Accessibility Guide: Word Documents

Microsoft Word is a frequently used format in State Government. Word provides a flexible environment where it is easy to make documents accessible for individuals. You can enlarge text easily, save it to different formats and create audible or Braille documents from Word documents if prepared properly.

Text Boxes:

Text boxes should be avoided. They are frequently used for layout in Word, especially for event flyers or announcements because they allow the user to tilt words or make overlapping arrangements of pictures and text.

Even with alternative text they are inaccessible. Screen readers cannot navigate into text boxes, making the content in them invisible.

An alternative to text boxes is to insert a picture and use the formatting to wrap text around the picture and add alternative text.This will allow a screen reader to “see” the picture and communicate the content of it and continue on with the text. Do this by right clicking the picture and choosing Format Picture. Here you can set how the text wraps around the picture and add alternative text.

For more information, see Accessibility Guide Images and Graphs page


Styles is a feature in Word that allows the user to label or "tag" how blocks of text are formatted (earlier versions of Word called it "Styles and Formatting"). Using this feature can greatly increase the readability of a document for both sighted and visually impaired readers.

Text is classified by its purpose. A main header would be Heading 1, while a sub header to that would be Header 2 and so on. There are styles for bullets, lists, text, graphs, bold and an assortment of other styles.

By using Headers (Heading 1, Heading 2 etc.) it allows readers to scan through the document for the various sections. Many screen readers have the ability to jump from header to header allowing a visually impaired user to also scan the document.

A bonus to using Styles is the ease of formatting a document. As each styles features are pre-set, there’s no need to remember that Header 1 is 14 point font in bold Arial. This will save you time and create a consistent, readable and accessible document.

Word 2010 Styles

  • Styles is visible on the home ribbon and can be accessd from there
  • Right click any style and select Modify to change the look of the style

Word 2003 Styles and Formatting

  • It is accessed by going to Format > Styles and Formatting
  • This will open a bar at the right hand side of your screen
  • At the bottom of this bar, there is a drop down menu, choose "All Styles" to see the full range of styles available
  • Headers should start with Header 1 and be used in order without skipping

Pictures / Images / Graphs

  • All pictures, images or graphs must have alternative text
  • If creating a plain text version of a document in word, substitute a description or explanation of each image in the text
  • For more information on alternative text, see Accessibility Guide’s Images and Graphics page


Tables provide an excellent way to organize information. However, a screen reader will read a table from left to right and top to bottom, so you must keep this in mind when organizing your information.

Tables should be used for data only and never for layout purposes.

Saving the Document

There are a variety of formats available to save a document in Word. The recommended format to save Word documents in is Rich Text Format or .rtf.

  • To change the format, go to File > Save As which opens a dialogue box
  • At the bottom of this window is a Save as Type drop down window
  • You may have to scroll down to get to Rich Text Format

Another alternative is, Plain Text format or .txt. This removes all formatting from a document, including bold, italics and pictures. If saving in plain text format, be sure to include text descriptions of any images or graphs.

Related Accessibility Guide Pages

Alternative Format


Images and Graphs

References/ More Information

Accessible Word Processor Documents Maine CITE


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