective of your presentation content or useful to someone using a screen reader.
  3. If the document content is not written in the English Language, has the appropriate Language for the document been set within the Word Options - Language tab?
    • The default language within the Word application is English. If the appropriate language for the document is not set, words may be mispronounced by screen readers, which can lead to misinterpretation of both the meaning and overall concept of the information being conveyed.
  4. Have all protection restrictions been removed to allow users to manipulate controls (fonts, colors etc.) used within the presentation?
    • Restricting access limits users to change font, color, and other settings. This may create barriers to the readability of content that can have a negative effect on the user's ability to fully comprehend the topic being presented.
    • Additionally, protection restrictions may limit assistive technology users from accessing document content, or using common navigation techniques to get to various element types.
  5. Does the text/background, or images of text/background have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1?
    • Users with low vision and color blindness may have difficulty reading documents that do not present sufficient contrast and color difference between background and foreground elements. Exceptions:
      • Large-size text and images of large-size text can have a minimum contrast ratio of 3:1;
      • Decorative images / images of text; including logotypes are not required to meet minimum contrast. However, best practice indicates sufficient contrast should be considered.
  6. For long documents, does the document contain a Table of Contents (TOC)? If so, was it created using the built in TOC style tool?
    • The built in styles within the Word application were designed by Microsoft to make documents more accessible, use of them will assist in making documents accessibility compliant.
    • Users of assistive technology can use the links generated by the table of content style tool to easily locate and jump to specific sections of the document without needing to skim through all of the document’s content to locate the information they are seeking.
  7. Were all visual headings created by using the built in Heading Styles to provide proper semantic structure? If so, do they follow a logical heading structure (e.g., H1, H2, H3 etc.)?
    • Assistive technology does not recognize visual text formatting (bold, italic, etc.), therefore it cannot infer and translate the meaning behind these types of visual cues to the user.
    • When you use the built in styles, or “true styles” in Word, you are properly assigning a semantic heading tag to each heading area.
    • Headings are used to break up sections of content and they provide a logical structure that can be used to navigate through documents to quickly locate specific sections of content.
  8. Was a Sans Serif Font of at least 12 points in size used for all non-heading text?
    • Serif and Cursive fonts often have flares or strokes on the tips or ends of the letters, which may be difficult for some learners to read, and those with vision impairments may have difficulty reading text that is smaller than 12 points in size.
    • In addition, screen readers will often interpret symbols or non sans serif font bullets as letters or numbers.
  9. Was all non-heading text within the document formatted by using and modifying the built in Paragraph style?
    • Text should be formatted by using and modifying the built in Paragraph style rather than by using the text formatting tool. This will ensure that the style you have applied remains intact and consistent throughout the document.
  10. If color/text formatting (bold, italic, etc.) was used to convey important information, was the importance of the information conveyed in another manner?
    • Importance of information conveyed by using color/text formatting will be unavailable to users of assistive technology.
    • Importance of information indicated by color alone will be missed by those using non-color/non-visual displays.
    • In addition, those who experience color-blindness may not be able to discern the colors used to indicate the importance of the information being conveyed.
  11. Are there lists in the document? If so, were they created using the built in list options in the Paragraph style?
    • Assistive technology cannot infer meaning from symbols and indentations. Use of the built in list style provides the structure that assistive technology software needs to identify, interpret and present the list items to the user in a manner which allows them to fully comprehend the context, meaning, and relationships of the data being presented.
  12. Does the document contain hyperlinks? If so, does the hyperlinked text convey the destination?
    • Screen Readers contain a feature called a "Links List" which users can use to pull up and navigate to all the links contained within a document. When generic hyperlink text such as "click here" are used, people using screen readers are unable to discern one link from another within the links list.
    • In addition, generic hyperlink text will not provide users of assistive technology with the intended purpose or destination of the link.
  13. Is any of the document text in columns? If so, were the columns created by using the built-in column formatting tool?
    • Assistive technology will not read text in the correct reading order when enter, tab or space bar keys are used as a way to insert visual separation putting content into columns.
    • Use of the built in column formatting tool will ensure that assistive technology identifies the text as being in a column, thus it will present the text to the user in the proper reading order.
  14. Does the document contain data tables? If so, were they created by using the insert table function? Do the tables contain proper structural markup, (were the header rows, first and last column set)? Was the text wrapping set to 'none'?
    • Tables that do not have proper structural markup will not be fully accessible to users of assistive technology, as the relationships between the intended header and data cells are not accurately represented.
    • If the structural markup of a table does not match the visual representation of that table then the information will not be accurately identified and rendered by assistive technology in the manner intended.
    • Improper table markup can lead to misinterpretation of the data being presented and may lead users to misunderstand the overall concept.
    • If the table is formatted to allow text to wrap around the table, assistive technology users will have difficulty finding the wrapped text on the page. (This refers to text wrapping around the entire table itself, not text wrapping within table cells.)
  15. Does the document contain images, charts, graphs or text boxes? If so, is the position of these items set to 'in line with text'?
    • Assistive technology cannot access or edit information in images, charts, graphs or text boxes unless they are in line with text.
  16. Do all images, images of text, charts and graphs that provide meaningful information not conveyed within surrounding text have descriptive alternative text?
    • Those with visual impairments or cognitive/learning disabilities often rely on the text based speech output of assistive technology to describe what is visually being presented.
    • Alternative text should convey the meaning and concept of the information being presented without the need for visual cues.
    • Low-vision users may use screen magnifiers and may have the magnification set to a level which makes it difficult to see an entire image, chart, graph, etc. at once.
  17. Is the document free of form fields?
    • Form fields created in Word are not accessible to users of assistive technology.
  18. If any audio or video content was embedded into the document, were text alternatives (e.g., captions/transcripts) provided, and are the audio and video controls accessible?
    • Without captions or transcripts for video with audio, users with hearing impairments may misinterpret the meaning and context of the visual content being presented.
      • Additionally, if there is an audio file with no corresponding video then they will miss the content entirely.
    • Screen reader users rely on the text based speech output of assistive technology to describe what is visually being presented; therefore although they may be able to hear the corresponding audio, the meaning and context of the information being presented may not be clear to them.
    • If the video/audio controls are not accessible (e.g. labeled) then screen reader users will find it difficult to access and navigate through them.
  19. Does the document contain flashing images/content?
    • Flashing images/content should be avoided or removed as content that flashes or flickers can trigger seizures for some users.
    • In addition, flashing or flickering content can be distracting for users with cognitive/learning disabilities and all users in general.