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Microsoft Word Accessibility Checklist

In order to be accessible on their own and to simplify the process of producing a compliant accessible PDF, the following criteria should be met when authoring documents in Microsoft Word:

Note that google docs cannot be used to export accessible PDF documents.

Metadata and Basic Information

  • The Title field is set in the document information (File > Info).
  • The file extension is .docx, not .doc.
  • The filename is human-readable (i.e., not 283793854.docx).
  • Author metadata in the document information accurately represents the organization (i.e. Grayson College) and not an individual, if appropriate.

Structure and Relationships

  • Document headings describe the topic or purpose of the section.
  • Headings are identified via Microsoft Word's Styles system (not only a visual typography change). The Document's Title should be Heading 1 (Outline Level 1), with main document sections using heading 2 (Outline Level 2), and so forth. (You can confirm the document's structure with the Navigation Pane. View > Show > Navigation Pane)
  • Headings are used sequentially and hierarchically, and heading levels are not skipped. (In other words, don't skip from heading 2 to heading 5, for instance)
  • Non-heading text is not assigned to a heading style.
  • Your document uses no more than six heading levels.
  • Bulleted or Numerical lists are created with Word's list tools (do not manually type numbers and add tab stops to fake a list).
  • Lists aren't interrupted by a paragraph or other items.
  • Text boxes are avoided. (If you need extra layout flexibility, consider transitioning to Adobe InDesign, which provides much more freedom to create various accessible layouts)
  • If text boxes are needed, they should be set to the "In line with text"  layout/text wrap options. Be sure that the anchors for the text boxes appear in the order you wish the content to be read.
  • If columns are needed, they are created using Word's column tools with section breaks as appropriate.
  • Running headers, page numbers, and other such elements that occur on every page are laid out using Word's header and footer system.
  • All information in a header or footer that is critical for a user to perceive is also repeated in the body of the document. (Headers and footers are hidden from screen readers and assistive devices.)

Text Formatting

  • Hyphenation across paragraphs is minimized, if possible
  • Justified alignment usage is limited, if possible
  • Extra white-space characters are avoided (e.g., multiple hard returns, multiple spaces, excessive tab stops). Rather, spacing is controlled via layout options & paragraph styles.
  • Uppercase text is avoided except for acronyms
  • Underline is only used for hyperlinks
  • Italics usage is minimized as it can be difficult to read for extended blocks


  • All non-decorative images have a descriptive alternative text (alt text) set.
  • Images that convey text are avoided except for official logos. If images with text are used, that text must be included in the image's alternative text.
  • Decorative images are marked as decorative. (including decorative photographs that do not convey any new/relevant information as well as graphics and shapes/dividers).
  • Non-decorative images are set to "In Line With Text" in the Layout /Text Wrapping options.


  • If a table of contents is included, it is created using Microsoft Word's Table of Contents feature.


  • Link text is descriptive of the purpose/location of the link, rather than the URL or generic terms like "click here."
  • Links are identifiable through hyperlink styling (underlined and usually a contrasting color).
  • If an image is used as a hyperlink, the alternative text of the image is the descriptive link text.
  • Alternate descriptions for links are added as a "ScreenTip" in the Edit Hyperlink dialog
    • For a web page, this should be the webpage's "title" - it can be found in the browser tab or the <title> HTML element.
    • For an Email address, provide a description of the link's purpose. E.G., "Email financial aid" or "Email a question to admissions."
  • If the file is destined for print:
    • The URL may be used as link text when it is simple and iconic, e.g. ""
    • The URL is included in parenthesis after the link text, e.g. "The Google Search Engine ("

Color Usage

  • There is sufficient color contrast between the text color and the background color.
    (For normal-sized type, this is a 4.5 contrast ratio. The built-in Accessibility Checker in recent Word versions may flag these errors. See the TPGi Color Contrast Analyser (Free Download) or WebAIM Online Contrast Checker.
  • Color is not used as the only means for conveying information (i.e. color coding without also including a text label, etc)


  • Tables are used for rows and columns of tabular data and are not used to control layout.
  • Tables contain a row of column headers at the top, and "Header Row" is checked in the table options.
  • Tables are simple and only contain a single column-header row.
  • No split or merged cells are used. (These can never be accessible in Word, but may be made accessible if the destination is a PDF document)
  • Section headings, captions, or explanatory notes do not appear in the table

Foreign Languages

  • If a section of the document is in a language other than English, that language is identified using Language > Set Proofing Language


  • Avoid creating forms in Microsoft Word (Adobe InDesign is a more flexible and maintainable source software)
  • Do not use any of Word's built-in form structures, as these are not accessible.