Creating accessible Word documents

Two people working on a laptop

Word has many features built-in that help people with different abilities to read and author documents. Following the recommendations and best practice advice below will make your documents more accessible for everyone.

Styles & Heading

Use the styles and headings toolbar in Microsoft Word to create a well-structured document. Headings make text stand out, and help people to scan your document. Styles and headings can be customised to meet your own personal preferences.

Advantages of styles and headings include:

  • Consistent layout
  • Screen reading software can navigate through your document
  • Enables skim reading of longer documents
  • Quickly reformat document design
  • Tables of content can be created automatically

Do not use bold, or larger font sizes to mark subheadings in your document. Use the styles and headings tooblar to manage your document formatting: 'Title', ‘Heading 1’, ‘Heading 2’ etc.

Font, Size & Colour

It’s best to avoid serif fonts (such as Times New Roman). Sans serif fonts, such as Arial, Calibri, Verdana, Trebuchet & TUOS Blake are usually clearer to read.

Avoid italics, CAPITALS or underlining to create emphasis, these can be inaccessible for people with a print disability. Bold text is preferred as a method of emphasising content.

RNIB recommends that a minimum type size of 12 point is used. Text should be aligned to the left, as this assists readers with a restricted visual field locate the beginning the line.

Avoid using colour as the only means of indicating important information. Ensure other methods are used, such as text or icons to reinforce meaning.

Ensure there is a well-defined contrast between text and background. Black on white offers the strongest contrast, but the Office Accessibility Checker will flag up any colour contrast issues in your document. The WebAIM Colour Contrast Checker can help you to test different colour combinations. Managed Desktop and YoYo users can also install the Colour Contrast Analyser from the Software Centre to check for contrast issues.

Some people may prefer different colour combinations or backgrounds, assistive technology can help learners adapt documents in this way.


Alt text should be added to images to help visually impaired learners make sense of the image. If an image, table or media has Alt text, screen reading software will read out this text to briefly describe the content. In Microsoft Word 365, Right click on the image, and choose ‘Edit Alt Text’ to add a description. In Word 2016, you can find the Edit Alt Text menu by right clicking on the image, and choosing 'Format Picture'.

Alt text must always describe the image in the context of the document. Access more guidance on creating Alt text for different image types.


Links in Word Documents should use meaningful language. Avoid using phrases like ‘link’ or ‘click’. View more information about creating and editing hyperlinks. Descriptive links are easier to understand for learners using assistive technology, such as screen readers.

Accessibility Checker

Before distributing a Word Document, you should use the built-in Accessibility Checker to ensure the document can be understood by all.

To access the Accessibility Checker in Microsoft Word, click the ‘Review’ Tab and choose ‘Check Accessibility’. If you don't see the 'Check Accessibility' button on the Review Tab, go to File > Info > Check for Issues > Check Accessibility.

Review the results of the Accessibility Check. Click on any issues to find out more information, and view step by step guidance to make your document more accessible.

Saving & Sharing

Word Documents are inherently more accessible than a PDF, and so sharing the .doc or .docx file is preferable. If you do need to create a PDF, then it is important to ensure the PDF you create from your Microsoft Word document is accessible as possible.

Microsoft Word allows you to export documents as PDF’s, but ensure you have formatted your file correctly by following the principles listed above. Run the Accessibility Checker, and address any issues raised.

To export as a PDF, use the Save As PDF feature, taking care to check the ‘Document structure tags for accessibility’ is selected in the Options menu.

Screenshot showing the Save As PDF > Options menu in Microsoft Word 2016

Do not use the Print > Save as PDF menu, as this will create an inaccessible document.

More information about creating accessible Word Documents is available from the Microsoft Website

Grab your own Resource Accessibility Checklist