How to Create Accessible Microsoft Office Files

By Cory Bohon

Accessible Office Documents Picture Whenever you are creating content for mass consumption (be it students, co-workers, or the Web), you should consider the accessibility of what you are creating. For example, if your content has audio, have you created a transcript or captions so that people who are deaf can access it? If your content has important visual information, have you formatted this information in a way that is compatible with the assistive technology used by people who are blind or have low vision?

Microsoft Office files are the predominant document types handled by individuals in both academia and the corporate world. Files with .doc/docx, .ppt/pptx, and .xls/xlsx are a proprietary format, so how can you guarantee the accessibility of these files when sharing with others? As it turns out, the newest versions of Office are accessibility-friendly, allowing you to create accessible content. Furthermore, these versions even have an evaluation feature that will go through your document, checking it for inaccessible elements.

The Microsoft Office Blog recently published a post about creating accessible PowerPoint presentations. This post, which goes over understanding accessibility, creating accessible presentations, and sharing accessible presentations, can get you up to speed on creating accessible presentations in no time. But what about Word or Excel documents?

Microsoft Office 2010 for Windows includes a great feature called the Accessibility Checker that will scan your Office documents for inaccessible items. (Unfortunately, this feature isn’t available in Office 2011 for Mac, but Office 2011 for the Mac does tie in to the accessibility features built into Mac OS X, including VoiceOver.) To use the Accessibility Checker in Office 2010 for Windows, do the following:

  1. Click File > Info > Prepare for Sharing
  2. Next, click on the Check for Issue button, and then click Check Accessibility
  3. The Accessibility Checker task pane will appear in your document, alerting you to any accessibility errors in the document.
  4. Clicking on a specific issue in this task pane will show you the reasoning behind the error in the “Additional Information” section

Fixing the errors that appear in the Accessibility Checker will ensure that your document is at least a little more accessible than before.

To learn more about the accessibility features of Microsoft Office, check out the post by the Crabby Office Lady on Creating Documents for All Audiences.


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