AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
Creating inclusive environments in education & employment for people with disabilities.


Accessible Word Documents

Creating accessible word documents makes reading and navigation a lot easier for people with disabilities, it will assist in screen-reading software, people with processing difficulties. It's important to be aware that your company's training materials, staff manuals and handbooks may not be accessible. 

Click on the drop down of each heading to see top tips in relation to how to improve the accessibility of your word documents .


Section headings reveal how the information is organised and make the document easier to scan. Properly marking up section headings with styles also improves navigation for screen reader users.

  • Select the desired hearing text and choose and appropriate heading style (H1, H2, and so on) from the styles menu in your authoring tool. Make sure headings are nested in a logical order (e.g. H2 does not come before H1).
  • Go to the ‘Home’ Tab and click on the appropriate Heading Style.
  • Modify the Heading Style by right clicking the Heading type in the ribbon above.

 Table of Contents

  • First, go to the start of your document to place the contents page at the beginning of the document.
  • Second, go to the references tab in the ribbon above.
  • Finally, click on the ‘Table of Contents’ and select the appropriate type of contents.
  • This will automatically produce a table of contents based on the headings you have indicated.


Through good design, you can reduce the amount of effort it takes your readers to process the information in a document, allowing them to focus on the meaning conveyed by the content rather than its presentation.

  • Ensure enough contrast between text and the background. This can be confirmed with the free Colour Contrast Analyser tool for Mac and Windows.
  • Choose a sans-serif font (one without extra ornamentation) for your body text.
  • Use left alignment rather than fully justified text. Full justification can add extra spacing between words that can be distracting to some readers.
  • Avoid italics and underlining for emphasis-use bold if you must as underline can mean a link.
  • Avoid all caps as this can be read as shouting and it’s more challenging to read.
  • Avoid using the space bar repeatedly and use the Tab button instead.
  • Add page numbers. Go to ‘insert’ and then ‘Page number’.


Screen readers can use a shortcut to bring up a list of the links in a document. Links need to be unique and descriptive for them to make sense when they are accessed as a list, without the surrounding text for context.

  • Instead of ‘click here’ or ‘learn more’ select meaningful text (text that is descriptive and unique) and make that text the link.

 Alternative Text for Images

Screen readers can only describe an image to someone who is blind if alternative text is provided. This is sometimes known as Alt-T. Alternative text can also make complex images easier to understand for other learners.

  • Decorative images: If the image is only used for decoration, mark it as decorative (if your authoring tool has that option) or use ‘decorative’ as the alternative text. This indicates to screen readers that it should be skipped.
  • Functional images: images that are included in a link for example. For these images describe the destination or action.
  • Informative images: provide a concise description that focuses on the information the image conveys


  • Go to the ribbon above and click on the tab called ‘Review’ and then click on the button called ‘Check Accessibility’.
  • Please note that the Accessibility Checker can detect some accessibility issues but not all.


Watch our Webinar

For more information on accessible PowerPoint presentations, please watch the training video below from AHEAD’s Digital Media and eLearning Officer, Trevor Boland, and Lorraine Gallagher, AHEAD’s Information and Training Officer:

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