How to create accessible Word 2010 documents

To ensure that your Word 2010 documents are accessible, please reference the instructions below regarding each element that is used in your document:


Document Title, tags, subject, and author 

Document Language


Alternative Text





Objects In Line with Text

Reading level

Accessibility checker

Exporting to PDF

Document Title, Tags, Subject, and author

To add this metadata, click on the file menu, click on "info." On the right hand side of the screen, you will see properties. Make sure that you click "Show All Properties" to see all options. Click to the right of each field that requires data, and type it in directly.

A document title is required.

Screenshot indicating where to add metadata, as described in the text above.

Document Language

Click on the "Review" tab in the top ribbon. Click the Language drop-down and then click "Set profing language." Please note that while this will set the language of the Word document itself, this information will not be carried over if you convert the document to PDF. The document language will have to be set once again through Adobe Acrobat Pro.




Headings in a document must be formatted using the headings styels. You should never create a heading simply by increasing the font size, or making the font bold. While this may look like an obvious heading to a sighted user, screen readers and other assistive technologies do not interpret larger text to be a heading, so this information would be lost to a non-sighted user.

To create a heading in Word 2010:


  1. Highlight the text that you want to make into a heading
  2. Click on the "Home" tab
  3. From the "Styles" menu, select the appropriate heading level

Unfortunately, the default color that Word 2010 uses for headings does not have sufficient color contrast (see "color and contrast" in our accessibility basics overview). This means that you will need to change the heading colors to a darker color. To modify any heading style, right-click on the desired heading level and select "Modify" from the drop-down menu. Any changes made here will be applied to that heading level in the current document.

Screenshot showing how to select a heading from the styles menu in Word 2010



Headings also must be used in numeric order. Think of headings as an outline for your content. Begin with Heading 1 and add subsequent headings in numeric order as necessary, without skipping any heading levels. There should be only one Heading 1 per page. See below for an example of proper heading use:

Visual example of proper heading structure

Alternative Text

Alternative text, commonly referred to as “Alt text,” is the text that is read by a screen reader for a person who cannot see the image or the text that appears if the image is broken. Alt text should communicate the meaning of the image -- the same meaning that the image is trying to convey for a sighted user. If the image contains information, that information should be given in the text. Avoid using text boxes, Word Art, and watermarks.


To add alternative text to an image in Word 2010, simply right click or Ctrl+click the image and select “Format picture”

Right click on the desired image, and select "format picture"


Then, click on “Alt text” in the list to the left and type a description of the picture into the “Description” field – NOT the title field.

Click on "alt text" in the list to the left and type in the "description" field


Do not manually type dashes or numbers to denote lists. Select either bulleted or numbered lists from the "Home" tab to create a list.

Visual of where to select bullet or numbered list in Word 2010


Make link text meaningful. Think about where the link goes, and describe that. 


To add a link in a Word 2010 document:

  1. Highlight the text that you would like to become a link
  2. Right click or Ctrl+click
  3. select "Hyperlink" from the menu
  4. Type the desired URL into the "address" field
  5. Click OK to save


Word has limitations when it comes to making tables accessible. Make tables as simple as possible - complex tables can be very difficult for users of assistive devices to read. To make complex tables accessible (such as tables with column headers or nested columns) you must use a program outside of Word, such as Adobe Acrobat Pro.


However, if you have a simple table requiring a header row, this can be made accessible in Word.


Creating a table

To create the table, use the Insert tab and select the table property:

How to add tables; explained in text above.


Adding a table caption

To give the tabel a caption highlight the table, right-click, and select "Insert Caption" from the drop-down menu. Word will automatically insert a label and a number for the caption. To create your own lable, click the "Exclude label from catpion" box and then click the "New Label" button and type in your desired label. Click OK. You will notice that Word still added a number to your caption, however you can delete this directly once inserted.


Indicating table heading rows

To indicate that the top row is a heading, highlight the row and right-click to select "table properties"

clicking on table properties, as described in text above


Then click on the "Row" tab and check the "Repeat as header row at the top of each page" box:

Image showing which box to check to repeat header row, as described in text above.


This will also ensure that the heading row is repeated on each page of the document if the table spans more than one page, which is also a required element for accessibility.


Currently, Word does not have the capability to indicate columns as headers -- only rows. To make a complex table accessible (one with multiple/merged header rows and/or column headers) you will need to do some document remediation in Adobe Acrobat Pro after the document has been converted to a PDF.


Create columns by clicking on the "Page Layout" tab in the ribbon, and selecting the "columns" drop-down options. Never create columns manually using spacing or tabbing - this does not create a clear reading order for users of assistive technology and is not accessible.

Objects in line with text

Objects, such as images and shapes in the document, must be formatted in line with text. Objects that are not inline with text are not recognized by a screen reader. To set objects to inline, click on the image or shape, click on layout options, and choose in line with text.

Reading Level

Content should be clear and plain. The reading level for content should be no higher than 7th-9th grade. To check the reading level of a document in Word 2010, first go to the File menu, and click on "Options" in the bottom left:

Visual of clicking on the file menu and then the options tab, as described in text above.


Next, click on "Proofing" in the lefthand navigation, and check the "Show readability statistics box" and click "OK."

Visual of clicking on proofing and then checking the readability statistics box, as described in text above.

Readability statistics are now enabled. To run a check on your document, go to the "Review" tab and click on the Spelling & Grammar tool. After the spelling and grammar check is complete, the Readability Statistics box will appear:

Readability statistics box, as described in text above.

Readability will appear at the bottom. The number indicated to the right of "Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level" corresponds to U.S. school grade level.

Accessibility Checker

You can scan your document for potential accessibility errors by clicking on the "File" tab in the ribbon. Under "Info" click on the "Check for Issues" drop-down button, and click "Check Accessibility." A list of error results will appear to the right of your document. Keep in mind that not all accessibility errors will appear here - some accessibility issues require manual check and knowledge of accessibility standards.

Exporting to PDF

When exporting your Word document to PDF, you must do so in a specific way to preserve accessibility. For details on how to do so correctly view our PDF tutorial.

Anchorage School District website accessibility and nondiscrimination notice. The Anchorage School District is an equal opportunity provider.